Verse > Anthologies > William Wilfred Campbell, ed. > The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse
William Wilfred Campbell, comp.  The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse.  1913.
A Mother in Egypt
By Marjorie L. C. Pickthall (1883–1922)
          ‘About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt…. And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon the throne unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill.’
—Exodus XI. 4–5.    

IS the noise of grief in the palace over the river
For this silent one at my side?
There came a hush in the night, and he rose with his hands a-quiver
Like lotus petals adrift on the swing of the tide.
O small cold hands, the day groweth old for sleeping!        5
O small still feet, rise up, for the hour is late!
Rise up, my son, for I hear them mourning and weeping
In the temple down by the gate.
Hushed is the face that was wont to brighten with laughter
When I sang at the mill,        10
And silence unbroken shall greet the sorrowful dawns hereafter,
The house shall be still.
Voice after voice takes up the burden of wailing,—
Do you heed, do you hear?—in the high-priests’ house by the wall:
But mine is the grief, and their sorrow is all unavailing.        15
Will he wake at their call?
Something I saw of the broad, dim wings half folding
The passionless brow.
Something I saw of the sword the shadowy hands were holding,—
What matters it now?        20
I held you close, dear face, as I knelt and hearkened
To the wind that cried last night like a soul in sin,
When the broad, bright stars dropped down and the soft sky darkened,
And the Presence moved therein.
I have heard men speak in the market-place of the city,        25
Low voiced, in a breath,
Of a god who is stronger than ours, and who knows not changing nor pity,
Whose anger is death.
Nothing I know of the lords of the outland races,
But Amun is gentle and Hathor the Mother is mild,        30
And who would descend from the light of the peaceful places
To war on a child?
Yet here he lies, with a scarlet pomegranate petal
Blown down on his cheek.
The slow sun sinks to the sand like a shield of some burnished metal,        35
But he does not speak.
I have called, I have sung, but he neither will hear nor waken;
So lightly, so whitely he lies in the curve of my arm,
Like a feather let fall from the bird that the arrow hath taken.
Who can see him, and harm?        40
‘The swallow flies home to her sleep in the eaves of the altar,
And the crane to her nest,’—
So do we sing o’er the mill, and why, ah, why should I falter,
Since he goes to his rest?
Does he play in their flowers as he played among these with his mother?        45
Do the gods smile downward and love him and give him their care?
Guard him well, O ye Gods, till I come; lest the wrath of that Other
Should reach to him there!

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