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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Night in the Orient
By Edgar Quinet (1803–1875)
From ‘Ahasvérus’: Translation of Jane Grosvenor Cooke

  The griffin and the ibis have led the tribes through the valleys to the land of their inheritance. And us too,—a guide has led us across the mountains and valleys of the firmament, on the cloud where we must sleep to-night.
The Moon
  The patriarch of Chaldea, sitting before his tent, watches his flocks feeding about him on the slope of the mountain. Feed too my flocks of bounding stars, around my silver tent which I have planted on a spring cloud.
A Star
  Every tribe is sleeping in its marble city; every star in its silver robe. My rays hang scattered from the pillars of Persepolis. Nineveh has battlemented towers where they stoop to the windows. But I like better the walls of Babylon; upon her roofs they noiselessly gather and grow drowsy like snowflakes on the summit of mountains.
Another Star
  Perhaps, my sisters, we are taking the same journey as the tribes of men. Astray like them, I would like to converse with them. Gladly I would send them dreams with my golden beams. I would give my words to the wind; the wind would carry them to the desert flower, the flower to the river, the river would repeat them on its way through the cities.
  Yes, that is what we must do.
A Flower of the Syrian Desert
  My head bows under the light of the stars; my chalice swells with dew as a heart is filled with a secret which it longs to repeat. In the night my blossom blushed with spots the color of blood, like the robe of a Levite upon the day of sacrifice; the murmur of the stars descended into my chalice and mingled with my perfume. I carry a secret in my chalice; I have the secret of the universe, which escaped it in dream during the night, and no voice with which to repeat it. Ah! tell me where is the nearest city. Is it Jerusalem or is it Babylon? Let the passers-by come gather the mystery which burdens my crown and inclines my head.
The Euphrates
  Flower of the desert, bend thy head a little lower over my bed, that I may hear thy murmur better; always bounding from wave to wave, I will carry it to the walls of Babylon: tell me thy secret; I will deposit it on the silvery waves at the foot of the towers of the Chaldeans.
Dwellers of Babylon upon their roofs
  See how the Euphrates sparkles under the willows this evening, like the blade of a poniard fallen from the table of a feast. Its murmurs could not be gentler were it rolling over sacred vessels of gold and silver in the depths of its bed.
A Slave
  Or if a whole nation hanging on its banks had let their tears fall in one by one.
A King
  Or if an empire with the tiaras of its priests, with the robe of its kings, with its glittering gods, had been swallowed up for a thousand years on its gravel bed, like a flower of the waters.
Chorus of Priests
  The light of the night illumines the inscriptions of Semiramis engraved on the rock of the mountain of Assur. Every word shines from here like a sword of fire, which writes on the stone the speech of the firmament. How the lyre answers the lyre, as the voices of the stars, as their mute wills, gleam among us with the voices of nations and echoes which endure a century. The Orient has stretched about it its peoples and empires, as the night has its robe embroidered with stars for the gods to attire themselves in by day. But as yet the universe is only just dawning, and He who has rewarmed it with his breath holds it like a young dove in his hand. While the steps of the God of Gods are visible on the grass of Eden and Cashmere, let us note his traces on the heights of the mountains. Neither the sun nor the hearts of men have yet drunk his breath at this hour. As the Arab rises in the night to lick the dew of the desert before noonday, thus we rise in the first days of the universe to draw from our urns the thought of Eternity before its spring has dried. Drop by drop it falls from the stars, and from the vault of heaven, and from every leaf of the palm-tree; let us intoxicate ourselves with its liquor as with a resinous wine. O you nations of India, of Chaldea, of Egypt, in turn, take and drink the cup of eternity, which he has left filled in quitting his banquet. Let all the new-born peoples lift to their lips, without delay, the vessel in which the Infinite ferments to the brim. After us, our sphinxes; after them, our idols of granite and bronze. If the universe wavers to our eyes,—if it separates into a thousand different gods, birds with the heads of men, serpents with the bodies of women, crowned unicorns,—let it be as in our feasts when the heart is gorged with Idumean wines, and as each guest seems to see the golden vessels totter, clatter together, and break on the porphyry table. Let us hasten from India even to Araxe: who knows if the time is not coming when the universe after centuries will be like a flower withered and scorched at night by an Arabian sun, and if men’s lips will not press in vain the cup where we drink, and which then will have no longer its perfume or eternal beverage?

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