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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
 
Mesopotamia: Desert, the Assyrian
Kubleh: a Story of the Assyrian Desert
Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)
 
THE BLACK-EYED children of the Desert drove
Their flocks together at the set of sun.
The tents were pitched: the weary camels bent
Their suppliant necks, and knelt upon the sand;
The hunters quartered by the kindled fires        5
The wild boars of the Tigris they had slain,
And all the stir and sound of evening ran
Throughout the Shammar camp. The dewy air
Bore its full burden of confused delight
Across the flowery plain, and while, afar,        10
The snows of Koordish mountains in the ray
Flashed roseate amber, Nimroud’s ancient mound
Rose broad and black against the burning West.
The shadows deepened, and the stars came out
Sparkling in violet ether; one by one        15
Glimmered the ruddy camp-fires on the plain,
And shapes of steed and horseman moved among
The dusky tents with shout and jostling cry,
And neigh and restless prancing. Children ran
To hold the thongs, while every rider drove        20
His quivering spear in the earth, and by his door
Tethered the horse he loved. In midst of all
Stood Shammeriyah, whom they dared not touch,—
The foal of wondrous Kubleh, to the Sheik
A dearer wealth than all his Georgian girls.        25
 
But when their meal was o’er,—when the red fires
Blazed brighter, and the dogs no longer bayed,—
When Shammar hunters with the boys sat down
To cleanse their bloody knives, came Alimàr,
The poet of the tribe, whose songs of love        30
Are sweeter than Bassora’s nightingales,—
Whose songs of war can fire the Arab blood
Like war itself: who knows not Alimàr?
Then asked the men: “O poet, sing of Kubleh!”
And boys laid down the knives half burnished, saying,        35
“Tell us of Kubleh, whom we never saw,—
Of wondrous Kubleh!” Closer flocked the group
With eager eyes about the flickering fire,
While Alimàr, beneath the Assyrian stars,
Sang to the listening Arabs:
                        “God is great!
        40
O Arabs, never yet since Mahmoud rode
The sands of Yemen, and by Mecca’s gate
The wingéd steed bestrode, whose mane of fire
Blazed up the zenith, when, by Allah called,
He bore the Prophet to the walls of heaven,        45
Was like to Kubleh, Sofuk’s wondrous mare:
Not all the milk-white barbs, whose hoofs dashed flame
In Bagdad’s stables from the marble floor—
Who, swathed in purple housings, pranced in state
The gay bazaars, by great Al-Raschid backed:        50
Not the wild charger of Mongolian breed
That went o’er half the world with Tamerlane:
Nor yet those flying coursers, long ago
From Ormuz brought by swarthy Indian grooms
To Persia’s kings—the foals of sacred mares,        55
Sired by the fiery stallions of the sea!
 
  “Who ever told, in all the Desert Land,
The many deeds of Kubleh? Who can tell
Whence came she, whence her like shall come again?
O Arabs, like a tale of Scherezade        60
Heard in the camp, when javelin shafts are tried
On the hot eve of battle, is her story.
 
  “Far in the Southern sands, the hunters say,
Did Sofuk find her, by a lonely palm.
The well had dried; her fierce, impatient eye        65
Glared red and sunken, and her slight young limbs
Were lean with thirst. He checked his camel’s pace,
And while it knelt, untied the water-skin,
And when the wild mare drank, she followed him.
Thence none but Sofuk might the saddle gird        70
Upon her back, or clasp the brazen gear
About her shining head, that brooked no curb
From even him; for she, alike, was royal.
 
  “Her form was lighter, in its shifting grace,
Than some impassioned Almée’s, when the dance        75
Unbinds her scarf, and golden anklets gleam
Through floating drapery, on the buoyant air.
Her light, free head was ever held aloft:
Between her slender and transparent ears
The silken forelock tossed; her nostril’s arch,        80
Thin-drawn, in proud and pliant beauty spread,
Snuffing the desert winds. Her glossy neck
Curved to the shoulder like an eagle’s wing,
And all her matchless lines of flank and limb
Seemed fashioned from the flying shapes of air        85
By hands of lightning. When the war-shouts rang
From tent to tent, her keen and restless eye
Shone like a blood-red ruby, and her neigh
Rang wild and sharp above the clash of spears.
 
  “The tribes of Tigris and the Desert knew her:        90
Sofuk before the Shammar bands she bore
To meet the dread Jebours, who waited not
To bid her welcome; and the savage Koord,
Chased from his bold irruption on the plain,
Has seen her hoof-prints in his mountain snow.        95
Lithe as the dark-eyed Syrian gazelle,
O’er ledge and chasm and barren steep, amid
The Sindjar hills, she ran the wild ass down.
Through many a battle’s thickest brunt she stormed,
Reeking with sweat and dust, and fetlock deep        100
In curdling gore. When hot and lurid haze
Stifled the crimson sun, she swept before
The whirling sand-spout, till her gusty mane
Flared in its vortex, while the camels lay
Groaning and helpless on the fiery waste.        105
 
  “The tribes of Taurus and the Caspian knew her:
The Georgian chiefs have heard her trumpet-neigh
Before the walls of Tiflis. Pines that grow
On ancient Caucasus have harbored her,
Sleeping by Sofuk, in their spicy gloom.        110
The surf of Trebizond has bathed her flanks,
When from the shore she saw the white-sailed bark
That brought him home from Stamboul. Never yet,
O Arabs, never yet was like to Kubleh!
 
  “And Sofuk loved her. She was more to him        115
Than all his snowy-bosomed odalisques.
For many years, beside his tent she stood,
The glory of the tribe.

                    “At last she died;
Died, while the fire was yet in all her limbs,—
Died for the life of Sofuk, whom she loved.        120
The base Jebours—on whom be Allah’s curse!—
Came on his path, when far from any camp,
And would have slain him, but that Kubleh sprang
Against the javelin-points and bore them down,
And gained the open desert. Wounded sore,        125
She urged her light limbs into maddening speed
And made the wind a laggard. On and on
The red sand slid beneath her, and behind
Whirled in a swift and cloudy turbulence,
As when some star of Eblis downward hurled        130
By Allah’s bolt, sweeps with its burning hair
The waste of Darkness. On and on, the bleak,
Bare ridges rose before her, came and passed;
And every flying leap with fresher blood
Her nostril stained, till Sofuk’s brow and breast        135
Were flecked with crimson foam. He would have turned
To save his treasure, though himself were lost,
But Kubleh fiercely snapped the brazen rein.
At last, when through her spent and quivering frame
The sharp throes ran, our distant tents arose,        140
And with a neigh, whose shrill excess of joy
O’ercame its agony, she stopped and fell.
The Shammar men came round her as she lay,
And Sofuk raised her head and held it close
Against his breast. Her dull and glazing eye        145
Met his, and with a shuddering gasp she died.
Then like a child’s his bursting grief made way
In passionate tears, and with him all the tribe
Wept for the faithful mare.

                        “They dug her grave
Amid Al-Hather’s marbles, where she lies        150
Buried with ancient kings; and since that time
Was never seen, and will not be again,
O Arabs, though the world be doomed to live
As many moons as count the desert sands,
The like of wondrous Kubleh. God is great!”        155
 
 
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