Robert Ferguson.

The shadow of the pyramid, a series of sonnets online

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ir^AMILIAR as the wonders of Egypt
■^ have been rendered by many an elabo-
rate dissertation, many a charming descrip-
tion, and many an exquisite illustration, it
has frequently occurred to me that the harvest
of poetry has not yet been fully reaped. Her
stupendous monuments, well compared by
the Westminster Review to the gigantic
fossils of an extinct world — her ancient glory
and long degradation — her solemn and mys-
terious religion — the wonderful natural pheno-
mena of her soil and river — her connection
with so many of the events of sacred history,

vi Preface.

and her present interesting and critical posi-
tion, are subjects peculiarly well adapted for
the poet's contemplation. And this consi-
deration must be the only excuse for me, as
an unknown writer, in venturing into an
already over-crowded arena.

Some of the following Spnnets having been
written unconnectedly during a recent visit
to Egypt, it occurred to me that the interest
of the subject might justify me in forming
them into a series, and presenting them to
the public in their present form.

It may, not improbably, be the opinion of
some, that I have not, in this little poem,
done justice to the character of the extraor-
dinary man who now governs Egypt. But
agreeing, as I do, in the opinion expressed
by Lord Lindsay and others, that while he
has done a great deal for Egypt considered
as his own property, he has done nothing

Preface. vii

for the mass of the people, who are fewer in
number, and in no better condition, than
when his rule commenced ; I cannot look
upon him in any other light than that of a
landlord improving his estate, for his own
benefit and that of his family — for it is indeed
his property. He might with truth say,
'TEgypte — c'est moi." He is, perhaps, the
greatest monopolist the world ever saw, and
being the universal land-owner, merchant,
manufacturer, and financier, buying at his
own price, selling at his own price, and fixing
arbitrarily the value of his own coin, it is no
wonder that he has accumulated an enormous
private fortune. Yet there are some good
points in his character, and if in any of these
Sonnets there be an apparent contradiction,
it must be remembered that he is a contra-
dictory character of whom I write.

As implied by the title, the subject of this

viii Preface.

poem embraces no more of Egypt than that
comprehended in the district around Cairo,
nor do I in the shghtest degree flatter myself
that I have in anywise exhausted that subject.
I shall only add, that I have taken all pains
to do justice to the task I have undertaken,
and with these few remarks I await the
verdict in submission, though not in indif-



"13 I VER of Egypt I * who at first did'st place

-*-'-' A garden in the wilderness, and still

Dost needfully thy wonted task fulfil,

With bloom perennial to adorn its face —

O'er many a dreary desert, day by day,

No friendly stream thy lonely path attends, f

No shower of freshness from on high descends

To impart new life, and cheer thee on thy way ;

And yet what waters are so sweet as thine ?

Whose charm, (so says the Moslem) e'en might make

The spirits of the sainted, for thy sake,

The immortal joys of Paradise resign.

And on thy borders, O delightful river !

Find all their heaven, rejoice, and drink for ever !

* See Note. t For 1200 miles the Nile does

not receive a single tributary stream.

The Shadow of

T TERE is the very artery that contains

The life-blood of a nation's being — spread
Thence through her system by a thousand veins,
And to each distant pore distributed ; —
No less disastrous when the stream, o'er-fed,
Hurries along in feverish overflow,
Than when her pulse beats languidly and low.
From either cause are dire diseases bred : *
What ails her now? — her strength seems well-nigh

Is it that age has dried within its course
The stream of life ? or rather that upon
Her vitals clings oppression, and the source
Whence through her veins the tide of hfe should

For ages has been drain'd — to feed that bloated

thing ? ^

* Plague and Famine are said to be the results either of
an insufficient, or of an overabundant rise of the Nile. The
past year (1846) has however been an exception, as the
plague, -which was predicted in consequence of the unusual
height of the inundation, has not taken place.

THE Pyramid.

/^N Nile's broad bosom, by that favouring gale

Impelled, that still at needful season blows,
Ordained from heaven to aid the struggling sail,
To stem the swollen current as it flows.
Our bark we launch and gallantly she goes.
Gay sparkling at her bows the rippling deep,
Till sinks the breeze with sunset to repose,
And by the shore all sullenly we creep;
While not a murmur, as we steal along, '
Comes o'er us but the sakeeah's * plaintive sound
That, like a moaning spirit of the ground.
Tells to the night its tale of grief and wrong ;
While Nile's smooth onward flow still seems to

" Hold on ! for all these things shall pass away."

* A wheel turned by ozea for raising water for the pur-
pose of irrigation.

The Shadow of

T" TOW sweet the breath ! how calm the voice of
^ ^ night !

How soothingly her gentle fingers sweep
O'er the worn brow in zephyrs soft and light,
And charm with magic touch the soul to sleep !
O then to wake ! and feel how full and deep
The pulse of Nile throbs round thee, and to hear
No voice but his low breathing on the ear ;
Then in a thought of Him who still doth keep
His watch o'er earth, a moment's space upon
Yon sky to gaze, and in that moment see
The gleaming dart of the unsleeping One
Flash through the sky against his enemy ; *
And then to muse, till melting into dreams,
The murmur of the Nile some Friend's loved ac-
cents seems.

• The [Moslems believe that a falling star is the dart of
the Almighty thrown at an evil spirit.

THE Pyramid.

' ^ I "'IS midnight now, yet almost light as noon,

■^ For like a sovereign here in her own right
O'er the wide heaven rides forth the queenly moon,
These rayless lids around how deadly bright
Can tell — for she who once a luckless sight
So dearly paid,* still brooks not mortal eye
Should scathless view in the uncurtained sky.
Her charms in all the nakedness of night —
Such moral beam now shines upon this land.
As bright, as joyless, as her moon's cold sway,
No ghmmering dawn that might perchance expand
In fostering years to freedom's perfect day,
Alas ! for freedom's sun might shine in vain
On those who ne'er shall wake to freedom's life
again —

* See the story of Actaeon,

The ophthalmia, so common in Egypt, has been partly at-
tributed to the habit of sleeping exposed to the powerful
light of the moon.

The Shadow of

^TP'HERE is an art, when nature's life has fled,

That for a moment life fictitious brings,
A spasm that fiercely draws the human strings.
Till throes convulsive seize upon the dead.
Clench the lean hand, and raise the ghastly head ;
'Tis but a moment, and withdrawn the charm,
Droops the unconscious head, the nerveless arm,
And still and stiff the lifeless form is spread.
When 'tis so with a nation — all in vain
A despot stretches forth his iron hand
To build, to fortify, to fill the main
With fleets, to chain with fortresses the land.
Wasting a lifetime in the hope insane
Thus to redeem the land that must be born again.

THE Pyramid.

TT O I by the power whose potent influence gives
^^^^ To this dead land a Ufe that is not hers,
See her worn frame possessed ! she starts — she

stirs —
Convulsive writhes. — Fool ! dost thou think she

lives ?
Is there a soul within her when she strives ?
A soul to give a motive and an aim
To what she does — a thought of use or fame —
Or moves she but as thy fierce impulse drives ?
Go ! — drag the Fellah from his peaceful toil —
Bring him in chains, then arm his trembling hand —
And bid him fight — for what ? — his native land ?
His ! nay — he hath no portion in the soil —
No — not so much as set his foot upon * —
' For e'en his last and lowest ties are gone.

* Mehemet Ali has taken the greater part of the land of
Egypt into his own possession, allowing the original pro-
prietors a life interest, which is a measure anything but con-
ducive to its national regeneration — though as a property it
may be rendered temporarily more productive.

The Shadow of


"VTO more of this — for not such thoughts as

^ these

Does this delightful hour of peace suggest,
Lulled by his murmuring wave and gentle breeze,
Together now, oppressor and opprest,
Nile gathers them to slumber on his breast,
And the worn serf may close his weary eyes
On these green banks, from all his cares at rest,
Stretch his tired Hmbs, and dream of Paradise.
And though he wake to toil unblest and stern,
To sow in tears, and not in joy to reap,
Yet shall ye see him, rising from that sleep.
Towards the kindling East devoutly turn,
In humble worship and submission deep.
And while ye pity, ye may also learn !

THE Pyramid.

O EE where the pilgrim bound for Mecca's shrine

^^ Yon weary steps and way-worn robes proclaim,

Is not his pilgrimage akin to mine ?

Is not our errand somewhat of the same ?

For not e'en Mecca's venerated name,

Nor yet Medina where the Prophet lies,

Receives the homage, nor can boast the fame

Of those dim tombs that now befoi*e me rise.

Alas ! proud city — and is this the sight

That first attracts the distant stranger's gaze ?

Nor fort, nor palace, tells the Moslem's might,

Alone the giant tombs of other days.

Obscure and shadowy in the early light.

As clouds on the horizon he surveys.*

* The pyramids appear in sight at tlie distance of thirty

10 .. The Shadow of

O TAY ! now a modern wonder meets mine eye,

Egypt's last ruler triumphs o'er her first —
Mahommed dares what Menes never durst,*
And dims the glory of the days gone by —
See 'gainst the rushing Nile uprear on high
A barrier tide and tempest shall not force.
To change the mighty river in its course
And streams of life to all the land supply.
But will old Nile, that many a century past
Was reverenced as a Father and a God,
Will he obey the new Usurper's rod.
And follow where his finger points at last —
Or will he rise in all his majesty
And dash the fetters from him? — We shall see I

■* Menes, the first King of Egypt, diverted the course of
the Nile in order to build Memphis ; a magnificent work,
but not to be compared with what Mahommed Ali's Barrage
will be, if (of which there is considerable doubt) it is ever

THE Pyramid. 11

A ND now, gay sparkling in the morning light,
■*• -^ Cairo's embowered minarets appear ;
How graceful ! how fantastic is the sight !
Even man's works with more luxuriance here.
As well as those of Nature, seem to rise
Beneath this life-inspiring atmosphere —
Till, like the land's own mirage, as we near
The enchanting spot, the charm'd illusion flies,
And still, o'er all the stern old citadel
Keeps watch as it was wont in days gone by.
When from its shade the Arab chivalry
Rode forth, the red-cross banner to repel :
Ah ! how its gallant Founder would have spurn'd
The use to which those walls have since been

* The Citadel of Cairo, the well-known scene of the mas-
sacre of the Memlooks, was built by the illustrious Saladin.

12 The Shadow of


T3UT, ere within the port we moor our bark,
"^"^ A moment let us pause by Rhoda's isle !
For here it was, within his fragile ark,
To careless wave, to watchful crocodile,
Exposed, upon the heaving breast of Nile,
Wailing and weak, the infant prophet lay;
Until the royal Maiden wiped away *
The guileless tear, and changed it for a smile :
Ah 1 gentle daughter of a ruthless sire !
One deed alone of all thy life is told,
And that is one of mercy — 'We desire
No more — wherever Scripture shall unfold
Its page to Man, till not a mouldering stone
Points out yon giant piles, thy story shall be

* Opposite to old Cairo is the Island of Rhoda, to which
tradition points as the spot where the infant Moses was found
by Pharaoh's daughter.

THE Pyramid. 13

T TNALTER'D might we deem this lovely isle
^^ Since that fair Princess wander'd by its shore,
So sweet a perfume steals across the Nile
From banks by rose and myrtle cluster'd o'er ;
'Tis a secluded Paradise once more,*
Where, 'mid soft fountains and inviting bowers.
Rulers might linger through the lazy hours,
Despite a nation's anguish, as of yore.
Ah ! Ibrahim— thou soldier rough and stern !
Dost Thou love gentle flowers ? dost Thou delight
To cherish and protect them ? Nay then — turn !
Turn to another garden ! one that might
Have shown as fair as e'er this earth have graced,
It might have done — It is — a blasted waste.

* The Isle of Rhoda is now occupied by the beautiful
gardens of Ibrahim Pacha, under the management of Mr.
Traill, a native of Scotland. "It is," says Stephens, "de-
cidedly the prettiest spot about Caii-o." Though at the same
time, many people prefer the trim formality of the Pacha's
warden at Shoobra.

14 The Shadow of


KAHIREH ! * tho' the spirit of the North,
Leading the van of national advance,
With energy resistless issuing forth,
Hath swept before it half the world's romance,
Yet is there still enchantment in the glance
That shews us, mingled in a sparkling stream,
Grave camels toil, and splendid Arabs prance.
And all that Eastern world of which we dream :
Not less the charm that 'twas but yesterday
We stood within the old, familiar home
Of our more sombre world ; and when we come
Where, strangely mingling solemn things and gay,
This fresh creation opens on our view,
I know not how it is, and yet it scarce seems true.

* El-Kahireh, or " the victorious," the ancient Arabic
name for Cairo,

THE Pyramid. 15

O TAND we indeed within the very hold

Of Moslem rancour and of Moslem scorn ?
And is the Moslem's bitterness outworn ?
And is the zeal that burn'd so fierce of old
Within the heart of glowing Islam, cold ?
What is it that hath wrought this sudden spell,
And thus, within the charmed citadel,
Conducts the D'jour, indifferent more than bold \
'Tis the fore-shadowing of a mightier power,
Before whose steps 'tis Islam's doom to fall.
And, like a flame, the while it doth devour.
It lights the secrets of the mystic hall.
Then gaze ye on the marvels while ye may.
For, by the breath ye breathe, they melt away !

16 The Shadow of

T TNTAMED and haughty, dashing proudly
^^^ past,

Behold the Bedouin on his gallant steed !
And mark the pledge to Ishmael and his seed,
How thro' all changes it doth changeless last !
Turn to the Turk, the tyrant of to-day :
No word of promise holds his kingdom fast !
See ! how he sleeps the strength of life away,
Till from his hands the sceptre shall be cast.
It seems a pleasant life to sit and think.
Where thoughts are dreams, to let the fancy feed
On variegated reveries, and drink *
The soothing perfume of the fragrant weed.
Till from his slumbers he awakes to find
That all men have not slept — and he is left behind.

* The Arabic expression for smoking signifies " drinkint

THE Pyramid. 17

T) EHOLD the next — nor need to ask his name !

"^"^ Turn from the desart-master's scornful brow —

Look on his fallen Brother's lot of shame — *

The Bond-maid's son has the advantage now !

Was it for this the fiery pillar came ?

For this the Angel's food — the yielding main ?

That thirty centuries find him here again,

In his old house of bondage, still the same ?

No I be it to the dust his form is bow'd,

Still waits for him a prospect bright indeed ;

And his eye sparkles, and his heart is proud.

When he beholds in faith the chosen seed

Upon their second Exodus go forth,

To meet their Brethren, ransom'd from the earth.

* See Note..


18 The Shadow of


'^ I ^IS strange, through Israel's centuries of dis-

■^ grace,

How still to Egypt the remembrance clings
Of its old Ruler, of the Hebrew race,
To whom all mighty and mysterious things
Mindless of their own Caliphs and their Kings
This people still ascribes,* nor years efface
That name, but fix it firmer in its place :
And yet that name no ray redeeming flings
O'er his descendants, nor has power to charm
The Moslem's bigot rancour, or his hate
Not even for a moment, to disarm ;
For while in Joseph's name they venerate
The memory of their Ruler, they forget
To whom their country owes that ancient debt.

* Every monument of the past for which the Arabs can-
not account they are in the habit of attributing- to Joseph, as
for instance the well in the Citadel, which they call " Joseph's
well." The Bahr Jussuf, or "Joseph's Canal," the work of
one of the ancient king's. The pyramids they also ascribe to
the same source. In some of these instances they confound
Joseph the Patriarch witli Yoosef Salah-e'-deen (the well-
known Saladin).

THE Pyramid. 19

X) Y narrow streets encompass'd like a maze,
"^"^ Now come we on a spacious open square ;
And startling is the sight that meets our gaze,
For the man-dealer has his market there :
Exposed in front behold his coarser ware —
Dongolan — Nubian — but from vulgar sight
Apart, the gentle Galla, Georgian fair,
This like soft evening,* that as morning bright.
Though it can never to a British mind
Be other than a hateful sight to view
Bondage in any aspect, yet we find
More mercy in the old world than the new ;
For the false Prophet, in the laws he gave, —
How is the Christian shamed ! — did not forget the
slave, f

* The Gallas are an Abyssinian race, handsome and well-
formed, and with scarcely any of the Negro characteristics.
They are very common in the Hareems of Cairo.

t Since the above was written, the traffic in slaves has been
abolished throuarhout the Turkish dominions.

20 The Shadow of

*' T VICTORIOUS " City! Here within thy wall

We look for glory, and we find disgrace.
For, steep'd in vice, and ground by bitter thrall,
We find the dregs of each illustrious race
Once Lords of Egypt, slaves in this same place.
Even from him, the first-born of the land.
Whose giant records shall untainted stand,
When time shall other puny works efface.
How shall the stranger know him when he meets,
With his lack-lustre eyes, and mean array,
The cringing Copt in Cairo's narrow streets ?
How has his splendid genius pass'd away !
Among his Father's glorious works he stands.
Unheeding, uninspired, to lick each master's hands.*

* The character of the Copts, given to JNIr. Lane by one
of themselves, describes them as "ignorant, deceitful, faith-
less, and abandoned to the pursuit of worldly gain, and to
indulgence in sensual pleasures."

THE Pyramid. 21


A ND yet for him of his great Father-kings
•^ ^ To boast the glory — to invite the meed
Of praise for many and for mighty things,
Were but a vain and idle task indeed ;
Here they are written, — he who runs may read.
Let him but point the stranger passing by
Where stand their tombs, and say, " See I there

they lie ! "
And that were all the boasting that he need.
" Son of a Pharaoh ! " * Is it come to this ?
The title Monarchs might be proud to vaunt,
Is made a very name to mock and hiss ?
Cease, scornful Moslem, the ill-chosen taunt !
When years have wrapp'd thy very name in gloom,
The Pilgrims of the world shall seek the Pharaoh's


* " Gins-el-Farauni," descendant of a Pharaoh, an ex-
pression of contempt made use of by the Turks.

22 The Shadow of

'\7'E who on many an old and classic shore

Of Greece or sunny Italy have seen,
Where glory long-departed shines no more,
Not only Nature such as she has been,
But, though man tread not with as proud a mien.
Still woman's eye as bright, her cheek as fair.
Her voice as sweet, her forehead as serene.
Here time has spoil'd what he is wont to spare !
Where shall we look for that once lovely race,
W^hose beauty in the halls of Memphis shone ?
The cerements of the tomb contain alone
The form like hers of symmetry and grace.
Whose image, idol of a Tuscan shrine,*
Ruling a second realm, is still to art divine.

* See Note.

THE Pyramid. 23


"\7'ET has the Copt, degraded tho' he be,

A creed that claims a kindred with our own,
For the good seed by an apostle sown,
That grew up once a fair and goodly tree,*
Still lingers on ; and though indeed we see
Upon its withered stem no living fruit.
Yet to the churlish soil still stubbornly
Clings the poor blighted thing with its dead root.
And he has suffered for this mongrel faith
Trouble and persecution, and has worn
The badge of shame,f and mark of Moslem scorn.
And tasted sorrow, even unto death ;
But owes to thee, Mahomraed ! respite now.
For, whatsoe'er thy faults, no bigot thou.

* The Gospel was first preached in Egypt by St. Mark,
and the conversion of Eg-ypt to Christianity was shortly fol-
lowed by that of jVubia and Abyssinia, the latter of which
still retains its religion, thougli Nubia has lapsed into ftla-

t At one time in tlie shape of a wooden cross of five
pounds weight suspended round the neck, at auotlier, in the
brand of a lion on the hand.

24 The Shadow of


T TERE comes the next, the smooth and subtle

^-^ Greek !

Is this the same whom he of Macedon

To the world's conquest led triumphant on ?

That calculating eye, that care-worn cheek

No trace of his once-lofty spirit speak.

As vainly, in the City of his fame,

The records of his glory shall we seek,

The Conqueror hath left it but his name.

Ah I could that Conqueror, piercing thro' the veil

Of ages, as he watch'd before his eyes

The stately walls of Alexandria rise.

Have witnessed his descendants chain'd for sale

Within those walls,* his tears might well have flow'd.

To see the fruit of all Ambition sosv'd.

* Immensenuinbersof Greek captives were sold for slaves
iu Alexandi'ia and Cairo, on Ibrahim Pacha's return from
his campaign in the ^lorea.

THE Pyramid. 25


A ND where is he who, like a raging flame,
J. \. u The Koran or the sword," his battle cry,
From Mecca's shores with conquering Amru came ?
In his own city here of victory
One only bears a heavier yoke than he;
What can that Faith do for him in his need ?
It teaches him to bear adversity
With patience that might shame a better Creed.
See what he is ! To know what he has been
Go ! view the tombs — ye shall not see them long —
Where the old Caliphs sleep — or climb his strong-
Old fortress on the rock, and view the scene
Spread at your feet, and ye may picture then
The ancient glory of the Saracen.

26 The Shadow of

"T SAID that all were here — Alas ! for one

Is not — of him remaineth not a trace ;
One who to power and splendour climb'd upon
His baseness, and to glory from disgrace
Arose, one sprung from that unconquer'd race
That on the passes of Caucasian heights *
To the train'd masses of the Muscovites
Still shows a gallant and enduring face.
Fields have been fought around, but none so fierce
As when on Gizeh's venerable plain
The fiery Memlook flung himself in vain
Upon the foe, his bristling ranks to pierce ;
Ah ! from that field had none returned to tell,
Slain in a noble cause — then it had been as well !

* The Memlooks were descended from Circassian slaves.

THE Pyramid. 27

TTj^OR lo ! another struggle— 'tis their last !

-^ They fall — No foe dares face them — yet they

With bleeding steeds and numbers melting fast
They charge, in madness, the unyielding wall
Whence gleams the flash and wings the coward ball :
It was a splendid troop that fatal morn
Rode up to Cairo for the festival ;
A gory heap was forth that evening borne !
We sink their crimes in pity for their lot ;
For 'twas a foul and treacherous deed of shame,
The blackest blot on Mahmoud's chequer'd name ;
And though a deed by which the world lost not,
We shudder as we stand within the keep —
And view the murder-den, and Emin's fearful leap.

2& The Shadow of

T3 ENEATH, their tombs are scattered, light
"^-^ and gay,

Unlike the grim old tombs around them spread —
Too gay, methinks, for mansions of the dead,

1 3

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