Sunday, June 12, 2016

Poetry Month, Day 12, Richard Henguist Horne, "Pelters of Pyramids"

From Book 5 of the The World's 1000 Best Poems, I have selected this short piece (and it was a rough selection, I can tell you. Book 5 covers the poets from Guest to King, and there are some rather long pieces in there - Homer falls between Guest and King, for instance, as does A.E. Houseman. I was tempted to give you all some Houseman, actually.)

Horne's poem talks about, perhaps, the futility of resisting the passing of time. Or maybe the smallness of small minds. At any rate, sometimes it feels as though we are cursing the ancients and throwing rocks at pyramids, expecting some reaction. Horne says people have felt like that for ages. What art thou more than we, indeed.

Pelters of Pyramids
Richard Henry Horne (1802–84)
SHOAL of idlers, from a merchant craft
Anchor’d off Alexandria, went ashore,
And mounting asses in their headlong glee,
Round Pompey’s Pillar rode with hoots and taunts,
As men oft say, “What art thou more than we?”        5
Next in a boat they floated up the Nile
Singing and drinking, swearing senseless oaths,
Shouting, and laughing most derisively
At all majestic scenes. A bank they reach’d,
And clambering up, play’d gambols among tombs;        10
And in portentous ruins (through whose depths,
The mighty twilight of departed Gods,
Both sun and moon glanced furtive, as in awe)
They hid, and whoop’d, and spat on sacred things.
  At length, beneath the blazing sun they lounged        15
Near a great Pyramid. Awhile they stood
With stupid stare, until resentment grew;
In the recoil of meanness from the vast;
And gathering stones, they with coarse oaths and jibes
(As they would say, “What art thou more than we?”)        20
Pelted the Pyramid! But soon these men,
Hot and exhausted, sat them down to drink—
Wrangled, smok’d, spat, and laugh’d, and drowsily
Curs’d the bald Pyramid, and fell asleep.
  Night came:—a little sand went drifting by—        25
And morn again was in the soft blue heavens.
The broad slopes of the shining Pyramid
Look’d down in their austere simplicity
Upon the glistening silence of the sands
Whereon no trace of mortal dust was seen.        30