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Poem by Edwin Arnold


Hagar in the Wilderness


A weary waste of blank and barren land,
A lonely, lonely sea of shifting sand,
A golden furnace gleaming overhead,
Scorching the blue sky into bloody red;
And not a breath to cool,-and not a breeze
To stir one feather of the drooping trees;
Only the desert wind with hungry moan,
Seeking for life to slay, and finding none;
Only the hot Sirocco's burning breath,
Spangled with sulphur-flame, and winged with death;
No sound, no step, no voice, no echo heard,
No cry of beast, no whirring wing of bird;
The silver-crested snake hath crept away
From the fell fury of that Eastern day;
The famished vultures by the failing spring
Droop the foul beak and fold the ragged wing;
And lordly lions, ere the chase be done,
Leave the blank desert to the desert-sun.


Ah! not alone to him-turn thee and see
Beneath the shadow of yon balsam tree
A failing mother of a fainting son
Resting to die deserted and alone.
Turn thee and mark the mother's gentle care
Stripping the fillet from her silken hair,
So it may fall to shade his feeble frame,
A glossy curtain from the noon-day flame;
See-at her feet the shrivelled flagon cast,
The last drop drained, the sweetest and the last.
Drained at her darling's lip to still his cries,
A mother's free and final sacrifice.
Look-she hath taken it, and yet again
Presses the flagon-presses-but in vain.
The scrip is emptied and the flagon dry,
And nothing left them but the leave to die.


To die-and one so young and one so true,
And both so beautiful and brave to view:
She-with her braided locks more black than night,
And eye so darkly, deeply, wildly bright;
He-with his slender limbs and body bare
And small hands tangled in his mother's hair,
And there to whiten on the desert-sands,
A landmark for the laden desert bands!
That thought is stamping anguish on her brow,
That dread hath taught her what she utters now.


'Son of my soul! the happy days are done;
'Thy little course and mine are nearly run;
'The white tents wave on Kirjath-Arba's plain,
'No home for us-no resting place again:
'Before yon orb is sunken from the sky
'Together in the desert we must die.
'Must die, my boy, and I, alas! can give,
'To make death lighter, or to help thee live,
'No greater gift, no better boon than this,
'A mother's love-a mother's fondest kiss.
'Oh! might I drain for thee this bitter bowl,
'Or take one torment from thy parting soul,
'How would I die a thousand deaths for thee,
'And rack mine own to set thy spirit free.
'But I must watch thy failing fevered breath,
'And on this bosom nurse thee into death;
'Must mark thy sinking heart and closing eye,
'A pang more cruel than death's agony.
'What-weepest thou to lose, my gentle son,
'The pleasant promise of thy life begun?
'Weep, if thou wilt! no mocking eye shall view;
'None but thy mother's,-and she weepeth too.


'Alas! how often at the end of day
'Sadly and gladly I have seen thee play;
'Or with bright eye and brow of anxious care
'The tiny arrows for thy bow prepare.
'And thou wouldst pluck the he-goat by the beard,
'And drag him, laughing, from the startled herd,
'Or leap rejoicing from thy father's side
'To chase the leopard in his course of pride.
'And in her tent thy mother sat the while,
'Marking thy playful mood with thoughtful smile;
'For then I feared that stubbornness of soul
'That mocked at bonds, and might not brook control:
'I knew from hand so daring, heart so free,
'That length of days was not a gift for thee:
'Yet deemed I never that thy father's hand
'Would rise to drive us from that happy land;
'That he could doom us to the desert plain,
'And give thee life to take that life again.


'Nay! do not curse him, boy, for curses come
'Back on the sender, like an eagle home;
'And he is wise and gentle, and will mourn
'More than we wot of when he knows us gone.
'Not thy fond father robs thee of thy life,
'But she-the bitter-hearted Hebrew wife.
'Her hate hath doomed us to this deep distress,
'And made our grave in this drear wilderness.
'Alas! alas! the proudest palms that grow
'Will shade the hewer who must lay them low.
'She could not brook thy bold Egyptian blood,
'The untamed workings of thy wayward mood;
'She could not hope to tear my child from me
'With tongue so bitter and with eye so free;
'And by the throne of Pharaoh! though that eye
'Hath sent us hitherward alone to die,
'Though thou must forfeit to the Hebrew wife
'Thy father's love, thy mother, and thy life,
'Yet could I love thee more than I have loved,
'Or better prove that love than I have proved,
'It would be, son of mine! that thou didst scorn
'The yoke so basely by thy mother borne;
'That thou didst mock thy little tyrant's rage,
'Nor own my slavery thine heritage.'


Yet was she speaking; but the cry of joy
Burst from the bosom of the dying boy.
His eager finger pointed to the plain,
His eye had light, his cheek its life again.
'Look, mother! look! we will not die to-day;
'Look where the water glistens! come away!'


She turned-oh! fairest sight, if sight it be,
The sleeping silver of that inland sea.
She gazed-O gaze of hope and life and light!
Those crystal waters glancing pure and bright;
From Seir's red crags and Hazargaddah's heath,
Eastward to Eder and the Sea of Death.
The dismal wilderness was past and gone,
The waves were streaming where the sands had shone;
Streaming o'er tree and crag, by bush and brake,
The silent splendour of a windless lake,
In whose broad wave so radiantly blue
Each feathered palm, each lonely plant that grew,
Each mountain on the distant desert-side
Shone double, shadowed in the sleeping tide.
Yet was it strange! no dream so passing strange,
As the quick phantom of that fairy change;
And stranger still, that ever as they came
To lave the burning lip, and brow of flame,
The waters fading far and farther still,
Cheated their chase and mocked their baffled will.
Alas! no pleasant waters rippled there;
The lying mirage lured them to despair.


She saw it fading, and there came a cry
Out from her heart of wildest agony;
She knew it gone, and strove to stand and speak
While the life withered in her whitened cheek.
Then her lip quivered, and her lashes fell,
And her tongue faltered in its faint farewell,
'Man had no mercy-God will show us none-
'Ishmael! I dare not see thee die, my son!'


Tenderly-lovingly-her load she laid
Where no sun glistened in the grateful shade;
Softly she pillowed on the sands his head,
And spread her mantle for his dying bed;
No gems were there to deck the lowly bier,
But the pure lustre of a mother's tear;
No fragrant spices for the sleep of death,
But the soft fragrance of a mother's breath;
No tearful eye, no tributary tongue,
To tell his fate who died so fair and young;
No better mourner for the boy than she
Who weeps to see him what herself shall be:
Than she who sits apart with side-long eye
Waiting till he hath died that she may die;
And buries all her forehead in her hair,
Weeping the bitter tears of black despair.


So is the desert-sand their death and grave,
No hope of help, no pitying hand to save!


None! was it then the icy lip of death
Or low winds laden with the roses' breath
That kissed her forehead? was it earthly sound,
Floating like fairy voice above, around;
Or splendid symphonies of seraph-kings
Striking the music from unearthly strings,
Whose touch hath startled her? what inward strife
Stirs the still apathy of parting life?
What sense of power unseen, of presence hid,
Lifts from her lightless eyes the unwilling lid?
She rose-she turned-there in that lonely place
God's glory flashed upon her lifted face.


And with the glory came an angel voice,
'Hagar, what ailest? rouse thee, and rejoice!
'Look up, and live! God's ever opened ear
'Hath patient hearing for a mother's prayer.
'Arise-take up the boy-his pleading cry
'Came up to God, and had its end on high;
'And God shall make him, in his own good time,
'A mighty people, in a pleasant clime.'


Then was her sight unsealed, and lo! at hand
A spring was sparkling in the desert sand;
Sparkling with crystal water to the brim,
Fringed with the date, and rimmed with lilied rim.
Swiftly she speeded to the fountain's brink,
And drew a draught, and gave her boy to drink,
And watched the little lips that lingered still,
Nor tasted drop till he had drunk his fill.
Then on bent knees, with tear and smile at strife,
Mother and child, they quaffed the liquid life;
And stayed to smile, and drank to smile again,
Till sweet and cheerful seemed the silent plain;
And young leaves dancing on the desert trees
To the low music of the passing breeze,
And birds of passage with their homeward wings,
And fire-flies wheeling in their lighted rings,
And flowers unfolding where the glare was gone
Spake but one tale-Hope ever, and Hope on!


Hope on! aye, though the happy laugh be dumb,
All the joy gone, and all the anguish come;
Though bitter disappointment, baffled strife,
Leave ye but laggards in the race of life;
Hope on! White day is born of sable night,
And from deep sorrow springeth dear delight.
Angels have knowledge of your cares and fears,
Angels are counting all your bitter tears.
Hope and pray on! patience and prayer are strong,
Stronger than strength of pain, and sting of wrong.
Fail not, and falter not; the pathway lies
Only through sorrow to the sinless skies;
Then, when the riddle of the world is read,
And hate and pain, and time and toil are dead,
Then shall ye learn the lesson of the years,
And wear the coronal Endurance wears. 



Edwin Arnold


Edwin Arnold's other poems:
  1. The Division of Poland
  2. With a Bracelet in the Form of a Snake
  3. The Marriage
  4. The Rhine and The Moselle
  5. The Alchemist


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