Poems (Botta)/Bones in the Desert


Where pilgrims seek the Prophet’s tomb Across the Arabian waste, Upon the ever-shifting sands, A fearful path is traced.

Far up to the horizon’s verge, The traveller sees it rise,— The line of ghastly bones that bleach Beneath those burning skies.

Across it, tempest and simoom The desert sands have strewed, But still that line of spectral white Forever is renewed.

For while along that burning track, The caravans move on, Still do the way-worn pilgrims fall, Ere yet the shrine be won.

There the tired camel lays him down And shuts his gentle eyes; And there the fiery rider droops, Toward Mecca looks and dies.

They fall unheeded from the ranks:— On sweeps the endless train, But there, to mark the desert path, Their whitening bones remain.

As thus I read the mournful tale, Upon the traveller’s page, I thought how like the march of life Is this sad pilgrimage.

For every heart hath some fair dream, Some object unattained, And far off in the distance lies Some Mecca to be gained.

But beauty, manhood, love and power Go in their morning down, And longing eyes and outstretched arms, Tell of the goal unwon.

The mighty caravan of life Above their dust may sweep, Nor shout, nor trampling feet shall break The rest of those who sleep.

Oh! fountains that I have not reached, That gush far off e’en now, When shall I quench my spirit’s thirst Where your sweet waters flow.

Oh! Mecca of my life-long dreams, Cloud palaces that rise In that far distance, pierced by hope, When will ye greet mine eyes.

The shadows lengthen toward the East From the declining sun, And the pilgrim, as ye still recede, Sighs for the journey done.

Poems (1853), facing p. 130.jpg