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Sand of the Desert in an Hour-Glass

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1850

A handful of red sand, from the hot clime
  Of Arab deserts brought,
Within this glass becomes the spy of Time,
  The minister of Thought.

How many weary centuries has it been
  About those deserts blown!
How many strange vicissitudes has seen,
  How many histories known!

Perhaps the camels of the Ishmaelite
  Trampled and passed it o'er,
When into Egypt from the patriarch's sight
  His favorite son they bore.

Perhaps the feet of Moses, burnt and bare,
  Crushed it beneath their tread;
Or Pharaoh's flashing wheels into the air
  Scattered it as they sped;

Or Mary, with the Christ of Nazareth
  Held close in her caress,
Whose pilgrimage of hope and love and faith
  Illumed the wilderness;

Or anchorites beneath Engaddi's palms
  Pacing the Dead Sea beach,
And singing slow their old Armenian psalms
  In half-articulate speech;

Or caravans, that from Bassora's gate
  With westward steps depart;
Or Mecca's pilgrims, confident of Fate,
  And resolute in heart!

These have passed over it, or may have passed!
  Now in this crystal tower
Imprisoned by some curious hand at last,
  It counts the passing hour,

And as I gaze, these narrow walls expand;
  Before my dreamy eye
Stretches the desert with its shifting sand,
  Its unimpeded sky.

And borne aloft by the sustaining blast,
  This little golden thread
Dilates into a column high and vast,
  A form of fear and dread.

And onward, and across the setting sun,
  Across the boundless plain,
The column and its broader shadow run,
  Till thought pursues in vain.

The vision vanishes! These walls again
  Shut out the lurid sun,
Shut out the hot, immeasurable plain;
  The half-hour's sand is run!

Published in The Seaside and the Fireside

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