Nicholas Michell

But near Mount Hor, for countless ages hid,
And sealed like vaults in Cheops' pyramid,
Hemmed in by rocks, a wall on every side,
Lo! queen of deserts, Petra veils her pride.*
So wild that scene without, and stern and bare,
Ye scarce would deem man once had dwelling there,
But think those rocks the goat could only roam,
Or on their summits eagles make their home.
We pierce yon dell at twilight's deepening hour;
Tall cliffs each side in savage grandeur tower;
Meeting aloft, like threatening foes they seem,
Till scarce between the clefts the stars can gleam.
The guides, with unsheathed daggers, lead the way,
For ofttimes here the robber lurks for prey:
The flickering torches show each swarthy face,
And wilder horror lend that lonely place.
Dark fir and cypress wave above our head,
And ivy bands fantastic garlands spread.
A fiery ball oft gleams where black rocks scowl —
'Tis the large eye of some sepulchral owl;
And oft a step is heard the crags among — '
Tis the lone wolf that steals in shade along,
And turns and looks, yet flies the torch's glare,
And growls in rage that man disturbs him there.
The dell is passed ; the moonbeams, soft and white,
Pour on the scene — now forward cast thy sight;
Sudden and strange, as 'twere enchanted ground,
A fair and spacious area spreads around:
Pillar and arch, defying Time's rude shock,
Gleam on each side, upstarting from the rock:
The ancient way shows polished pavements yet,
Where Pleasure tripped, and Traffic's children met,
But ah! no more, to merry pipe and song,
Through those ravines shall wind the vintage-throng,
Or caravans bring store that Commerce loves,
From Ind's gemmed hills, and Saba's spicy groves.*
Down by yon stream unnumbered dwellings trace,
Each hollowed from the mountain's marble face,
Halls, and long corridors, and banquet-rooms,
Where music rang, and maidens swung perfumes;
For slave and lord alike one impulse felt,
True sons of Esau, still in rocks they dwelt.
See yonder shrine, with frieze and moulding rich,
And finely carved each pedestal and niche,
Long pillared rows where Attic taste is shown,
Cornice on high, — all cut from living stone!

So fresh, so pure, the gazer well might say,
Not .twenty ages since! — 'twas built to-day!
Turn, too — for Rome has left her impress here,
Gorgeous in art, though not, like Greece, severe —
See, round and round, theatric benches sweep,
For Edom's children once could smile and weep;
On yon broad stage where brambles flourish now,
The actor trod, with strangely-vizored brow,
Or, thrilling listeners' ears with notes of fire,
Burst the full chorus forth and swelled the lyre.
Now the brown fox across those benches springs,
To Beauty's marble seat the blind worm clings;
Hark! 'tis my step that sounds too loudly rude,
The rill's small voice disturbs this solitude.
High o'er my head ascends a spiral stair,
Across yon cleft a bridge seems hung in air;
While, mingling life with death, a thousand caves
Yawn far and near, the ancient dwellers' graves;
Some proud inscriptions bear, some fretted towers,
And others flame-crowned urns, and sculptured flowers.
O'er all, the hills still lift their brows to Heav'n,
Like giant guards by jealous Nature giv'n,
The peaks their spears, the clouds their flags unfurl'd,
To shut this rock-built city from the world.

(Extract from Ruins of Many Lands)

* Author's Note: On leaving the ravine, Petra bursts on the traveller in all its desolate beauty. Its site forms a natural amphitheatre, about two miles and a-half in circumference, a few openings appearing here and there between the lofty hills. Some of the buildings, or rather excavations, exhibit a freshness of hue, and a delicacy of ornament, which nothing but a very dry climate, and their protected situation, could have succeeded in preserving. " The sides of the mountains," says Irby, " covered with an endless variety of excavated tombs and private dwellings, presented the most singular scene we ever beheld."

Main Location:

Petra, Jordan