Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
The Sphinx
By Henry Howard Brownell (1820–1872)
[From War-Lyrics, and Other Poems. 1866.]

THEY glare—those stony eyes!
  That in the fierce sun-rays
  Showered from these burning skies,
  Through untold centuries
Have kept their sleepless and unwinking gaze.        5
Since what unnumbered year
  Hast thou kept watch and ward,
And o’er the buried Land of Fear
  So grimly held thy guard?
No faithless slumber snatching,        10
  Still couched in silence brave,
Like some fierce hound long watching
  Above her master’s grave.
  No fabled Shape art thou!
  On that thought-freighted brow        15
And in those smooth weird lineaments we find,
  Though traced all darkly, even now,
    The relics of a Mind:
  And gather dimly thence
  A vague, half-human sense—        20
  The strange and sad Intelligence
    That sorrow leaves behind.
  Dost thou in anguish thus
  Still brood o’er Œdipus?
And weave enigmas to mislead anew,        25
  And stultify the blind
  Dull heads of human kind,
    And inly make thy moan
That ’mid the hated crew,
  Whom thou so long couldst vex,        30
  Bewilder, and perplex,
Thou yet couldst find a subtler than thine own?
  Even now, methinks that those
  Dark, heavy lips, which close
  In such a stern repose,        35
Seem burdened with some Thought unsaid,
And hoard within their portals dread
  Some fearful Secret there,—
Which to the listening earth
She may not whisper forth,00        40
  Not even to the air!
  Of awful wonders hid
  In yon dread pyramid,
    The home of magic Fears,
  Of chambers vast and lonely,        45
  Watched by the Genii only,
Who tend their Masters’ long-forgotten biers;
  And treasures that have shone
  On cavern walls alone
    For thousand, thousand years.        50
  Those sullen orbs wouldst thou eclipse,
  And ope those massy, tomb-like lips,
  Many a riddle thou couldst solve
  Which all blindly men revolve.
  Would She but tell! She knows        55
  Of the old Pharaohs,
  Could count the Ptolemies’ long line;
Each mighty Myth’s original hath seen,
Apis, Anubis—Ghosts that haunt between
  The Bestial and Divine—        60
(Such, He that sleeps in Philœ—He that stands
  In gloom, unworshipped, ’neath his rock-hewn fane—
And They who, sitting on Memnonian sands,
  Cast their long shadows o’er the desert plain:)
    Hath marked Nitocris pass,        65
    And Ozymandias
Deep-versed in many a dark Egyptian wile;
  The Hebrew Boy hath eyed
  Cold to the master’s bride;
And that Medusan stare hath frozen the smile        70
  Of Her all love and guile,
    For whom the Cæsar sighed,
    And the World-Loser died—
  The Darling of the Nile.

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