The Sphinx

Henry Howard Brownell

They glare,—those stony eyes!   
That in the fierce sun-rays   
    Showered from these burning skies,   
    Through untold centuries   
Have kept their sleepless and unwinking gaze.           
Since what unnumbered year   
    Hast thou kept watch and ward,   
And o’er the buried Land of Fear   
    So grimly held thy guard?   
No faithless slumber snatching,           
    Still couched in silence brave,   
Like some fierce hound long watching   
    Above her master’s grave.   
    No fabled shape art thou!   
    On that thought-freighted brow           
And in those smooth weird lineaments we find,   
    Though traced all darkly, even now   
        The relics of a mind:   
    And gather dimly thence   
    A vague, half-human sense,—           
    The strange and sad intelligence   
        That sorrow leaves behind.   
    Dost thou in anguish thus   
    Still brood o’er Oedipus?   
And weave enigmas to mislead anew,           
    And stultify the blind   
    Dull heads of human kind,   
      And inly make thy moan   
That, mid the hated crew,   
    Whom thou so long couldst vex,           
    Bewilder, and perplex,   
Thou yet couldst find a subtler than thine own?   
    Even now, methinks that those   
    Dark, heavy lips, which close   
    In such a stern repose,           
Seem burdened with some thought unsaid,   
And hoard within their portals dread   
    Some fearful secret there,   
Which to the listening earth   
She may not whisper forth,           
    Not even to the air!   
    Of awful wonders hid   
    In yon dread Pyramid,   
        The home of magic fears;   
    Of chambers vast and lonely,           
    Watched by the Genii only,   
Who tend their masters’ long-forgotten biers,   
    And treasures that have shone   
    On cavern-walls alone,   
        For thousand, thousand years.           
    Those sullen orbs wouldst thou eclipse,   
    And ope those massy tomb-like lips,—   
    Many a riddle thou couldst solve,   
    Which all blindly men revolve.   
    Would she but tell! She knows           
    Of the old Pharaohs;   
    Could count the Ptolemies’ long line;   
Each mighty myth’s original hath seen,   
Apis, Anubis,—ghosts that haunt between   
    The bestial and divine,—           
(Such, he that sleeps in Philae,—he that stands   
  In gloom, unworshipped, ’neath his rock-hewn fane,—   
And they who, sitting on Memnonian sands,   
  Cast their long shadows o’er the desert plain:)   
    Hath marked Nitocris pass,           
    And Ozymandias   
Deep-versed in many a dark Egyptian wile,—   
    The Hebrew boy hath eyed   
    Cold to the master’s bride;   
  And that Medusan stare hath frozen the smile           
  Of all her love and guile,   
    For whom the Cæsar sighed,   
    And the world-loser died,-
The darling of the Nile.

The mysterious Sphinx of Giza in Cairo, Egypt, has fascinated visitors and inspired poets for centuries. There are many poems about the Sphinx and about pyramids and the city of Cairo.

Main Location:

The Sphinx, Great Sphinx of Giza, Cairo, Egypt

They glare,—those stony eyes - the Great Sphinx at Giza