Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

The Death Of Livingstone - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

I.
'No mortal power shall turn me: I arise,
And will go forward, with my face for ever
Toward those fountains of the sacred river,
River still guarding from all mortal eyes
The hoary mystery of mysteries.'
So vowed the pilgrim, chief of a strong band,
Who toil to wrest from Death the twilight land.
A deep resolve, more grand than midnight skies,
Glowed in his countenance; but face and form
Were marred and writhen with the lifelong storm.
While life's dark winter snowed upon his heart,
All wrathful elements howled forth, Depart!
Heaven with remorseless frown above him bowed;
Earth rose in whelming floods to help the cloud.

II.
Whelmed in the wild and terrible morass,
He wades, he swims, he flounders; he is borne
Upon the shoulders of dark men forlorn,
To whom the grandeurs of his spirit pass
By glorious contagion; a foul mass
Of foes malignant o'er the man outworn
Clamour; disease his vitals doth harass,
Draining the life-blood; mortal pain hath torn:
Until his faithfuls weave him a soft bed
Of boughs, and bear him among flowering reeds
And lotus-paven waters: overhead,
Languid from anguish, he in dreaming heeds
An eagle at dawn, whose ghostly voice is hurled,
As though he called one from another world.

III.
A world of waters - sounds of solemn sea,
As wind soughs wandering in rushes now:
But they have built with grass and limber bough
A hut for him who fainteth mortally.
'Lord, let not Hell prevail! be with me Thou!
May I sustain the load allotted me;
And ere in England falls the winter snow,
May I be there, at home, with Victory! . . .
. . . Deep is the desolation of my soul:
It may be I am failing ere my task
Full-ended: in my wake no champion
Of light is following; where waters roll
On fair Nyassa, Death's dark navies bask!
Mary lies in her forest grave alone!

IV.
'Alone her face, and one more, dear as hers,
Avail red haunting horrors to dispel.
O my dark race, plunged in the abyss of Hell!
Sweet babes and women, beneath slow murderers!
Tortured I start from slumber - weeping blurs
Mine eyes for memories no words may tell.
. . . Ere the young linnet in a soft nest stirs,
I would be home, my work accomplished well!'
. . . Drearily day faints, moaning into night;
The dark men sadly lose their fading sight,
Cowering silent by the watchfire light.
Beasts growl in jungles of Ilala land;
Far nightbirds wail on Lulimala strand;
Trees fire-illumined murmur, a tall band.

V.
'Is it our people who are shouting so?'
The dark and tender follower replies,
'A buffalo from far corn-fields with cries
Men scare.' . . . The spirit wanders to and fro,
Like some dim waters' aimless ebb and flow;
'Is this the Luapula?' . . . whose surmise
Gently the man dissolves: then in a low
Alien tongue, and with faint, filming eyes,
The weary wanderer wistfully inquires,
'How far is Luapala?' falling soon
To slumber. . . . Later, after night's chill noon,
His boy-attendant, running toward the fires
Out of the hut, where both were sleeping, said,
'Come to the Master! for I am afraid.'

VI.
They, rising, hasten to the cabin door;
Where, by a feeble taper, which adheres
To a worn wooden travelling-case, apppears
The form of one who kneels upon the floor,
The head bowed in the hands enclasped before
The body. Reverent they pause: none hears
A sound of breathing; louder than of yore
The low watch-pulse affronts foreboding ears.
At length one, timid, touches the grey head.
Stone-cold, and silent! Livingstone is dead!
Lifting his arms to God above the crowd
Of trampling furies, broken, but not bowed,
His mighty soul went out: the slave in chains
Moans: the ghost-eagle calls: Hell laughs: Night reigns!

VII.
The cold hands call upon abysmal Gloom:
Strange frondage murmurs in a darkling morn:
Orphaned men cower round the fires forlorn:
Nile shrouds his fountains: the dim living tomb
Of Africa still closed, Death's blank-eyed doom,-
No face beloved, no land where he was born,-
Guerdons the warrior! No prayed-for bloom
Of home-love crowns him ere the year outworn;
But while faint eyes look far away with trust,
Death spurns the soul's quenched altar in the dust!
. . . Is all, then, failure? Lives no Father there?
Do living hearts but supplicate dead air?
Is this the end of the Promethean
Indomitable, all-enduring Man?

VIII.
Who calls it failure?
God fulfils the prayer:
He is at home; he rests; the work is done.
He hath not failed, who fails like Livingstone!
Radiant diadems all conquerors wear
Pale before his magnificent despair;
And whatsoever kingdoms men have won,
He triumphs dead, defeated, and alone,
Who learned sublimely to endure and dare!
For holy labour is the very end,
Duty man's crown, and his eternal friend;
Reason from Chaos wards the world's grand whole;
All Nature hath Love's martyrdom for goal.
Who nobly toils, though none be nigh to see,
He only lives,- he lives eternally.

IX.
Night melts in glory; royal-robed Sun
Glowingly deepens, like a martial blare,
Awakening mountain, lake, and forest fair;
Assumes all Africa for royal throne.
Slaves, to the height of their great master grown,
With souls unfettered, and free limbs, prepare
The wondrous march, whose Europe-shaming care
Made all his faithful fortitude our own,
Enshrined for men the man magnanimous,
A beacon for all races and for us!
Yet if no rumour had survived the grave,
If all were whelmed in dark Ilala-wave,
Yon very woods and waters in their dim
Hearts would have lost no memory of him!
They, in their mystic message to all time,
And all the worlds, have thrilled with the sublime
Story of man; God reassumes the life;
He crowns unseen the labour and the strife.
Labour is full fruition in the bud,
And faith, possession dimly understood.

Mortal defeat blows oft the clarion
Of resurrection o'er an indolent world
Death-dreaming, louder than hath e'er been blown
From visible triumph; the freed soul unfurled
A conquering flame, arousing the dull plain
Of common souls to kindle in his train,
Heroic-moulded, woke the silent dust
To songful flowers of helpful love and trust;
Inspired the world's dead heart to throb victoriously;
So they awake to life, who warring desperate die!
Yea, in the smile of some Divine deep Peace,
Our faithful find from storms of earth release.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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