African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Frances E.W. Harper, "Moses: A Story of the Nile" (1870)

This text was formatted and proofread by Sarah Thompson in June 2024. 


Frances Ellen Watkins Harper 
Mrs. F. E. W. HARPER.


No. 243 Arch Street.



Kind and gracious princess, more than friend,
I've come to thank thee for thy goodness,
And to breathe into thy generous ears
My last and sad farewell. I go to join
The fortunes of my race, and to put aside
All other bright advantages, save
The approval of my conscience and the meed
Of rightly doing.

What means, my son, this strange election?
What wild chimera floats across thy mind?
What sudden impulse moves thy soul? Thou who
Hast only trod the court of kings, why seek
Instead the paths of labor? Thou, whose limbs
Have known no other garb than that which well
Befits our kingly state, why rather choose
The badge of servitude and toil?

Let me tell thee, gracious princess; 'tis no
Sudden freak nor impulse wild that moves my mind.
I feel an earnest purpose binding all
My soul unto a strong resolve, which bids
Me put aside all other ends and aims,
Until the hour shall come when God—the God
Our fathers loved and worshipped—shall break our chains,
And lead our willing feet to freedom.

Listen to me, Moses: thou art young,
And the warm blood of youth flushes thy veins
Like generous wine; thou wearest thy manhood
Like a crown; but what king e'er cast
His diadem in the dust, to be trampled
Down by every careless foot? Thou hast
Bright dreams and glowing hopes; could’st thou not live
Them out as well beneath the radiance
Of our throne as in the shadow of those
Bondage-darkened huts?

Within those darkened huts my mother plies her tasks,
My father bends to unrequited toil;
And bitter tears moisten the bread my brethren eat.
And when I gaze upon their cruel wrongs
The very purple on my limbs seems drenched
With blood, the warm blood of my own kindred race;
And then thy richest viands pall upon my taste,
And discord jars in every tone of song.
I cannot live in pleasure while they faint
In pain.

How like a dream the past floats bạck: it seems
But yesterday when I lay tossing upon
My couch of pain, a torpor creeping through
Each nerve, a fever coursing through my veins.
And there I lay, dreaming of lilies fair,
Of lotus flowers and past delights, and all
The bright, glad hopes, that give to early life
Its glow and flush; and thus day after day
Dragged its slow length along, until, one morn,
The breath of lilies, fainting on the air,
Floated into my room, and then I longed once more
To gaze upon the Nile, as on the face
Of a familiar friend, whose absence long
Had made a mournful void within the heart.
I summoned to my side my maids, and bade
Them place my sandals on my feet, and lead
Me to the Nile, where I might bathe my weary
Limbs within the cooling flood, and gather
Healing from the sacred stream.
I sought my favorite haunt, and, bathing, found
New tides of vigor coursing through my veins.
Refreshed, I sat me down to weave a crown of lotus leaves
And lilies fair, and while I sat in a sweet
Revery, dreaming of life and hope, I saw
A little wicker-basket hidden among
The flags and lilies of the Nile, and I called
My maidens and said, “Nillias and Osiria
Bring me that little ark which floats beside
The stream.” They ran and brought me a precious burden.
'Twas an ark woven with rushes and daubed
With slime, and in it lay a sleeping child;
His little hand amid his clustering curls,
And a bright flush upon his glowing cheek.
He wakened with a smile, and reached out his hand
To meet the welcome of the mother's kiss,
When strange faces met his gaze, and he drew back
With a grieved, wondering look, while disappointment
Shook the quivering lip that missed the mother's
Wonted kiss, and the babe lifted his voice and wept.
Then my heart yearned towards him, and I resolved
That I would brave my father's wrath and save
The child; but while I stood gazing upon
His wondrous beauty, I saw beside
A Hebrew girl, her eyes bent on me
With an eager, questioning look, and drawing
Near, she timidly said, “shall I call a nurse?”
I bade her go; she soon returned, and with her 
Came a woman of the Hebrew race, whose
Sad, sweet, serious eyes seemed overflowing
With a strange and sudden joy. I placed the babe
Within her arms and said, “Nurse this child for me;"
And the babe nestled there like one at home,
While o'er the dimples of his face rippled
The brightest, sweetest smiles, and I was well
Content to leave him in her care; and well
Did she perform her part. When many days had
Passed she brought the child unto the palace;
And one morning, while I sat toying with
His curls and listening to the prattle of his
Untrained lips, my father, proud and stately,
Saw me bending o’er the child and said,
“Charmain, whose child is this? who of my lords
Calls himself father to this goodly child?
He surely must be a happy man.”
          Then I said, “Father, he is mine. He is a
Hebrew child that I have saved from death." He
Suddenly recoiled, as if an adder
Had stung him, and said, "Charmian, take that
Child hence. How darest thou bring a member
Of that mean and servile race within my doors?
Nay, rather let me send for Nechos, whose
Ready sword shall rid me of his hateful presence.
Then kneeling at his feet, and catching
Hold of his royal robes, I said, “Not so,
Oh! honored father, he is mine; I snatched
Him from the hungry jaws of death, and foiled
The greedy crocodile of his prey; he has
Eaten bread within thy palace walls, and thy
Salt lies upon his fresh young lips; he has
A claim upon thy mercy.”
                                                  “Charmian," he said,
“I have decreed that every man child of that
Hated race shall die. The oracles have said
The pyramids shall wane before their shadow,
And from them a star shall rise whose light shall
Spread over earth a baleful glow; and this is why
I root them from the land; their strength is weakness
To my throne. I shut them from the light lest they
Bring darkness to my kingdom. Now, Charmian,
Give me up the child, and let him die.”
Then clasping the child closer to my heart,
I said, "the pathway to his life is through my own;
Around that life I throw my heart, a wall
Of living, loving clay.” Dark as the thunder
Clouds of distant lands became my father's brow,
And his eyes flashed with the fierce lightnings
Of his wrath; but while I plead, with eager
Eyes upturned, I saw a sudden change come
Over him; his eyes beamed with unwonted
Tenderness, and he said, “Charmian, arise,
Thy prayer is granted; just then thy dead mother
Came to thine eyes, and the light of Asenath
Broke over thy face. Asenath was the light
Of my home; the star that faded out too
Suddenly from my dwelling, and left my life
To darkness, grief and pain, and for her sake,
Not thine, I'll spare the child.” And thus I saved
Thee twice-once from the angry sword and once
From the devouring flood. Moses, thou art
Doubly mine; as such I claimed thee then, as such
I claim thee now. I've nursed no other child
Upon my knee, and pressed upon no other
Lips the sweetest kisses of my love, and now,
With rash and careless hand, thou dost thrust aside that love.
There was a painful silence, a silence
So hushed and still that you might have almost
Heard the hurried breathing of one and the quick.
Throbbing of the other's heart: for Moses,
He was slow of speech, but she was eloquent
With words of tenderness and love, and had breathed
Her full heart into her lips; but there was
Firmness in the young man's choice, and he beat back
The opposition of her lips with the calm
Grandeur of his will, and again he essayed to speak.

Gracious lady, thou remembrest well
The Hebrew nurse to whom thou gavest thy foundling.
That woman was my mother; from her lips I
Learned the grand traditions of our race that float,
With all their weird and solemn beauty, around
Our wrecked and blighted fortunes. How oft!
With kindling eye and glowing cheek, forgetful
Of the present pain, she would lead us through
The distant past: the past, hallowed by deeds
Of holy faith and lofty sacrifice.
How she would tell us of Abraham,
The father of our race, that he dwelt in Ur;
Of the Chaldees, and when the Chaldean king
Had called him to his sacrifice, that he
Had turned from his dumb idols to the living
God, and wandered out from kindred, home and race,
Led by his faith in God alone; and she would
Tell us,—(we were three,) my brother Aaron,
The Hebrew girl thou sentest to call a nurse,
And I, her last, her loved and precious child;
She would tell us that one day our father
Abraham heard a voice, bidding him offer
Up in sacrifice the only son of his
Beautiful and beloved Sarah; that the father's
Heart shrank not before the bitter test of faith,
But he resolved to give his son to God
As a burnt offering upon Moriah's mount;
That the uplifted knife glittered in the morning
Sun, when, sweeter than the music of a thousand
Harps, he heard a voice bidding him stay his hand,
And spare the child; and how his faith, like gold
Tried in the fiercest fire, shone brighter through
Its fearful test. And then she would tell us
Of a promise, handed down from sire to son,
That God, the God our fathers loved and worshiped,
Would break our chains, and bring to us a great
Deliverance; that we should dwell in peace
Beneath our vines and palms, our flocks and herds
Increase, and joyful children crowd our streets;
And then she would lift her eyes unto the far
Off hills and tell us of the patriarchs
Of our line, who sleep in distant graves within
That promised land; and now I feel the hour
Draws near which brings deliverance to our race.

These are but the dreams of thy young fancy;
I cannot comprehend thy choice. I have heard
Of men who have waded through slaughter
To a throne; of proud ambitions, struggles
Fierce and wild for some imagined good; of men
Who have even cut in twain the crimson threads
That lay between them and a throne; but I
Never heard of men resigning ease for toil,
The splendor of a palace for the squalor
Of a hut, and casting down a diadem
To wear a servile badge.
                                        Sadly she gazed
Upon the fair young face lit with its lofty
Faith and high resolves—the dark prophetic eyes
Which seemed to look beyond the present pain
Unto the future greatness of his race.
As she stood before him in the warm
Loveliness of her ripened womanhood,
Her languid eyes glowed with unwonted fire,
And the bright tropical blood sent its quick
Flushes o’er the olive of her cheek, on which
Still lay the lingering roses of her girlhood.
Grief, wonder, and surprise flickered like shadows
O'er her face as she stood slowly crushing
With unconscious hand the golden tassels
Of her crimson robe. She had known life only
By its brightness, and could not comprehend
The grandeur of the young man's choice; but she
Felt her admiration glow before the earnest
Faith that tore their lives apart and led him
To another destiny. She had hoped to see
The crown of Egypt on his brow, the sacred
Leopard skin adorn his shoulders, and his seat
The throne of the proud Pharaoh's; but now her
Dream had faded out and left a bitter pang
Of anguish in its stead. And thus they parted,
She to brood in silence o'er her pain, and he
To take his mission from the hands of God
And lead his captive race to freedom.
With silent lips but aching heart she bowed
Her queenly head and let him pass, and he
Went forth to share the fortune of his race,
Esteeming that as better far than pleasures
Bought by sin and gilded o'er with vice.
And he had chosen well, for on his brow
God poured the chrism of a holy work.
And thus anointed he has stood a bright
Ensample through the changing centuries of time.


It was a great change from the splendor, light
And pleasure of a palace to the lowly huts
Of those who sighed because of cruel bondage.
                                                     As he passed
Into the outer courts of that proud palace,
He paused a moment just to gaze upon
The scenes 'mid which his early life had passed—
The pleasant haunts amid the fairest flowers,
The fountains tossing on the air their silver spray,—
The statues breathing music soft and low
To greet the first faint flushes of the morn,—
The obelisks that rose in lofty grandeur
From their stony beds—the sphynxes gaunt and grim,
With unsolved riddles on their lips—and all
The bright creation's painters art and sculptors
Skill had gathered in those regal halls, where mirth,
And dance, and revelry, and song had chased
With careless feet the bright and fleeting hours.
He was leaving all; but no regrets came
Like a shadow o'er his mind, for he had felt
The quickening of a higher life, as if his
Soul had wings and he were conscious of their growth;
And yet there was a tender light in those
Dark eyes which looked their parting on the scenes
Of beauty, where his life had been a joyous
Dream enchanted with delight; but he trampled
On each vain regret as on a vanquished foe,
And went forth a strong man, girded with lofty
Purposes and earnest faith. He journeyed on
Till palaces and domes and lofty fanes,
And gorgeous temples faded from his sight,
And the lowly homes of Goshen came in view.
There he saw the women of his race kneading
Their tale of bricks; the sons of Abraham
Crouching beneath their heavy burdens. He saw
The increasing pallor on his sisters cheek,
The deepening shadows on his mother's brow,
The restless light that glowed in Aaron's eye,
As if a hidden fire were smouldering
In his brain; and bending o'er his mother
In a tender, loving way, he said, “Mother,
I've come to share the fortunes of my race,—
To dwell within these lowly huts,—to wear
The badge of servitude and toil, and eat
The bitter bread of penury and pain.”
A sudden light beamed from his mother's eye,
And she said, “How's this, my son? but yesterday
Two Hebrews, journeying from On to Goshen,
Told us they had passed the temple of the Sun
But dared not enter, only they had heard
That it was a great day in On; that thou hadst
Forsworn thy kindred, tribe and race; hadst bowed
Thy knee to Egypt's vain and heathen worship;
Hadst denied the God of Abraham, of Isaac,
And of Jacob, and from henceforth wouldst
Be engrafted in Pharaoh's regal line,
And be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter.
When thy father Amram heard the cruel news
He bowed his head upon his staff and wept.
But I had stronger faith than that. By faith
I hid thee when the bloody hands of Pharaoh
Were searching 'mid our quivering heart strings,
Dooming our sons to death; by faith I wove
The rushes of thine ark and laid thee 'mid
The flags and lilies of the Nile, and saw
The answer to that faith when Pharaoh's daughter
Placed thee in my arms, and bade me nurse the child
For her; and by that faith sustained, I heard
As idle words the cruel news that stabbed
Thy father like a sword.”
“The Hebrews did not hear aright; last week
There was a great day in On, from Esoan’s gate
Unto the mighty sea; the princes, lords
And chamberlains of Egypt were assembled;
The temple of the sun was opened. Isis
And Osiris were unveiled before the people;
Apis and Orus were crowned with flowers;
Golden censers breathed their fragrance on the air;
The sacrifice was smoking on the altar;
The first fruits of the Nile lay on the tables
Of the sun: the music rose in lofty swells,
Then sank in cadences so soft and low
Till all the air grew tremulous with rapture.
The priests of On were there, with sacred palms
Within their hands and lotus leaves upon their
Brows; Pharaoh and his daughter sat waiting
In their regal chairs; all were ready to hear
Me bind my soul to Egypt, and to swear
Allegiance to her gods. The priests of On
Drew near to lay their hands upon my head
And bid me swear, ‘Now, by Osiris, judge
Of all the dead, and Isis, mother of us
All,' that henceforth I'd forswear my kindred,
Tribe and race; would have no other gods
Than those of Egypt; would be engrafted
Into Pharaoh's royal line, and be called
The son of Pharaoh's daughter. Then, mother
Dear, I lived the past again. Again I sat
Beside thee, my lips apart with childish
Wonder, my eager eyes uplifted to thy
Glowing face, and my young soul gathering
Inspiration from thy words. Again I heard
Thee tell the grand traditions of our race,
The blessed hopes and glorious promises
That weave their golden threads among the sombre
Tissues of our lives, and shimmer still amid
The gloom and shadows of our lot. Again
I heard thee tell of Abraham, with his constant
Faith and earnest trust in God, unto whom
The promise came that in his seed should all
The nations of the earth be blessed. Of Isaac,
Blessing with disappointed lips his first born son,
From whom the birthright had departed. Of Jacob,
With his warm affections and his devious ways,
Flying berore the wrath of Esau; how he
Slumbered in the wild, and saw amid his dreams
A ladder reaching to the sky, on which God's
Angels did descend, and waking, with a solemn
Awe o'ershadowing all, his soul exclaimed, 'How
Dreadful is this place. Lo! God is here, and I
Knew it not.' Of Joseph, once a mighty prince
Within this land, who shrank in holy horror
From the soft white hand that beckoned him to sin;
Whose heart, amid the pleasures, pomp and pride
Of Egypt, was ever faithful to his race,
And when his life was trembling on its frailest chord
He turned his dying eyes to Canaan, and made
His brethren swear that they would make his grave
Among the patriarchs of his line, because
Machpelah's cave, where Abraham bowed before
The sons of Heth, and bought a place to lay
His loved and cherished dead, was dearer to his
Dying heart than the proudest tomb amid
The princely dead of Egypt.
          Then, like the angels, mother dear, who met
Our father Jacob on his way, thy words
Came back as messengers of light to guide
My steps, and I refused to be called the son
Of Pharaoh's daughter. I saw the priests of On
Grow pale with fear, an ashen terror creeping
O'er the princess' face, while Pharaoh's brow grew
Darker than the purple of his cloak. But I
Endured, as seeing him who hides his face
Behind the brightness of his glory.
And thus I left the pomp and pride of Egypt
To cast my lot among the people of my race.”


The love of Moses for his race soon found
A stern expression. Pharaoh was building
A pyramid; ambitious, cold and proud,
He scrupled not at means to gain his ends.
When he feared the growing power of Israel
He stained his hands in children's blood, and held
A carnival of death in Goshen; but now
He wished to hand his name and memory
Down unto the distant ages, and instead
Of lading that memory with the precious
Fragrance of the kindest deeds and words, he
Essayed to write it out in stone, as cold
Essayed to write it out in stone, as cold
And hard, and heartless as himself.
                                                  And Israel was
The fated race to whom the cruel tasks
Were given. Day after day a cry of wrong
And anguish, some dark deed of woe and crime,
Came to the ear of Moses, and he said,
These reports are ever harrowing my soul;
I will go unto the fields where Pharaoh's
Officers exact their labors, and see
If these things be so—if they smite the feeble
At their tasks, and goad the aged on to toils
Beyond their strength–if neither age nor sex
Is spared the cruel smiting of their rods."
And Moses went to see his brethren.
                                                  'Twas eventide,
And the laborers were wending their way
Unto their lowly huts. 'Twas a sad sight,—
The young girls walked without the bounding steps
Of youth, with faces prematurely old,
As if the rosy hopes and sunny promises
Of life had never flushed their cheeks with girlish
Joy; and there were men whose faces seemed to say,
We bear our lot in hopeless pain, we've bent unto
Our burdens until our shoulders fit them,
And as slaves we crouch beneath our servitude
And toil. But there were men whose souls were cast
In firmer moulds, men with dark secretive eyes,
Which seemed to say, to day we bide our time,
And hide our wrath in every nerve, and only
Wait a fitting hour to strike the hands that press
Us down. Then came the officers of Pharaoh;
They trod as lords, their faces flushed with pride
And insolence, watching the laborers
Sadly wending their way from toil to rest.
And Moses' heart swelled with a mighty pain; sadly
Musing, he sought a path that led him
From the busy haunts of men. But even there
The cruel wrong trod in his footsteps; he heard
A heavy groan, then harsh and bitter words,
And, looking back, he saw an officer
Of Pharaoh smiting with rough and cruel hand
An aged man. Then Moses' wrath o'erflowed
His lips, and every nerve did tremble
With a sense of wrong, and bounding forth he
Cried unto the smiter, “Stay thy hand; seest thou
That aged man? His head is whiter than our
Desert sands; his limbs refuse to do thy
Bidding because thy cruel tasks have drained
Away their strength.” The Egyptain raised his eyes
With sudden wonder; who was this that dared dispute
His power? Only a Hebrew youth. His
Proud lip curved in scornful anger, and he
Waved a menace with his hand, saying, “back
To thy task base slave, nor dare resist the will
Of Pharaoh.” Then Moses' wrath o'erleaped the bounds
Of prudence, and with a heavy blow he felled
The smiter to the earth, and Israel had
One tyrant less. Moses saw the mortal paleness
Chase the flushes from the Egyptian's face,
The whitening lips that breathed no more defiance,
And the relaxing tension of the well knit limbs ;
And when he knew that he was dead, he hid
Him in the sand and left him to his rest.
                                                  Another day Moses walked
Abroad, and saw two brethren striving
For mastery; and then his heart grew full
Of tender pity. They were brethren, sharers
Of a common wrong: should not their wrongs more
Closely bind their hearts, and union, not division,
Be their strength? And feeling thus, he said, “ye
Are brethren, wherefore do ye strive together?”
But they threw back his words in angry tones
And asked if he had come to judge them, and would
Mete to them the fate of the Egyptian?
Then Moses knew the sand had failed to keep
His secret, that his life no more was safe
In Goshen, and he fled unto the deserts
Of Arabia and became a shepherd
For the priest of Midian.


                    Men grow strong in action, but in solitude
Their thoughts are ripened. Like one who cuts away
The bridge on which he has walked in safety
To the other side, so Moses cut off all retreat
To Pharaoh's throne, and did choose the calling
Most hateful to an Egyptian; he became
A shepherd, and led his flocks and herds amid
The solitudes and wilds of Midian, where he
Nursed in silent loneliness his earnest faith
In God and a constant love for kindred, tribe
And race. Years stole o'er him, but they took
No atom from his strength, nor laid one heavy weight
Upon his shoulders. The down upon his face
Had ripened to a heavy beard; the fire
That glowed within his youthful eye had deepened
To a calm and steady light, and yet his heart
Was just as faithful to his race as when he had
Stood in Pharaoh's courts and bade farewell
Unto his daughter.
There was a look of patient waiting on his face,
A calm, grand patience, like one who had lifted
Up his eyes to God and seen, with meekened face,
The wings of some great destiny o'ershadowing
All his life with strange and solemn glory.
But the hour came when he must pass from thought
To action,—when the hope of many years
Must reach its grand fruition, and Israel's
Great deliverance dawn. It happened thus:
One day, as Moses led his flocks, he saw
A fertile spot skirted by desert sands,—
A pleasant place for flocks and herds to nip
The tender grass and rest within its shady nooks;
And as he paused and turned, he saw a bush with fire
Aglow; from root to stem a lambent flame
Sent up its jets and sprays of purest light,
And yet the bush, with leaves uncrisped, uncurled,
Was just as green and fresh as if the breath
Of early spring were kissing every leaf.
Then Moses said I'll turn aside to see
This sight, and as he turned he heard a voice
Bidding him lay his sandals by, for Lo! he
Stood on holy ground. Then Moses bowed his head
Upon his staff and spread his mantle о'er
His face, lest he should see the dreadful majesty
Of God; and there, upon that lonely spot,
By Horeb's mount, his shrinking hands received
The burden of his God, which bade him go
To Egypt's guilty king, and bid him let
The oppressed go free.
                                                  Commissioned thus
He gathered up his flocks and herds and sought
The tents of Jethro, and said "I pray thee
Let me go and see if yet my kindred live;
And Jethro bade him go in peace, nor sought
To throw himself across the purpose of his soul.
Yet there was a tender parting in that home;
There were moistened eyes, and quivering lips,
And lingering claspings of the parting hand, as Jethro
And his daughters stood within the light of that and gave
Clean morn, and gave to Moses and his wife
And sons their holy wishes and their sad farewells.
For he had been a son and brother in that home
Since first with manly courtesy he had filled
The empty pails of Reuel's daughters, and found
A shelter 'neath his tent when flying from
The wrath of Pharaoh.
                                                  They journeyed on,
Moses, Zipporah and sons, she looking back
With tender love upon the home she had left,
With all its precious memories crowding round
Her heart, and he with eager eyes tracking
His path across the desert, longing once more
To see the long-lost faces of his distant home,
The loving eyes so wont to sun him with their
Welcome, and the aged hands that laid upon
His youthful head their parting blessing. They
Journeyed on till morning's flush and noonday
Splendor glided into the softened, mellowed
Light of eve, and the purple mists were deep’ning
On the cliffs and hills, when Horeb, dual
Crowned, arose before him; and there he met
His brother Aaron, sent by God to be
His spokesman and to bear him company
To Pharaoh. Tender and joyous was their greeting.
They talked of home and friends until the lighter
Ripple of their thoughts in deeper channels flowed:
And then they talked of Israel's bondage,
And the great deliverance about to dawn
Upon the fortunes of their race; and Moses
Told him of the burning bush, and how the message
Of his God was trembling on his lips. And thus
They talked until the risen moon had veiled
The mount in soft and silvery light; and then
They rested until morn, and rising up, refreshed
From sleep, pursued their way until they reached
The land of Goshen, and gathered up the elders
Of their race, and told them of the message
Of their Father's God. Then eager lips caught up
The words of hope and passed the joyful “news
Around, and all the people bowed their heads
And lifted up their hearts in thankfulness
To God.”
                                                  That same day
Moses sought an audience with the king. He found
Him on his throne surrounded by the princes
Of his court, who bowed in lowly homage
At his feet. And Pharaoh heard with curving lip
And flushing cheek the message of the Hebrew's God
Then asked in cold and scornful tones, “Has
Israel a God, and if so where has he dwelt
For ages? As the highest priest of Egypt
I have prayed to Isis, and the Nile has
Overflowed her banks and filled the land
With plenty, but these poor slaves have cried unto
Their God, then crept in want and sorrow
To their graves. Surely Mizraim's God is strong
And Israel's is weak; then wherefore should
I heed his voice, or at his bidding break
A single yoke?” Thus reasoned that proud king,
And turned a deafened ear unto the words
Of Moses and bis brother, and yet he felt
Strangely awed before their presence, because
They stood as men who felt the grandeur
Of their mission, and thought not of themselves,
But of their message.


On the next day Pharaoh called a council
Of his mighty men, and before them laid
The message of the brethren: then Amorphel,
Keeper of the palace and nearest lord
Unto the king, arose, and bending low
Before the throne, craved leave to speak a word.
Amorphel was a crafty, treacherous man,
With oily lips well versed in flattery
And courtly speech, a supple reed ready
To bend before his royal master's lightest
Breath—Pharaoh's willing tool. He said
“Gracious king, thou has been too lenient
With these slaves; light as their burdens are, they
Fret and chafe beneath them. They are idle
And the blood runs riot in their veins. Now
If thou would'st have these people dwell in peace,
Increase, I pray thee, their tasks and add unto
Their burdens; if they faint beneath their added
Tasks, they will have less time to plot sedition
And revolt.”

Then Rhadma, oldest lord in Pharaoh's court,
Arose. He was an aged man, whose white
And heavy beard hung low upon his breast,
Yet there was a hard cold glitter in his eye,
And on his face a proud and evil look.
He had been a servant to the former king,
And wore his signet ring upon his hand.
He said, “I know this Moses well. Fourscore
Years ago Princess Charmian found him
By the Nile and rescued him from death, and did
Choose him as her son, and had him versed in all
The mysteries and lore of Egypt. But blood
Will tell, and this base slave, with servile blood
Within his veins, would rather be a servant
Than a prince, and so, with rude and reckless hand,
He thrust aside the honors of our dear
Departed king. Pharaoh was justly wroth,
But for his daughter's sake he let the trespass
Pass. But one day this Moses slew an Egyptian
In his wrath, and then the king did seek his life;
But be fled, it is said, unto the deserts
Of Arabia, and became a shepherd for the priest
Of Midian. But now, instead of leading flocks
And herds, he aspires to lead his captive race
To freedom. These men mean mischief; sedition
And revolt are in their plans. Decree, I pray thee,
That these men shall gather their own straw
And yet their tale of bricks shall be the same.”
And these words pleased Pharaoh well, and all his
Lords chimed in with one accord. And Pharaoh
Wrote the stern decree and sent it unto Goshen—
That the laborers should gather their own straw,
And yet they should not ʼminish of their tale of bricks.
                                     'Twas a sad day in Goshen;
The king's degree hung like a gloomy pall
Around their homes. The people fainted 'neath
Their added tasks, then cried unto the king,
That he would ease their burdens; but he hissed
A taunt into their ears and said, “ye are
Idle, and your minds are filled with vain
And foolish thoughts; get you into your tasks,
And ye shall not ʼminish of your tale of bricks."
                              And then they turned their eyes
Reproachfully on Moses and his brother,
And laid the cruel blame upon their shoulders.
'Tis an old story now, but then 'twas new
Unto the brethren,—how God's anointed ones
Must walk with bleeding feet the paths that turn
To lines of living light; how hands that bring
Salvation in their palms are pierced with cruel
Nails, and lips that quiver first with some great truth
Are steeped in bitterness and tears, and brows
Now bright beneath the aureola of God,
Have bent beneath the thorny crowns of earth.
                              There was hope for Israel,
But they did not see the golden fringes
Of their coming morn; they only saw the cold,
Grey sky, and fainted 'neath the cheerless gloom.

Moses sought again the presence of the king:
And Pharaoh's brow grew dark with wrath,
And rising up in angry haste, he said,
Defiantly, "If thy God be great, show
Us some sign or token of his power.”
Then Moses threw his rod upon the floor,
And it trembled with a sign of life;
The dark wood glowed, then changed into a thing
Of glistening scales and golden rings, and green,
And brown and purple stripes; a hissing, hateful
Thing, that glared its fiery eye, and darting forth
From Moses' side, lay coiled and panting
At the monarch's feet. With wonder open-eyed
The king gazed on the changed rod, then called
For his magicians—wily men, well versed
In sinful lore—and bade them do the same.
And they, leagued with the powers of night, did
Also change their rods to serpents; then Moses'
Serpent darted forth, and with a startling hiss
and angry gulp, he swallowed the living things
That coiled along his path. And thus did Moses
Show that Israel's God had greater power
Than those dark sons of night.
                                        But not by this alone
Did God his mighty power reveal: He changed
Their waters; every fountain, well and pool
Was red with blood, and lips, all parched with thirst,
Shrank back in horror from the crimson draughts.
And then the worshiped Nile grew full of life;
Millions of frogs swarmed from the stream—they clogged
The pathway of the priests and filled the sacred
Fanes, and crowded into Pharaoh's bed, and hopped
Into his trays of bread, and slumbered in his
Ovens and his pans.

Then came another plague, of loathsome vermin;
They were gray and creeping things, that made
Their very clothes alive with dark and sombre
Spots—things so loathsome in the land they did
Suspend the service of the temple; for no priest
Dared to lift his hand to any god with one
Of these upon him. And then the sky grew
Dark, as if a cloud were passing o'er its
Changeless blue; a buzzing sound broke o'er
The city, and the land was swarmed with flies.
The murrain laid their cattle low; the hail
Cut off the first fruits of the Nile; the locusts,
With their hungry jaws, destroyed the later crops,
And left the ground as brown and bare as if a fire
Had scorched it through,
                                                  Then angry blains
And fiery boils did blur the flesh of man
And beast; and then for three long days, nor saffron
Tint, nor crimson flush, nor soft and silvery light
Divided day from morn, nor told the passage
Of the hours; men rose not from their seats, but sat
In silent awe. That lengthened night lay like a
On the air,—a darkness one might almost gather
In his hand, it was so gross and thick. Then came
The last dread plague—the death of the first born.
                                                  'Twas midnight,
And a startling shriek rose from each palace,
Home and hut of Egypt, save the blood-besprinkled homes
Of Goshen; the midnight seemed to shiver with a sense
Of dread, as if the mystic angels wing
Had chilled the very air with horror.
Death! Death! was everywhere—in every home
A corpse–in every heart a bitter woe.
There were anxious fingerings for the pulse
That ne'er would throb again, and eager listenings
For some sound of life—a hurrying to and fro—
Then burning kisses on the cold lips
Of the dead, bitter partings, sad farewells,
And mournful sobs and piercing shrieks,
And deep and heavy groans throughout the length
And breadth of Egypt. 'Twas the last dread plague,
But it had snapped in twain the chains on which
The rust of ages lay, and Israel was freed;
Not only freed, but thrust in eager haste
From out the land. Trembling men stood by, and longed
To see them gather up their flocks and herds,
And household goods, and leave the land; because they felt
That death stood at their doors as long as Israel
Lingered there; and they went forth in haste,
To tread the paths of freedom.


But Pharaoh was strangely blind, and turning
From his first-born and his dead, with Egypt's wail
Scarce still upon his ear, he asked which way had
Israel gone? They told him that they journeyed
Towards the mighty sea, and were encamped
Near Baalzephn.
Then Pharaoh said, “the wilderness will hem them in,
The mighty sea will roll its barriers in front,
And with my chariots and my warlike men
I'll bring them back, or mete them out their graves."
                                    Then Pharaoh's officers arose
And gathered up the armies of the king,
And made his chariots ready for pursuit.
With proud escutcheons blazoned to the sun,
In his chariot of ivory, pearl and gold,
Pharaoh rolled out of Egypt; and with him
Rode his mighty men, their banners floating
On the breeze, their spears and armor glittering
In the morning light; and Israel saw,
With fainting hearts, their old oppressors on their
Track: then women wept in hopeless terror;
Children hid their faces in their mothers' robes,
And strong, men bowed 'their 'heads in agony and dread;
And then a bitter, angry murmur rose,—
"Were there no graves in Egypt, that thou hast
Brought us here to die?”
'Then Moses lifted up his face, aglow
With earnest faith in God, and bade their fainting hearts
Be strong and they should his salvation see.
"Stand still," said Moses to the fearful throng
Whose hearts were fainting in the wild,“ Stand still."
Ah, that was Moses' word, but higher and greater
Came God's watchword for the hour, and not for that
Alone, but all the coming hours of time.
"Speak ye unto the people and bid them
Forward go; stretch thy hand across the waters
And smite them with thy rod.” And Moses smote
The restless sea; the waves stood up in heaps,
Then lay as calm and still as lips that just
Had tasted death. The secret-loving sea
Laid bare her coral caves and iris-tinted
Floor; that wall of flood which lined the people's
Way was God's own wondrous masonry;
The signal pillar sent to guide them through the wild
Moved its dark shadow till it fronted Egypt's
Camp, but hung in fiery splendor, a light
To Israel's path. Madly rushed the hosts
Of Pharaoh upon the people's track, when
The solemn truth broke on them—that God
For Israel fought. With cheeks in terror
Blenching, and eyes astart with fear, “let
Us flee,” they cried, “from Israel, for their God
Doth fight against us; he is battling on their side."
They had trusted in their chariots, but now
That hope was vain; God had loosened every
Axle and unfastened every wheel, and each
Face did gather blackness and each heart stood still
With fear, as the livid lightnings glittered
And the thunder roared and muttered on the air,
And they saw the dreadful ruin that shuddered
O'er their heads, for the waves began to tremble
And the wall of flood to bend. Then arose
A cry of terror, baffled hate and hopeless dread,
A gurgling sound of horror, as "the waves
Came madly dashing, wildly crashing, seeking
Out their place again,"and the flower and pride
Of Egypt sank as lead within the sea
Till the waves threw back their corpses cold and stark
Upon the shore, and the song of Israel's
Triumph was the requiem of their foes.
Oh the grandeur of that triumph; up the cliffs
And down the valleys, o'er the dark and restless
Sea, rose the people's shout of triumph, going
Up in praise to God, and the very air
Seemed joyous, for the choral song of millions
Throbbed upon its viewless wings.
Then another song of triumph rose in accents
Soft and clear; “'twas the voice of Moses' sister
Rising in the tide of song. The warm blood
Of her childhood seemed dancing in her veins;
The roses of her girlhood were flushing
On her cheek, and her eyes flashed out the splendor
Of long departed days, for time itself seemed
Pausing, and she lived the past again; again
The Nile flowed by her; she was watching by the stream,
A little ark of rushes where her baby brother lay;
The tender tide of rapture swept o'er her soul again
She had felt when Pharaoh's daughter had claimed
Him as her own, and her mother wept for joy
Above her rescued son. Then again she saw
Him choosing "’twixt Israel's pain and sorrow
And Egypt's pomp and pride." But now he stood
Their leader triumphant on that shore, and loud
She struck the cymbals as she led the Hebrew women
In music, dance and song, as they shouted out
Triumphs in sweet and glad refrains. 

A wail in the palace, a wail in the hut,
          The midnight is shivering with dread,
And Egypt wakes up with a shriek and a sob
          To mourn for her first-born and dead.

In the morning glad voices greeted the light,
          As the Nile with its splendor was flushed;
At midnight silence had melted their tones,
          And their music forever is hushed.

In the morning the princes of palace and court
          To the heir of the kingdom bowed down;
'Tis midnight, pallid and stark in his shroud
          He dreams not of kingdom or crown.

As a monument blasted and blighted by God,
          Through the ages proud Pharaoh shall stand,
All seamed with the vengeance and scarred with the wrath
          That leaped from God's terrible hand.


They journeyed on from Zuphim's sea until
They reached the sacred mount and heard the solemn
Decalogue. The mount was robed in blackness,—
Heavy and deep the shadows lay; the thunder
Crashed and roared upon the air; the lightning
Leaped from crag to crag; God's fearful splendor
Flowed around, and Sinai quaked and shuddered
To its base, and there did God proclaim
Unto their listening ears, the great, the grand,
The central and the primal truth of all
The universe—the unity of God.
                                         Only one God,—
This truth received into the world's great life,
Not as an idle dream nor speculative thing,
But as a living, vitalizing thought,
Should bind us closer to our God and link us
With our fellow man, the brothers and co-heirs
With Christ, the elder brother of our race.
Before this truth let every blade of war
Grow dull, and slavery, cowering at the light,
Skulk from the homes of men; instead
Of war bring peace and freedom, love and joy,
And light for man, instead of bondage, whips
And chains. Only one God! the strongest hands
Should help the weak who bend before the blasts
Of life, because if God is only one
Then we are the children of his mighty hand,
And when we best serve man, we also serve
Our God. Let haughty rulers learn that men
Of humblest birth and lowliest lot have
Rights as sacred and divine as theirs, and they
Who fence in leagues of earth by bonds and claims
And title deeds, forgetting land and water,
Air and light are God's own gifts and heritage
For man—who throw their selfish lives between
God's sunshine and the shivering poor—
Have never learned the wondrous depth, nor scaled
The glorious height of this great central truth,
Around which clusters all the holiest faiths
Of earth. The thunder died upon the air,
The lightning ceased its livid play, the smoke
And darkness died away in clouds, as soft
And fair as summer wreaths that lie around
The setting sun, and Sinai stood a bare
And rugged thing among the sacred scenes
Of earth.


It was a weary thing to bear the burden
Of that restless and rebellious race. With
Sinai's thunders almost crashing in their ears,
They made a golden calf, and in the desert
Spread an idol's feast, and sung the merry songs
They had heard when Mizraim's songs bowed down before
Their vain and heathen gods; and thus for many years
Did Moses bear the evil manners of his race—
Their angry murmurs, fierce regrets and strange
Forgetfulness of God. Born slaves, they did not love
The freedom of the wild more than their pots of flesh.
And pleasant savory things once gathered
From the gardens of the Nile.
If slavery only laid its weight of chains
Upon the weary, aching limbs, e'en then
It were a curse; but when it frets through nerve
And flesh and eats into the weary soul,
Oh then it is a thing for every human
Heart to loathe, and this was Israel's fate,
For when the chains were shaken from their limbs,
They failed to strike the impress from their souls.
While he who'd basked beneath the radiance
Of a throne, ne'er turned regretful eyes upon
The past, nor sighed to grasp again the pleasures
Once resigned; but the saddest trial was
To see the light and joy fade from their faces
When the faithless spies spread through their camp
Their ill report; and when the people wept
In hopeless unbelief and turned their faces
Egyptward, and asked a captain from their bands
To lead them back where they might bind anew
Their broken chains, when God arose and shut
The gates of promise on their lives, and left
Their bones to bleach beneath Arabia's desert sands.
But though they slumbered in the wild, they died
With broader freedom on their lips, and for their
Little ones did God reserve the heritage
So rudely thrust aside.


His work was done; his blessing lay
Like precious ointment on his people's head,
And God's great peace was resting on his soul.
His life had been a lengthened sacrifice,
A thing of deep devotion to his race,
Since first he turned his eyes on Egypt's gild
And glow, and clasped their fortunes in his hand
And held them with a firm and constant grasp.
But now his work was done; his charge was laid
In Joshua's hand, and men of younger blood
Were destined to possess the land and pass
Through Jordan to the other side. He too
Had hoped to enter there—to tread the soil
Made sacred by the memories of his
Kindred dead, and rest till life's calm close beneath
The sheltering vines and stately palms of that
Fair land; that hope had colored all his life's
Young dreams and sent its mellowed flushes o'er
His later years; but God's decree was otherwise.
And so he bowed his meekened soul in calm
Submission to the word, which bade him climb
To Nebo's highest peak, and view the pleasant land
From Jordan's swells unto the calmer ripples
Of the tideless sea, then die with all its
Loveliness in sight.
As he passed from Moab's grassy vale to climb
The rugged mount, the people stood in mournful groups,
Some, with quivering lips and tearful eyes,
Reaching out unconscious hands, as if to stay
His steps and keep him ever at their side, while
Others gazed with reverent awe upon
The calm and solemn beauty on his aged brow,
The look of loving trust and lofty faith
Still beaming from an eye that neither care
Nor time had dimmed. As he passed upward, tender
Blessings, earnest prayers and sad farewells rose
On each wave of air, then died in one sweet
Murmur of regretful love; and Moses stood
Alone on Nebo's mount.
                                                       Alone! not one
Of all that mighty throng who had trod with him
In triumph through the parted food was there.
Aaron had died in Hor, with son and brother
By his side; and Miriam too was gone.
But kindred hands had made her grave, and Kadesh
Held her dust. But he was all alone; nor wife
Nor child was there to clasp in death his hand,
And bind around their bleeding hearts the precious
Parting words. And yet he was not all alone,
For God's great presence flowed around his path
And stayed him in that solemn hour.

          He stood upon the highest peak of Nebo,
And saw the Jordan chafing through its gorges,
Its banks made bright by scarlet blooms
And purple blossoms. The placid lakes
And emerald meadows, the snowy crest
Of distant mountains, the ancient rocks
That dripped with honey, the hills all bathed
In light and beauty; the shady groves
And peaceful vistas, the vines opprest
With purple riches, the fig trees fruit-crowned
Green and golden, the pomegranates with crimson
Blushes, the olives with their darker clusters,
Rose before him like a vision, full of beauty
And delight. Gazed he on the lovely landscape
Till it faded from his view, and the wing
Of death's sweet angel hovered o'er the mountain's
Crest, and he heard his garments rustle through
The watches of the night.
                                   Then another, fairer, vision
Broke upon his longing gaze; 'twas the land
Of crystal fountains, love and beauty, joy
And light, for the pearly gates flew open,
And his ransomed soul went in. And when morning
O'er the mountain fringed each crag and peak with light,
Cold and lifeless lay the leader. God had touched
His eyes with slumber, giving his beloved sleep.
                    Oh never on that mountain
                    Was seen a lovelier sight
                    Than the troupe of fair young angels
                    That gathered 'round the dead.
                    With gentle hands they bore bim,
                    That bright and shining train,
                    From Nebo's lonely mountain
                    To sleep in Moab's vale.
                    But they sung no mornful dirges,
                    No solemn requiems said,
                    And the soft wave of their pinions
                    Made music as they trod.
                    But no one heard them passing,
                    None saw their chosen grave;
                    It was the angels secret
                    Where Moses should be laid.
                    And when the grave was finished,
                    They trod with golden sandals
                    Above the sacred spot,
                    And the brightest, fairest flowers
                    Sprang up beneath their tread.
                    Nor broken turf, nor hillock
                    Did e'er reveal that grave,
                    And truthful lips have never said
                    We know where he is laid.


          In a lovely garden, filled with fair and blooming flowers, stood a beautiful rose tree. It was the centre of attraction, and won the admiration of every eye; its beauteous flowers were sought to adorn the bridal wreath and deck the funeral bier. It was a thing of joy and beauty, and its earth mission was a blessing. Kind hands plucked its flowers to gladden the chamber of sickness and adorn the prisoner's lonely cell. Young girls wore them ʼmid their clustering curls, and grave brows relaxed when they gazed upon their wondrous beauty. Now the rose was very kind and generous hearted, and, seeing how much joy she dispensed, wished that every flower could only be a rose, and like herself have the privilege of giving joy to the children of men; and while she thus mused, a bright and lovely spirit approached her and said, “I know thy wishes and will grant thy desires. Thou shalt have power to change every flower in the garden to thine own likeness. When the soft winds come wooing thy fairest buds and flowers, thou shalt breathe gently on thy sister plants, and beneath thy influence they shall change to beautiful roses.” The rose tree bowed her head in silent gratitude to the gentle being who had granted her this wondrous power. All night the stars bent over her from their holy homes above, but she scarcely heeded their vigils. The gentle dews nestled in her arms and kissed the cheeks of her daughters; but she hardly noticed them;—she was waiting for the soft airs to awaken and seek her charming abode. At length the gentle airs greeted her, and she hailed them with a joyous welcome, and then commenced her work of change. The first object that met her vision was a tulip superbly arrayed in scarlet and gold. When she was aware of the intention of her neighbor, her cheeks flamed with anger, her eyes flashed indignantly, and she haughtily refused to change her proud robes for the garb the rose tree had prepared for her; but she could not resist the spell that was upon her, and she passively permitted the garments of the rose to enfold her yielding limbs. The verbenas saw the change that had fallen upon the tulip and dreading that a similar fate awaited them, crept closely to the ground, and, while tears gathered in their eyes, they felt a change pass through their sensitive frames, and instead of gentle verbenas they were blushing roses. She breathed upon the sleepy poppies; a deeper slumber fell upon their senses, and when they awoke, they too had changed to bright and beautiful roses. The heliotrope read her fate in the lot of her sisters, and, bowing her fair head in silent sorrow, gracefully submitted to her unwelcome destiny. The violets, whose mission was to herald the approach of spring, were averse to losing their identity. “Surely," said they, we have a mission as well as the rose;" but with heavy hearts they saw themselves changed like their sister plants. The snow drop drew around her robes of virgin white; she would not willingly exchange them for the most brilliant attire that ever decked a flower's form; to her they were the emblems of purity and innocence; but the rose tree breathed upon her, and with a bitter sob she reluctantly consented to the change. The dahlias lifted their heads proudly and defiantly; they dreaded the change, but scorned submission; they loved the fading year, and wished to spread around his dying couch their brightest, fairest flowers; but vainly they struggled, the doom was upon them, and they could not escape. A modest lily that grew near the rose tree shrank instinctively from her; but it was in vain, and with tearful eyes and trembling limbs she yielded, while a quiver of agony convulsed her frame. The marygolds sighed submissively and made no remonstrance. The garden pinks grew careless, and submitted without a murmur, while other flowers, less fragrant or less fair, paled with sorrow or reddened with anger; but the spell of the rose tree was upon them, and every flower was changed by her power, and that once beautiful garden was overrun with roses; it had become a perfect wilderness of roses; the garden had changed, but that variety which had lent it so much beauty was gone, and men grew tired of roses, for they were everywhere. The smallest violet peeping faintly from its bed would have been welcome, the humblest primrose would have been hailed with delight,—even a dandelion would have been a harbinger of joy; and when the rose saw that the children of men were dissatisfied with the change she had made, her heart grew sad within her, and she wished the power had never been given her to change her sister plants to roses, and tears came into her eyes as she mused, when suddenly a rough wind shook her drooping form, and she opened her eyes and found that she had only been dreaming. But an important lesson had been taught; she had learned to respect the individuality of her sister flowers, and began to see that they, as well as herself, had their own missions,—some to gladden the eye with their loveliness and thrill the soul with delight; some to transmit fragrance to the air; others to breathe a refining influence upon the world; some had power to lull the aching brow and soothe the weary heart and brain into forgetfulness; and of those whose mission she did not understand, she wisely concluded there must be some object in their creation, and resolved to be true to her own earth-mission, and lay her fairest buds and flowers upon the altars of love and truth.


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