Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

The Explorer In Africa - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

Yet mine are higher, holier purposes;
For I will cleave this darkling continent,
As with a sword of intellectual light;
Lead these lost children to a living Father,
And tell them of a Brother who has died.
Yea, if my nature's weakness have rebell'd
Against what seems the world's indifference;
Men treading their unarduous wonted round
Of common care, oblivious of mine,
Who battle alone, afar from all; who waste,
Ignobly sinking here in sight of goal,
For bitter need of help I hoped from men,
At leisure in their calm abounding homes;
Bales for exchange or tribute; healing herbs;
Wherewith to calm this fire within my veins,
And tame the ravening, hungry heathendom -
Thou knowest, O Lord, my prime solicitude
Was for the work thou hast to me unworthy
Confided in Thy Providence unachieved,-
And yet I know the Holiest never fails
For lack of service; but allows to each
The measure He in wisdom hath ordain'd.

For all the land is foul with monstrous wrong,
And desolation of the sons of Hell.
Surely the long, long wail of human woe
Ever ascends from all our earth to heaven!
But here the mist of blind unending tears
Hangs undissolving, and abolishes
Yon very Life-Light from His shining halls,
And hides the Father from His orphan'd sons.
Hell is let loose; and jubilant cruelty
Tortures a feeble, lowly-witted race,
Poor fallen outcast of humanity;
Inflames the lurking, savage brute that haunts
A wilding blood to fratricidal war,
To thrall its very kindred, for the sport
Of paler, large-brain'd fiends, the common foe,
And glut their markets with the flesh of men.
Shoot them and drown them! from convulsive arms
Tear small sweet clinging babes, and fainting brides
From lovers, who with unavailing life
Stain them in falling, or themselves enslaved,
Yoked, goaded, pinioned, tramp the burning wilds,
To bleach with beast-gnawn bones the wilderness;
Or huddled in a slaver's pestilent hold,
Writhing and raving, rotting while alive,
Are flung to gorge sleek monsters of the sea!
Lo! in dusk offings of ensanguined seas,
At sunset doth the torpid slaver droop
Her guilty sail; while evil strangers brand
Dark women on a golden strand with fire;
Who are mute with endless woes unutterable!

Nay! the long wail of wounded innocence
Hath ne'er been squander'd on a voiceless Void!
But every tear of every helpless child
Sinks in a warm, unfathomable Love:
And armèd Righteousness awaits her hour,
Albeit Her lightning slumber in the cloud.
These human shambles shall be purged from blood:
This charnel of the world shall reek no more,
Plague-spot of all the starry universe!
For I will flash the light of Europe's eyes
Full on the tyrant, till he quail and cower,
And vanish, a mere snowflake in the sun.
England, inviolate Ark of Freedom, launch
Thy thunder as of old; and hurl them low!
Fulfil thy mission! fallen heroes want
Yonder in heaven their crown of blessedness,
Till the last bondsman clasp unfetter'd hands
O'er the last slaver, whelm'd beneath the wave!

But I abide until my task be done.
And if they slay their mortal enemy,
It is the Lord who calls, and it is well -
When they had thought to murder; reft from me
All I most cherish'd on a former day;
Killing my converts, even the little ones,
Or sweeping them into captivity;
I said, 'I am not less resolved than they:
They do but save me wills and codicils!'
I turn my face indeed, as they intend,
From this my labour of long years o'erthrown;
And yet not homeward, baffled as they deem -
For lo! my face is toward the world unknown,
That seem'd almost the very world in sooth,
'From whose dark bourne no traveller returns.'
I take the plunge, and I am lost in night!
Lost to the life and tumult of mankind:
No voice may reach me from the homes of men;
No voice of mine may penetrate to them.
Five times twelve moons have filled their horns and waned;
My memory is failing from the world;
Only a ghostly rumour murmurs low
How one has seen a strange white wanderer,
Somewhere inland; none certainly knows where;
And once more rumour whispers, he is dead.
Empires may rise and fall; great wars may thunder;
And peace may follow war; and I not know,
More than the drown'd who slumber in the sea -
Yea, have they ruin'd me at Kolobeng?
Behold I wrest from them all Africa!

For I will never cease from journeying,
Until the length and breadth of all the land
Shine forth illuminate from shore to shore!
My life is one long journey; and I love
Peril, and toil, and strange vicissitude;
Exploring all the wonder of the world
On sea and land; wonder for evermore;
And all the marvellous miracle of man.
I am urged ever by a restless ghost,
And may not fold my hands in tranquil sleep.
Yet when we have grown old, we want the glow
Of our own generous children in their prime,
Warming our twilight; they love thought for us,
As we of old for them; their little ones
Play, like a dear last dawn, around our age;
And I too long to be at home again
By the sweet firelight of my northern land!
At Christmas-time, the room is bright with green,
And far bells faintly peal athwart the snow:
Then quiet firelight, wavering with soft sound,
Pleasantly ruddies gold and silver hair:
But in the summer, little children sing
Anear a shimmer of slim aspen leaves,
Fluttering with sound of summer rain.
Ah! shall I never cease from journeying?
Urged ever onward by a restless ghost,
I may not fold my hands in pleasant sleep!

When I surmount some unfamiliar height,
Behold! an alien realm mysterious
Unroll'd in twilight! ghostly, drear, and wan;
Stain'd with what seem huge bombs of shatter'd iron,
Hurl'd from a weird infernal enginery.
And then I muse what eerie living things
Dwell far beyond among the mists of night -
Whether the wanderer may wander on
For ever in the waste, hearing no sound,
Save of his own footfall; or yonder dwell
Dark unimaginable human lives;
Wearing what uncouth forms, allied to some
Misshapen horrors of the forest wild -
Weird startling mockery of immortal man;
Shocking the soul with chill mistrustful fear,
And doubt of her pre-eminent destiny -
Brute-brow'd, brute-maw'd, huge hirsute prodigies,
Challenging with a vast appalling roar
Whoso disturbs their monstrous monarchy!
Dark unimaginable human lives,
Ever alone in this most ancient realm,
Immured in a stupendous sepulchre,
Afar from man's tumultuous chariot-race
Of sounding splendour; somnolent aware
How the dull tide of dim inglorious years
Moves ever foul and lurid with the scurf
Of ruin'd blood, and gold, and scalding tears!

Some veer small restless, rambling, apelike eyes;
Their clicking gibber mimics flittermice;
A skeleton people plucking roots and berries
For starved subsistence, grubbing shallow holes,
Or sheltering in borrow'd dens disused. . . .
What people lies before me? some affirm
That there be men sepulchred verily
In subterranean chambers like the dead;
Burrowing human moles, fleeing from light,
By their free choice, and immemorial
Usage; though Rumour murmurs her wild tale
Ever with a light head confusedly.

Shall I behold some dark terrific cave,
Reeking with bats, and owls, and doleful things,
High among crags of a precipitous mountain,
Strewn with fresh bones of men, that hideous ghouls
In human form, foul anthropophagi,
Have gnawn for food; a loathsome den defiled
With dripping human members, torn for meat?
A desolate wind howls ever dolefully
Around the dismal open mouth of hell,
Howls like a murdered man's avenging soul!
While among boulder-ruins of the mountain
Climb beasts obscene, scenting a horrid feast!
At night a thunder of great lions rolls,
Rebellowing from basalt precipices:
At night a fervour of infernal flame,
With cruel yells of hellish revelry,
Affronts pale stars; what time the unearthly fiends
Grimy, and gash'd with knives, and foul with earth,
Squat mumbling bodies of lost travellers,
Whom they decoying fell'd with monstrous clubs.
But underneath the floor of their black vault
Deepens a hollow murmur, far withdrawn
Within the haunted heart of the dread mountain.
It may be mutter'd wrath of slumbering fires;
It may be secret waters wandering;
But they believe it of another world;
And shuddering pour libation to the god.

Sometimes by night a mightier thunder even
Than thunder of roaring lions, like an ocean,
Bursts all the boundaries of ruinous heaven
In one wild flood of universal flame,
With sound as of upheaval of adamant;
Towering wrath of Powers immeasurable,
And roll'd war-chariots of tremendous cloud:
Sound the great mountains in their chasms and craters,
Bastions, and inviolable towers,
Rebellow; hurl abroad; mutter in gloom;
Brood over in their dim and sullen souls.
Perpetual seas of broad purpureal flame,
With intervals of momentary night,
Dark as the darkness of a man born blind,
Possess the sky's unfathomable concave;
Wherein appalling growths of more intense
Fire with seven branches, like gigantic trees,
Spring up and vanish! . . .
Behold yon perpendicular crags, like flame,
Whose melaphyre and porphyry condor crests
Threaten the valleys! their profound ravines
Of deadly twilight ne'er a sun may see,
Unsoften'd of a tiniest herb or flower!
Now furious torrents toss white manes of foam
Down their long solitudes; the firmament
Sunders, and pours dense watery deluges,
Illuminate with deluges of light;
Howls the tornado; 'tis the reign of chaos!
Great lions lashing tails in grim despair,
Mingling their roar with elemental thunder,
Climb from the floods, or struggling drown therein!
Ah! would the blinding falchion of swift lightning,
That crimson wounds the mountain flank, but hurl
One of those loosen'd bounding blocks of rock,
So as to stop for ever the black mouth
Of that infernal cavern of the fiends,
Where still a madden'd laughter peals among
Commotions of Divine wrath flying abroad,
Reiterate from all their haunted halls!
Lo! the tornado, and the levinbolt
Have fallen upon yon tree's enormous bulk,
Hard by the cave; blasting, and wrenching it
Loose from a cleft it grappled for centuries
With serpentine huge roots! it creaks and crashes!
Headlong it topples to the gulf that boils!

Some even tell a marvellous dim tale
Of a tribe buried somewhere in the wild;
A satyr-race of clovenfooted men,
Hairy and tail'd, with cloven feet like swine!
Where are the Pigmies? Homer sang of old
Their yearly war with southward-flying cranes!
They wear enormous heads upon their shoulders;
They build their pigmy booths in dim recesses
Of some impenetrable forest world!
Two travellers lately came upon their traces.


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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010



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