Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
Arabia: Sinai, the Mount
Moses on Mount Sinai
Richard Monckton Milnes, Lord Houghton (1809–1885)
UP a rough peak, that toward the stormy sky
From Sinai’s sandy ridges rose aloft,
Osarsiph, priest of Hieropolis,
Now Moses named, ascended reverently
To meet and hear the bidding of the Lord.        5
But, though he knew that all his ancient lore
Traditionary from the birth of Time,
And all that power which waited on his hand,
Even from the day his just instinctive wrath
Had smote the Egyptian ravisher, and all        10
The wisdom of his calm and ordered mind
Were nothing in the presence of his God,
Yet was there left a certain seed of pride,
Vague consciousness of some self-centred strength,
That made him cry, “Why, Lord, com’st thou to me,        15
Only a voice, a motion of the air,
A thing invisible, impalpable,
Leaving a void, an unreality,
Within my heart? I would, with every sense,
Know thou wert there,—I would be all in thee!        20
Let me at least behold thee as thou art;
Disperse this corporal darkness by thy light;
Hallow my vision by thy glorious form,
So that my sense be blest forevermore!”
  Thus spoke the Prophet, and the Voice replied,        25
As in low thunders over distant seas:
  “Beneath the height to which thy feet have striven,
A hollow trench divides the cliffs of sand,
Widened by rains and deepened every year.
Gaze straight across it, for there opposite        30
To where thou standest I will place myself,
And then, if such remain thy fixed desire,
I will descend to side by side with thee.”
  So Moses gazed across the rocky vale;
And the air darkened, and a lordly bird        35
Poised in the midst of its long-journeying flight,
And touched his feet with limp and fluttering wings,
And all the air around, above, below,
Was metamorphosed into sound,—such sound
That separate tones were undistinguishable,        40
And Moses fell upon his face, as dead.
Yet life and consciousness of life returned;
And, when he raised his head, he saw no more
The deep ravine and mountain opposite,
But one large level of distracted rocks,        45
With the wide desert quaking all around.
  Then Moses fell upon his face again,
And prayed,—“O, pardon the presumptuous thought,
That I could look upon thy face and live:
Wonder of wonders! that mine ear has heard        50
Thy voice unpalsied, and let such great grace
Excuse the audacious blindness that o’erleaps
Nature’s just bounds and thy discerning will!”

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