Sonnets Of Old Egypt

A poem by John Le Gay Brereton


The Sphinx

The spires of sand spring up at every gust
That bids them dance and scatter and lays them low:
He sits impassive, as the ages flow
And bear superbly the mirage of lust.
The moonbright steel he has witnessed redden and rust,
He has seen storm-proud deep-rooted empires grow,
And watched victorious gods flash forth and go;
And still before him spins the aspiring dust.
What has he seen in that hoar-centuried land
More strange and dreadful in its long delight
Of vain hope-haunted ever-starting quest
Than I can follow across this burning sand
Wherefrom the dizzying phantoms take their flight
Within the compass of a wanderer’s breast?


Nicholson Museum: Exhibit 32

The curious look and pass, beholding naught
But yellow skin and small contorted toes:
I see a burning wilderness of woes
And stagger through its quivering air distraught.
I know the paradise a baby wrought
Of old where still the dear blue river flows,
And there’s a crouching fear within that knows
To what a desperate havoc it was brought.
Dear Isis, have you not heard Horus sing
His infant ditties, kissed his radiant head,
And laughed at legs that learned to leap and run?
Forget it not. My heart in offering
Lies bare before you; take it, Queen, and spread
Thy sheltering wings about my little son.



The gaudy pageant of the ages hies
Down the dim years, yet many a look is cast
That calls us dumbly, from the abysmal past,
In love that lives amid a world that dies.
I thrill to look on Nefert’s friendly eyes,
Mad to recall the night I saw her last,
And yet across that memory has the blast
Whirled the deep desert sand of centuries.
Forgive if I forget thee now, my sweet,
If other eyes have led me to the source
Wherefrom the thirsting heart draws sustenance.
Can pallid marble feel my pulses beat?
We approach the limit of our dusty course
When hearts must live on store of old romance.



Spread on the desert, Seb of mighty thew
Felt cloudy hair, trailed by the evening breeze,
Tingling along each nerve, as by degrees
Nut bowed above him, till his brown arms drew
Her body upon his; so, all night through,
The desert bloomed in starry ecstasies,
Till, even as she sighed in overburdened ease,
Between them thrust the radiant arm of Shu.
Yet they are of the gods, and evermore
Their joy renews itself when earth and sky
Are all one substance in the odorous gloom.
But when two lovers drain their little store
Of mortal bliss and yet are thirsting, why
Inflict on us thy peremptory doom?



“Have I not smiled and kept the world at bay,
Given my friends the joy that dried my tears
And left a savour of salt, and filled the years
With desolate wreckage of each yesterday?
O Khonsu,” with uplifted hands I pray,
“O Master of Love, give respite to my fears;
Before the dust is in my eyes and ears,
Grant me thy light upon the darkening way.”
He gazes mildly from the crescent moon;
The sea grows silent and its shimmering space
Is wave upon wave of sand beyond all sight;
I stretch my arms to take whate’er the boon,
And feel imagined kisses on my face,
Lonely amid the desert of the night.

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