Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Syria: Palmyra (Tadmor)
Palmyra
Nicholas Michell (1807–1880)
 
(From Ruins of Many Lands)

WHITE as hot steel the broad sun mounts the skies,
The burning vapors quivering as they rise.
No beast, no wandering bird, doth hither come,
Not e’en an insect wakes her drowsy hum.
But lo! the hills on which some dark curse rests,        5
Barren their sides, all rocks their dreary crests,
Approach with frowns, and form a savage dell,
Where snakes retreat, and vultures love to dwell.
Silent and strange along this craggy way,
Rise countless towers that brave thy hand, Decay!        10
Did busy men once live, and flourish here,
Their palaces yon piles so old and drear?
Draw nearer,—scan each building’s dark recess;
What mean those crumbling bones, that mouldered dress?
Yes, these are tombs, as many a mummy shows,        15
Where man in distant ages found repose;
The street of graves! where kings laid down their pride,
And many a restless phantom yet may glide:
Murdered Longinus here may wander still,
And she whose dust was laid by Tibur’s hill,        20
Far-famed Zenobia, for her kingdom wail,
Sweeping with viewless form the desert gale.
*        *        *        *        *
Deserted Tadmor! queen of Syria’s wild!
Well mayst thou fill with rapture Fancy’s child;
Yet not by day—too garish, harsh, and rude—        25
The eye should scan thy fairy solitude;
But when the still moon pours her hallowing beam,
And crumbling shrine and palace whitely gleam,
Then pause beneath the lofty arch, and there
Survey the mouldings rich and sculptures fair;        30
See how like spectral giants columns stand,
And cast long shadows o’er the yellow sand;
How the soft light on marble tracery plays,
And busts look life-like through that silvery haze!
Tread the long colonnade, where Traffic’s throng,        35
And chief and sage were wont to sweep along;
Ruin on ruin mouldering, still and lone,
Arch following arch, fane, massy wall o’erthrown,
And still beyond, some line of columns gray,
In long perspective stretching far away,—        40
These will the stars in desolation show,
Shedding o’er all a soft ethereal glow,
Till beauty scarce of earth around us beams,
And like the home of spirits, Tadmor seems.
*        *        *        *        *
  And are no dwellers here?—no beings found        45
Within Palmyra’s wide and haunted bound?
Yes, come and see—where Beauty, in old days,
Touched her sweet harp, and blushed at her own praise;
There rears the desert-bird her callow brood,
And shrieks along the untrodden solitude.        50
Yes, come and see—where kings in council sate
On ivory thrones, mid all the pomp of state;
There mopes the owl with shining sleepless eye,
And growls the hyena, stealing slowly by.
Commerce in Tadmor fixed her gorgeous seat;        55
Her voice was heard through every busy street:
The caravan brought gems from Persia’s shore,
Tyre sent her cloths, and Ind her golden store;
And this long ages saw, till Syria’s mart
Drew and poured forth wealth’s streams,—a mighty heart!        60
Now come and see—within yon pillared walls,
Mid tottering shafts and broken capitals,
Squalid and lorn, cut off from all mankind,
In tattered garbs, to wretchedness consigned,
A few poor Arabs crouch,—with senseless stare        65
They view the pomp and beauty lingering there,
Tend their lean goats, to Mecca idly bow,
The only merchants, only princes now!
*        *        *        *        *
  City of Solomon! whose fame and power,
And wondrous wealth, began in earth’s young hour;        70
How, mid her fallen pomp, thought wanders back
O’er vanished days,—a sad yet dazzling track.
Arabia’s fierce and desolating horde,
Rome’s conquering eagle, Babylonia’s sword,
All we behold, but chief one form appears,        75
Rising all radiant from the gulf of years:
Proud is her step, her dark eye varying oft,
Now flashing fire, now languishingly soft;
The jewelled crown well suits that brow serene,—
’T is great Zenobia, Tadmor’s glorious queen.        80
Beauty hath oft put War’s dread helmet on,
Since her who ruled earth-conquering Babylon;
Yet not Semiramis, who boasts her bays,
Nor Gaul’s bold maid, who graced these later days,
Swayed the rough hearts of men with wilder power,        85
Or met more bravely battle’s dreadful hour,
Than she on whom pleased fame and fortune smiled,
The dark-haired mistress of the Syrian wild.
 
  But now the conqueror’s brighter hour has passed,
And fair Zenobia’s star goes down at last.        90
The Roman comes,—his legions file around
Doomed Tadmor’s walls, to deafening trumpets’ sound.
Aurelian bids the desert princess yield,
But hark! her answer—clashing sword and shield!
Girt by her chiefs, her proud plumed head she rears,        95
Defies the foe, and each faint spirit cheers;
Her milk-white courser prances round the wall,
Her gestures, looks, and words inspiring all.
Through opened gates her troops are sallying now,
Still in their front appears that dauntless brow;        100
Where’er her silver wand is seen to wave,
There rush the boldest, and there fall the brave,
And when borne back by Rome’s immense array,
She fights retreating, pauses still to slay.
 
  But ceaseless war, and famine’s tortures slow,        105
Wear bravery out, and bring Palmyra low.
’T was then the Queen, to crush the despot’s might,
Passed from the gates beneath the veil of night,
Hers still the hope from Persia aid to call,
Save her loved land, and stay Palmyra’s fall.        110
With fluttering heart, but calm and fearless eye,
Across the trackless desert see her fly!
On swept the camel with unflagging speed,
As though he knew that hour of deadly need;
Her Syrian guards o’er Arab steeds might lean,        115
But not keep pace with her, their flying Queen.
What recked she drifting sand or scorching sun?
What recked she pain or toil, that mission done?
Come hunger, thirst,—on, on her course must be,
Each swift-winged hour brought, Tadmor, doom to thee!        120
 
  Lo! on their track, through clouds of rising sand,
Bright helms were seen, now glittered spear and brand;
Then horsemen forward dashed,—a long-drawn row,—
’T was Rome’s dread troops, the fierce pursuing foe!
They saw, and hailed,—across the waste was borne        125
The hoarse, deep note of many a trumpet-horn;
And on they came, like winds careering fast,
Not half so fearful sweeps the simoom blast;
They brought for her who scoured those desert plains,
Woe and disgrace, captivity and chains.        130
 
  But still Zenobia flew; the steeds that bore
Her guards had sunk,—those chiefs could aid no more;
And now that camel shaped his course alone,—
He reared his head as louder blasts were blown,
And strained each nerve, his soft black drooping eye        135
Telling of suffering, fear, and agony;
Unhappy, faithful thing! that still would brave
Toil, peril, death, his royal charge to save.
 
  ’T was vain: as hounds at length chase down the deer,
The Roman horsemen drew more near and near;        140
Though some fell back, or sank upon the way,
Yet others, slowly gaining, reached the prey.
They halted, wheeled,—their armor’s dazzling sheen
Formed a dread wall round Syria’s fated queen;
Hope fled her breast,—she yielded,—ruined now,        145
But still majestic shone that high-born brow.
Ah! as they led their prisoner o’er the plain,
No more to rule, but grace a tyrant’s train,
And, exiled, pine where wooded Anio sweeps,
Far from her desert home and palmy steeps,        150
The sun of Syria’s power went down in night,
On Freedom’s tree there rained a withering blight,
Glory to proud Palmyra sighed adieu,
And o’er her shrines Destruction’s angel flew.
 
 
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