Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Where Are the Cities of Old Time?

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928), "The Ballade of Dead Cities:"
                    To A.L.

Where are the cities of the plain?
  And where the shrines of rapt Bethel?
And Calah built of Tubal-Cain?
  And Shinar whence King Amraphel
  Came out in arms and fought, and fell,
Decoyed into the pits of slime
  By Siddim, and sent sheer to hell;
Where are the cities of old time?

Where now is Karnak, that great fane,
  With granite built, a miracle?
And Luxor smooth without a stain,
  Whose graven scripture still we spell?
  The jackal and the owl may tell;
Dark snakes around their ruins climb,
  They fade like echo in a shell;
Where are the cities of old time?

And where is white Shushan, again,
  Where Vashti's beauty bore the bell,
And all the Jewish oil and grain
  Were brought to Mithridath to sell,
  Where Nehemiah would not dwell,
Because another town sublime
  Decoyed him with her oracle?
Where are the cities of old time?

Prince, with a dolorous, ceaseless knell,
  Above their wasted toil and crime
The waters of oblivion swell:
  Where are the cities of old time?
"A.L." is Andrew Lang (1844-1912), who addressed a poem with the same title to Gosse:
The dust of Carthage and the dust
Of Babel on the desert wold,
The loves of Corinth, and the lust,
Orchomenos increased with gold;
The town of Jason, over-bold,
And Cherson, smitten in her prime—
What are they but a dream half-told?
Where are the cities of old time?

In towns that were a kingdom's trust,
In dim Atlantic forests' fold,
The marble wasteth to a crust,
The granite crumbles into mould;
O'er these—left nameless from of old—
As over Shinar's brick and slime,
One vast forgetfulness is roll'd—
Where are the cities of old time?

The lapse of ages, and the rust,
The fire, the frost, the waters cold,
Efface the evil and the just;
From Thebes, that Eriphyle sold,
To drown'd Caer-Is, whose sweet bells toll'd
Beneath the wave a dreamy chime
That echo'd from the mountain-hold,—
"Where are the cities of old time?"

Prince, all thy towns and cities must
Decay as these, till all their crime,
And mirth, and wealth, and toil are thrust
Where are the cities of old time.

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