Two travelers met on the burning sand
Of a desert that stretched their worlds between;
Abroad and afar upon either hand
No life on the vast gray plain was seen,
Save these two only, these fainting two,
The one with hunger and one with thirst;
And the camels kneeling as if they too
Must die with the heat of the day accursed.
And these were aliens, and both from far,
Far countries where once led pleasant lines;
And both were weary, as pilgrims are
Who vainly journey toward phantom shrines.
With hands outreaching, when stepped they down,
Each unto each the travelers cried,
"Unto thee be peace!" "God is great alone!"
While the wonted embrace was not denied.
Spake one, "I hunger, I have no meat
Since the last manzil." "Alas, my brother,
I have only these dates thou canst not eat,
And a few pomegranates," replied the other,
"But I am athirst, and my fever dreams
Of the cooling fountains I never find;
I hear, and fancy I catch fair gleams--
It is only mirage, and the sound of the wind."
The first then answered, "Thy soul to stay
Oh, that I had wine of En Gedi!
This water is all I have left today,
But of such as I have give I unto thee."
"Oh, blessed art thou! Thy flagon give
To my longing lips that shall prove the rest;
While my few pomegranates take thou and live.
So shall we in blessing be doubly blest!"
One drained the flagon--unto such need
It was nectar of grapes, and the soul grew strong;
While the fruits were ambrosia to one, indeed,
Whose fast had been rigid, and stern and long.
Then rest came on them, that sweet content
Which followeth only after pain;
The camels sighed in an ease unblent
With fear of goad or of rider's rein.
And the pilgrims communed with gentle thought
Of the wonderful wandering way they came,
While the hours stood still, and the time was not,
And the world was only an empty name.
A heavenly radiance spanned the night,
Gold harps descending angels rang,
With bending foreheads all sweet and white,
And the morning stars together sang.
But when the sun, in his wrathful ire,
Smote through the gray of the morning haze,
Athwart the desert with lance of fire,
These two were far upon opposite ways.
And though no backward glance was flung,
In Arab speech one softly said,
"'Twas there the bells of heaven were rung!"
And one, "On manna I there was fed!"
Who traverse El Belka's waste today
Find ever one cool unfailing spring
Within an oasis, kept green alway,
In the wondrous form of an angel's wing!
Read I this tradition a score of times,
A score of times its meaning sought;
It weaveth itself between the rhymes,
So shalt thou find it--or find it not!