The Pilgrimage to Mecca

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The Pilgrimage to Mecca  (1789) 
by George Canning, translated by N. L. Torre

Written by Canning, prior to his role as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Recited in 1789 at Oxford Theatre in its original Latin.

What holy rites Mohammed's laws ordain;
What various duties bind his faithful train ;
What pious zeal his scatter'd tribes unites
In fix'd observance of these holy rites;
At Mecca's shrine what votive crowds surround
With annual pomp the consecrated ground;
The Muse shall tell:—revolving years succeed,
And Time still venerates Mohammed's creed.

Nor faint the glory shed o'er Mecca's brow :
Land of the Prophet! dear to fame art thou.
Here first in peace his infant hopes were known ;
Here fix'd the Chief his temple and his throne:

Though from thy gates opposing factions here
With stern defiance drove the gifted Seer,
Yet, sacred city of his love ! 'twas thine
To heap the earliest incense on his shrine ;
To own the terrors of his conquering blade,
And hail with joy the Exile thou hadst made.
Yes—thou art known to fame ! to thee, 'tis said,
A voice divine the wand'ring Abraham led :
Within thy courts, at his command restored,
Blazed the pure altars of Creation's Lord.
And hence thy race, for ancient faith renown'd,
Surpassing favour with Mohammed found ;
His seat of empire hence thy walls became,
And shared for sanctity Mohammed's fame.
Nor strange that hence, with pious gifts array'd,
Thy shrine revered the Moslem tribes invade;
Such duteous zeal the Prophet's laws demand,
And fabled raptures of his promised land.

For woe to him, who ne'er with awe profound
At Mecca's shrine hath kiss'd the holy ground :
For him, denied celestial joys to share,
No blooming Houris shall his couch prepare;
But his the doom, where countless horrors reign,
To feel a dark eternity of pain;
Of deep remorse the bitter tear to shed,
Each hope of Paradise for ever fled.

Behold! one impulse every heart enthralls;
Wide spreads the fervour 'mid Byzantium's walls: —
Where, proudly soaring, frown from Europe's coast
Her regal tow'rs o'er Asia's subject host,
With mingling crowds behold the darken'd lands,
And the wild tumult of assembling bands !
So vast the force, 'twould seem, with ire renew'd,
His warrior train Byzantium's Lord review'd ;
From Catharine's sway his captured forts to claim,
And dare to vindicate his tarnish'd fame.

Nor less the force, on sandy plains array'd,
Where Memphis once her native kings obey'd;
Where still, in mournful grandeur o'er the waste,
Gigantic Ruin tells of glory past;
And, 'mid the relics of her brighter day,
The haughty satrap holds despotic sway.
How dense the mass ! from Afric's sultry shore
Their zealot tribes unpeopled cities pour;
From Nile's green banks, where fruitful harvests teem;

From Barca's land, unbless'd by culture's beam ;
From barren fields, that Nature's smiles forsake,
Where Mareotis spreads its stagnant lake ;
From plains that once Gyrene's splendour crown'd ;
From Acre's walls, in glory's page renown'd,
They come—Mohammed's flock : from shores survey'd

By Albion's flag on Calpe's rock display'd ;
From Tunis, raised on Byrsa's wreck—they come;
And leave in Tripoli their native home.
Slow moves the phalanx deeply wedged; and loud
Exulting sounds proclaim the pious crowd.
And now Arsinoe's stately towers 'are seen,
Beloved resort of Egypt's peerless Queen ;
Now lofty Moriah's sacred hill they tread;
Now pause awhile, by Sinai's mountain led :
Here, as with Israel's woes he sank depress'd,
Here Amram's son th' Almighty presence bless'd ;
Here, while to Jethro's herds his care was giv'n,
Th' afflicted Pastor knew the voice of Heav'n ;
Saw, as the holy ground with awe he trod,
Reveal'd in flame the glory of his God :
Yet, while the radiance Horeb's brow illumed,
No eye beheld the burning bush consumed.

Onward the phalanx moves: yet fear demands
Augmented force 'mid Egypt's trackless sands ;
Forbids a scatter'd and defenceless train
Too boldly haste the Holy Land to gain ;
Till to their view, in martial pride display'd,
The Sultan's troops confirm securer aid.
They come—their course along the hills they hold—
Their glitt'ring arms succeeding files unfold,
And join th' expectant throng: from all her shores
Her warrior sons collected Asia pours.
Known by his turban green of high command,
The haughty Chief arrays the straggling band :
Proud of his pure descent and ancient line;
Proud of the gifts he bears to Mecca's shrine;
For all their wants his watchful care provides,
His pow'r protects them, and his counsel guides.
Lo! where the chosen guards, in awe profound,
With closing ranks their Sultan's gifts surround,

Where tapestried wonders, to the sight unroll'd,
Mix their rich splendour with the beaming gold,
To music's sounds where denser squadrons move,
And tow'ring lances form a leafless grove,—
Bright with the lustre of the solar rays,
The Crescent standard all its pride displays.

Thou, Salem, favour'd once of Heaven ! hast seen
Oft in thy courts the wand'ring tribes convene:
Oft, though in scorn the name of Christ they mock,
Thy sacred walls detain Mohammed's flock.
Yes—memory there forbids his race, unmoved,
Each spot to traverse, of the Lord beloved ;
And purer thoughts the Moslem's heart can fill
On Salem's plain, and Sion's holy hill.

The march resumed, a thousand ills dismay;
A thousand perils mark the pilgrim's way :
Yet droops he not, till, far from man's abode,
O'er the long desert lies the trackless road;
Till o'er the sandy plain's far-stretch'd expanse
The shudd'ring eye extends a hopeless glance.
No flow'ry herbage cheers the aching sight;
No welcome shades a short repose invite ;
No smiling culture clothes the arid plain
With grassy verdure, or the yellow grain ;
O'er the parch'd earth no gathering clouds diffuse
The genial influence of their fostering dews :
But o'er the redden'd skies and blistering sands
The orb of day his fiercest beams expands;
Pours on th' unshelter'd tribes his fiery rays,
And pining Nature withers in the blaze.
Sad is the wanderer's lot, remote from home,
Condemn'd Arabia's desert sands to roam—
Condemn'd, without a friend, without a guide,
To meet that mimic sea's resistless tide.
Oft at the whirlwind's desolating blast
O'erwhelming clouds involve the sultry waste ;
And, mocking Hope's bright vision, Death demands
Full many a victim 'mid the drifting sands.
Oft on their march along the wide domain
The mounted Arab leads a lawless train,
Athirst for spoil;—and oft, as evening fades,
Some peaceful tent the wily chief invades;
With open conflict oft infests the way,
And scatters terror in the blaze of day.

Onward they press;—and if perchance be found
Some gurgling rill which shady palms surround,
Some grassy spot inviting brief delay,—
Impending dangers still forbid to stay :
By the cool waters of the mossy glade,
'Mid the calm freshness of the palmy shade,
They fear to linger ; onward still they press,
Till Mecca's tow'rs their sight enraptured bless.

Yet, ere the goal, reveal'd to view, they gain,
Those cherish'd scenes awhile their steps detain,

Where, first victorious o'er opposing foes,
On Beder's height Mohammed's banner rose.
Dear is the spot, and kindling memory there
Portrays the Prophet's might, the foe's despair:
There shall the pilgrim oft, with proud delight,
Relate the terrors of that awful fight;
Tell how the Moslem's scanty force, assail'd
By countless hosts, in Allah's name prevail'd ;
How, 'mid the battle's rage, to frenzy driv'n,
The routed squadrons own'd the cause of Heaven :
For there, 'tis said, refulgent to the view,
His flaming sword seraphic Gabriel drew;
The Prophet's band to deathless glory led,
Celestial radiance beaming o'er his head.

Soon as their longing eyes, from Beder's height,
Of Mecca's temple gain the promised sight,
To errors past awaken'd thoughts return,
And sinful breasts with harrowing anguish burn;

The stings of conscience and remorse they feel,
And gushing tears their penitence reveal.
No more shall now the splendid vest be worn,
The brow no more shall clustering locks adorn;
In the pure stream their toil-worn limbs they hive,
And wear the sable garments of the grave.

The hour arrives: in Sorrow's mournful guise,
'Mid the low murmur of repentant sighs,
The phalanx moves; and Mecca's holy fane
In marshall'd ranks receives th' adoring train.
Lo ! fifty portals op'ning wide declare
The dazzling glories of that house of prayer :
In solid brass a hundred columns shine,
And silver chains each tow'ring shaft entwine.
Yet, while from golden lamps th' unheeded ray
Mocks the full brilliance of meridian day,
Whrle circling splendour fails with awe to move,
The sacred Kaaba claims the pilgrim's love.

Yet think not there hath pomp a charm bestow'd ;
No worthless splendour decks the plain abode,
The Prophet's dwelling;—woe to all that dare
False vows to breathe or thoughts irreverent there;
Woe to the wretch, from Mercy's mansion driv'n,
That dares to doubt the fabled work of Heav'n !

Oft as assembling hosts the fane invest,
Those darken'd walls the pilgrim's zeal attest;
And pious hands, as annual rites, enjoin,
Replace the sable vesture of the shrine.
Such holy gift, in fair Damascus wrought,
To Mecca first imperial Omar brought;
Such, ere invading hordes their pow'r subdued,
Year after year Egyptian kings renew'd :
Now falls the task on Othman's race alone,
And swells the grandeur of the Sultan's throne.

Stretch'd on the holy ground, with loud acclaim,
Thrice call the pious crowds on Allah's name :

Allah il Allah ! whose divine command
From chaos bade creation's charms expand ;
Allah il Allah ! to whose sovereign nod
Creation bows,—the true, the only God !—
Then, on the ground still humbly stretch'd, they raise
The song of gladness in Mohammed's praise;
Tell how the Lord with mighty arm upheld
His chosen Prophet 'mid the battle-field ;
From foes and perils gave his soul release,
And crown'd his labours with perpetual peace.
'Twas thine, they cry, illustrious Chief! to soar,
Where seraph hosts th' Eternal Word adore ;
In Heaven's pure streams to wash thy sins away,
And earth revisit, cleansed from error's clay;
'Twas thine to taste the bliss without alloy,
To mark the bright futurity of joy;
And teach thy flock delights in Heav'n prepared,
For Moslem faith the triumph and reward.
There, 'mid luxuriant shades, in tranquil rest,
Shall the green swards by weary limbs be press'd ;
There, 'mid the spacious hall, or cool retreat,
Ambrosial feasts lli" awaken'd sense shall greet;
And, from the eager lip withheld no more,
Their purple tide nectareous vines shall pour:
And there, the Houri, bright angelic maid,
In rosy smiles of innocence array'd,
The bounteous minister of bliss shall prove,
And breathe around a paradise of love.
Such are the fix'd rewards, the promised joys,
To strike the sense, Mohammed's creed employs ;
Such the delusive arts, that still maintain
O'er half the world unfading error's reign.—

Not such the zeal, mistaken and o'erwrought,
Not such the rites by true devotion taught;—
Vain empty duties:—not by these alone
Shall Christ's disciples for their sins atone;

Nor hope the Author of their faith to please
By barren pomp and showy gifts like these.

Fount of Eternal Life ! how far more dear
In thy pure sight will stedfast faith appear;
How far more precious, through the mortal strife,
The guiltless conscience, and unspotted life !
Thee, Son of God ! on God's right hand enthroned,
(Who once on earth the form of manhood own'd,
For us who suffer'd, and for us who bled,
Mute as the peaceful lamb to slaughter led,
Who took the bondage of the world away,)
With grateful hearts we worship and obey:
Thou to lost mortals hast redemption giv'n,
And dying hast restored ourforfeit hopes of Heav'n!