Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

(1834-1894 / England)

The Nile, Africa, And Egypt - Poem by Roden Berkeley Wriothesley Noel

Livingstone soliloquises.

The sun is sinking over Africa;
And under shadowy native eaves reclines
A traveller upon a fur-strewn floor;
One whom no years' ignoble rust, but high
And holy toil have wasted; bearded grey,
In way worn English garb he seems array'd;
His shoulders bow'd as from a life's long burden:
His rude wan countenance profoundly scarr'd
With noble ruin wrought by Love and Sorrow.
Reclined against the dwelling's clay-built wall,
His falcon eyes explore the moonèd East.
Athwart a wondrous land that lies before
Slow shadow steals; o'er all the fervid palms,
Broad-leaved banana, leaf-seas infinite,
Hoar unfamiliar stupendous forms
Of that primæval forest African:
Slowly the shadow with declining day
Fades rainbow splendour of the forest far,
And drowns imperial purple of the hills
In one phantasmal all-confounding gloom.

Ye mountains, hiding undiscover'd worlds,
So mused in spirit the lone wanderer,
I hunger till I pass your mighty doors,
And lay my hand upon the Mystery!
African Andes, vast, inviolate,
Crown'd with the cloud, robed round with sombre forest,
Whose virgin snow no human feet profane
Have swept, but only the wild eagle's wing,
Of old your ghost on Rumour's shadowy breath
Wander'd abroad, O Mountains of the Moon!
And still ye are no more than a dim name:
Of old the Egyptian from your loins, that loom
Large in far realms of Rumour, drew the Nile.
Ye, couchant o'er the sultry continent,
Seem the great guardian Lion of Africa,
Who, from primæval ages all alone,
Silently stern, confronts a crimson dawn
Over fair Indian seas, with face that towers
Sunward, supreme; feeling a warm moist breath,
Faint with perfume, turn crystals of soft snow
Among the terrors of his icy mane;
Or, where the stature of his giant frame
Declines to westward, feeling the breath change
To rain within the hollows of his heart.
All, thundering down abrupt convulsed ravines,
Scarr'd in precipitous rugged flanks of stone,
Feed wide Nyanzas; whether there be twain,
Or many waters, these engender thee,
Wonderful Nile!
And yet I deem that I
Shall find thy parent springs remoter still.
Lualaba, with his tributary rivers,
And lilied lakes his loving bounty fills!
Yea, some have told me, and I well believe,
There are four fountains clear and deep as day,
Welling unfathomable, perennial
Among low hills as yet unseen, the last
Subsiding roll, it may be, of one range
Named of old Rumour, Mountains of the Moon.
Behold the shrine of living waters! Here
From one immense rock-temple stream the Souls
Of many lands and nations, whispering
In dim enchanted caverns; East and North,
And West emerging, sunny wings unfold:
Shouting they plunge in joyous waterfalls,
To roll a priceless silver all abroad,
Each to his Ocean, whose illustrious names
Are Congo, Nile, and long Leeambayee!
Whom Mother Ocean, in her awful arms
Absorbing, ever engendereth anew,
Gendering a holy Cycle evermore.

When royal Sun his Oriental bride,
India's Ocean, fiercely fervent woos,
While She dissolves in his delightful love,
What time He fronts earth's equatorial zone
On his way North to Cancer, then the waters
Rise in a tide of life upon the lands,
Lying athirst and barren in his blaze.

. . . . My soul, unbow'd in face of failing years,
Though Hope may falter from unwearying
Hindrance of blind baseborn vicissitude,
Swears to resolve the alluring Mystery,
At whose cold feet our mightiest have fallen,
Yearning to find the sacred Source, and die;
Nor have prevail'd; but if the Lord allow,
I and my fellow-labourers will prevail!

I seek the birth of that immortal River,
Who bears great Egypt in her watery womb,
Who nursed the world's prime empire on her bosom;
And Moses, more illustrious than all
Pharaohs, her earth-enthralling conquerors,
Throned in their golden hundred-gate Thebes,
Tomb'd in hoar wonder of the pyramids.
At thy most holy source, primæval Nile!
The Greek drank wisdom; yea, in solemn halls
Of Memphis, in columnar stone forests
Of mighty Karnac, rich with hieroglyph,
And pictured symbol and weird shapes of Gods.
Only the solar beam, the Obelisk,
Now from green palms and verdure and pure rills,
As then from sacred fountains of the Sun,
In olden time, in Heliopolis,
Still points with mystic granite flame to Heaven!
This mighty gnomon of a sun-dial
Moved then a shadow, lengthening among signs
Upon a porphyry or a brazen floor,
Among blithe forms of Pharaonic time;
Now o'er young corn and red anemone!
There came Pythagoras to learn the lore
Of stars, and suns, and gods, and human souls;
There Moses mused, well nourish'd on rich stores
Of priests and sagas; communing with truth,
And in his spirit sifting dust from gold.
Only this one most ancient monument
Stands of thy glory, Heliopolis!
Earliest seat of learning, where the seer,
Illustrious Plato, came from Academe,
And sweet Ilissus; fairest star of all
The fair young band who follow'd one wise master.
Here a stone astrolabe explored the night,
Measuring solemn wanderings of stars;
Laboratory fires were glowing here;
While some astrologer with mystic rites
Drew horoscopes, or cast nativities:
But then our Earth, who in her equable
And proud obeisant motion round the sun
Hath in twice ten millennial periods
Her inclined axle measurably perturb'd,
Lean'd otherwise her pole among the skies;
Another Polestar ruled the mariner;
Another Ocean shrined thy radiance,
O Christian constellation of the Cross!
While otherwhere in every tranquil night,
Among cool calm abysses of pure space,
Shone Sirius, Arcturus, and Orion.

Here too the holiest Child of mortal race
Rested in humble guise with a pure Mother.

At thy most holy source, primæval Nile!
The Greek drank wisdom; learrn'd a Dædal art,
That in his pure white light of genius,
In that pellucid æther of his clime,
Among pure breezes of Castalian hills,
And delicate unrobed consummate forms
Of radiant heroes, bloom'd in glorious
Marble immortal gods for all the world.

Here he beheld the blazon'd Zodiac
On loftiest firmaments of broad hewn stone
Within dim fanes, or solemn tombs of kings;
Stupendous vaulted chambers in the heart
Of flame-hued mountain, silently aware
With populous imagery of men and gods,
Hawk or ram-headed; on wide wall and ceiling
Beheld a constellate celestial river
Meandering around a crystal sphere,
And navigated in twelve lives of Moons,
By that resplendent Father of the Kings;
Kings lying here in glory, all embalm'd,
And jewell'd o'er with slumbering talisman,
Asleep in their immense sarcophagi.

Yonder, on burning sands of Libya,
Unmoved the tranquil-featured Sphinx beheld
Abraham, Homer, Solon, all the wise
Of every clime, who came, and saw, and wonder'd;
Who pass'd, leaving a heritage to man;
Beheld dissolving dynasties of Kings,
And all their people, pageant-like unroll'd
Before His face; they, with o'erwhelming pillars
Of desert sand before the whirlwind's breath,
Pass'd in loud pomp, and were not any more;
The silent Sphinx regarding, as to-day,
Beyond them all, serene Eternity!

There that colossal Memnon, while the Nile
Pour'd like another morning all around
Sweet life-engendering waters musical,
Murmur'd melodious salutation,
When first Aurora, his celestial mother,
Smiled blandly on him from the Orient.

Fresh from fierce thunder of the cataracts,
Tortured among dark demon-blocks of stone
Fireborn, divine Nile smoothes his ruffled flow;
Lingers a tranquil, a celestial lake
To embrace fair Philæ, Philæ, fairest isle
Of all earth's islands! fringed with mirror'd palm,
And lotos blossom on the crystalline
Laving her bosom; she hath lotos blossom
For capitals of her hypæthral fane,
Quiet in heaven, tremulous in the river:
Where, sundering flowing phantoms of the stars,
Boats glide by night, aslant on broider'd sail,
Freighted with youth, and love and loveliness:
Balmy night breezes, all alive with song,
Laughter and rhythmic plashing of light oars,
(While coloured lamp-lights lambent on the ripple
Stream from fair vessel, or embower'd shore);
Wave slender-fountain'd palms among the stars;
As strange slim forms of a most ancient age
Land on pale quays of that so stately temple,
Sonorous with a gorgeous ritual.-
Now on a roofless column builds the stork!
Here, they believe, slumbers a mighty god,
Osiris, Love incarnate, and the Judge;
Also the Solar orb, and sacred Nile;
Who, with moon'd Isis and her little child,
Shadoweth forth a triune Deity.
His awful name none dare to breathe aloud:
An oath avails to bind for evermore
One who hath sworn 'by Him that sleeps in Philæ.'

Most ancient realm of all this ancient earth,
Thought faints to sound thy hoar antiquity!
Europe and Asia were not when thy form
Brooded in solemn grandeur, as to-day,
Over dark ocean! when Dicynodon,
Ancestor of thy huge Leviathan,
Ruled over mightier seas and estuaries;
When melancholy vapours veil'd strange stars,
Ere man's wan yearning unavailing eyes
Awoke to wonder! ere the cataclysm
Rent all thy rocks, and summon'd forth the rivers . . .
. . . When came the Negro?- and the dwindling Dwarf?
I have found bones of immemorial age:
Their living families surround me now!

Wilds more unknown than yonder ghostly Moon,
Beyond the bounds of Earth! whose ruin huge
Of awful mountain, Albategnius,
Or Döerfel, whose abysses of dead gloom
Herschel in his enchanter's glass reveal'd!

Africa! vast immeasurable Void,
Where no imperial march of History
Solemn resounds from echoing age to age!
Haunt of light-headed fable and dim dream!
To whose fierce strand the Heaven-shadowing bird,
Enormous Roc, long deemed a wild romance,
Was wont to fly of old from Madagascar!-
In whose blue wave floats fragrant ambergris;
Whose shores are blushing corallines most rare,
Where ocean-fairies wander mailed in gems,
Silently gliding through the branching bowers,
While far inland strange palaces are piled
Profusely with pure ivory and gold -
No lynx-eyed peril-affronting pioneer,
Since the beginning, until yesterday,
Dared violate thy sultry somnolence,
Couch'd, a grim lion in thine ancient lair;
Sullenly self-involved, impenetrable!
Or if one ever bearded and aroused,
Thy winds have spurn'd his unrevealing dust!
Yea, in thy fiery deserts, in the pomp
Of lurid evenings, crimson, warm, like blood,
Thou dost devour thine own dark children, crouch'd
About thy cruel knees, dark Africa!

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Poem Submitted: Thursday, April 22, 2010

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