T.E. Lawrence ( “ La wrence of Arabia ” ), Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1935):
A first knowledge of [the bedouin’s] sense of the purity of rarefaction was given me in early years, when we had ridden far out over the rolling plains of North Syria to a ruin of the Roman period which the Arabs believed was made by a prince of the border as a desert-palace for his queen. They clay of its buildings was said to have been kneaded for greater richness, not with water, but with the precious essential oils of flowers. My guides, sniffing the air like dogs, led me from crumbling room to room, saying, ‘This is jessamine, this violet, this rose’.
But at last Dahoum drew me: ‘Come and smell the very sweetest scent of all’, and we went into the main lodging, to the gaping window sockets of its eastern face, and there drank with open mouths of the effortless, empty, eddyless wind of the desert, throbbing past...’This,’ they told me, ‘is the best: it has no taste.’
A cloud gathers, the rain falls, men live; the cloud disperses without rain, and men and animals die. In the deserts of southern Arabia there is no rhythm of the seasons, no rise and fall of sap, but empty wastes where only the changing temperature marks the passage of the year. It is a bitter, desiccated land which knows nothing of gentleness or ease. Yet men have lived there since earliest times. Passing generations have left fire-blackened stones at camping sites, a few faint tracks polished on the gravel plains. Elsewhere the winds wipe out their footprints. Men live there because it is the world into which they were born; the life they lead is the life their forefathers led before them; they accept hardships and privations; they know no other way.
Halt, friends, both! Let us weep, recalling a love and a lodging
by the rim of the twisted sands between Ed-Dakhool and Haumal
Friends, do you see yonder lightning? Look, there goes its glitter
flashing like two hands now in the heaped-up, crowned stormcloud.
Brilliantly it shines – so flames the lamp of an anchorite
as he slops oil over the twisted wick.
So with my companions I sat watching it between Dárij
and El-Odheib, far-ranging my anxious gaze;
over Katan, so we guessed, hover the right of its deluge,
its left dropping upon Es-Sitárand further Yadhbul.
Then the cloud started loosing its torrent about Kutaifa
turning upon their beards the boles of the tall kanahbals;
over the hills of El-Kanánswept its flying spray
sending the white wild goats hurtling down on all sides.