Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel
The Journey; And Wife's Death - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel
My long life moves before me like a dream!
The cheerful bustle of the morning march!
Shouts of the driver; scuffling of loud beasts!
Delicious swims and baths in some lone pool,
With chestnut-colour'd leaves in the blue grass,
And gorgeous birds reflected as they fly!
Appears the dear wild nightly bivouac
In some dim forest,- I upon a couch
Of woven rushes, under a furr'd hide,
Shelter'd, it may be, by a roof of boughs.
A grimy cauldron slung athwart the blaze
Held our repast of savoury buffalo-meat:
(Ere sunset had my rifle slain the beast)
But now my dusky troop surround the fire,
That ruddies their swart forms and visages,
Leaping to flame, with crackling faggot piled;
Subsiding soon to embers deeply glowing.
Illumined smoke drifts fragrant, wavering
Amid the maze of long involved Ilanos,
That seem in the red, hestitating light,
To move alive, like pythons watching prey.
There breathes a strange, delicious woodland smell;
Resinous amber glimmers to the stars;
Richly-dim blossoms, many-hued, immense,
Droop fragrant heaven, a milky way of flowers,
Wherein by day the nimble monkey hurries,
And gorgeous parrot screams - now all is hush'd.
My trusty followers, my Makololo,
Astound the rest, relating how they toil'd
Athwart the continent; arriving last
On a subsiding ridge of table-land;
Whence without warning burst upon their view,
Vision never dreamed before -
On Him in His sublime infinitude,
Soliloquising awful in the gloom;
With one intolerable rift of light
Vibrating in the immeasurable waste
Of massy, torn, wan water that ascends,
To meet confusion of the hurrying cloud,
Releasing misty momentary rays;
While in this shifting gulf of utter light,
A snowy sail shows black as ebony.
'Spell-bound we pause: we had follow'd this our Father,
Him of the honest heart, our wise white friend,
Through weal and woe, a weary, weary way,
From our own homes; in face of all the people
Spake, while we journey'd through their several lands,
That never white man brought an African
Here to the coast, save only to enslave;
But we would trust our father; we had proved
Him well, and he had promised; yea, we know
The English have good hearts for Africa!
And yet we pause at the sublime surprise.
For we had faith in what our Ancients told,
That the great World continueth evermore;
And now the World Himself saith unto us,
'Lo! I am ended! there is no more of me!''
Well I remember, O my splendid Sea,
How thy salt breath blew o'er me, as alive!
After interminable deserts drear,
And dank hot jungles of the savage race,
To come upon thee, Ocean, unaware,
Dear native element of all the free!
With British tars, and British hearts of oak,
And the old fiery flag upon the wind!
Tears blind my vision - yonder England lies!
A grey gull, in his strong deliberate flight
Hover'd and slanted, dipp'd his breast in brine,
Exulting in the wind and turbulent foam;
While half the mortal languor left my limbs,
And I rejoiced with him. From sea to sea!
I traversed all the dark, blank continent;
And proved it not, as timid idle dream
Surmised, an evil waste unprofitable,
Huge blot on God's most bountiful, fair world;
Rather a promised land of living waters!
Like that king's daughter in the fairy tale,
Asleep, awaiting her Deliverer.
How clearly do mine inner eyes behold
The dear, wild nightly bivouac of yore,
When I was in my manhood's vigorous prime!
If it were in the prairie, or the desert,
Sinbad, my riding ox, with other oxen,
Would lie beside the looming bullock-wain,
Audibly ruminating, couch'd at ease
Upon his shadow, in a luminous moon.
If it were in a forest, such as last
Appear'd before my musing memory,
When I have heard awhile my followers' tales,
I weary close mine ears in first faint sleep,
Half hearing only broken words, and names
Of tribes or places, weird, and all germane
To the mysterious realm of forest wild.
But later silence all inviolate reigns;
Save for a low communing of weird wind
Among high crowns of leafy ebonies,
Moving and murmuring, while star-worlds pass over.
When I awake, dark forms are lying round:
Firelight warms faintly mighty sylvan pillars,
Rising from gloom to gloom: they seem to my
Drowsed senses ancient phantoms of the night.
Thousands of years, some say, the huge Mowana
Flourishing lives, while mortal men around
Fall with his leaves, and wither at his feet.
And since she died,* rapture of my young years,
Love, and abiding pole-star of my life!
A marble cross, that gleams amid the gloom
Shines ever in dim vistas of my soul;
And I desire to lay my toil-worn limbs
Under still leaves of some primæval grove,
As she, my well-beloved, resteth hers.
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