Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Africa
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV.  1876–79.
 
Sahara
Mirage
Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)
 
Translated by J. B. Chorley

ALL o’er the harbor gay with flags my restless eyes a-wandering go;
But thine, with laughing glances, seek the plume that droops across my brow!
“Fain of thy deserts I would hear, while waves are gurgling round the boat;
Come, paint me something of the land from whence that ostrich tuft was brought!”
 
Thou wilt? I shade my brow awhile beneath the hollow of my hand:        5
Let fall the curtain of thine eyes; lo! there the deserts’ glowing sand!
The camping places of the tribe that gave me birth, thine eye discerns;
Bare in her sun-scorched widow’s weed around thee now Zahara burns.
 
Who travelled through the Lion-land? Of hoofs and claws ye see the prints;
Timbuctoo’s caravan! the spear far on the horizon, yonder, glints;        10
Wave banners; purple through the dust streams out the Emir’s princely dress,
And grave, with sober stateliness, the camel’s head o’erlooks the press.
 
In serried troop, where sand and sky together melt, they hurry on;
Already in the sulphurous mist the lurid distance gulps them down.
Yet by the riders’ track too well ye trace the flying onward host;        15
Full thickly marked, the sand is strewn with many a thing their speed has lost.
 
The first—a dromedary, dead—a ghastly milestone, marks their course;
Perched on the bulk, with naked throats, two vultures revel, shrieking hoarse,
And eager for the meal delayed, yon costly turban little heed,
Lost by an Arab youth, and left in the wild journey’s desperate speed.        20
 
Now bits of rich caparisons the thorny tamarind bushes strew;
And nearer, drained, and white with dust, a water-skin, rent through and through;
Who ’s he that kicks the gaping thing, and furious stares with quivering lid?
It is the black-haired Sheik, who rules the land of Biledulgerid.
 
He closed the rear; the courser fell, and cast him off, and fled away;        25
All panting to his girdle hangs his favorite wife, in wild deray;
How flashed her eye, as, raised to selle, at dawn she smiled upon her lord!
Now through the waste he drags her on, as from a baldric trails a sword.
 
The sultry sand that but at night the lion’s shaggy tail beats down,
The hair of yonder helpless thing now sweeps, in tangled tresses strown;        30
It gathers in her flow of locks, burns up her sweet lips’ spicy dew;
Its cruel flints, with sanguine streaks, her tender dragging limbs imbrue.
 
And now the stronger Emir fails! with boiling blood his pulses strain;
His eye is gorged, and on his brow, blue glistening, beats the throbbing vein;
With one devouring kiss, his last, he wakes the drooping Moorish child;        35
Then flings himself, with furious curse, down on the red unsheltered Wild.
 
But she, amazed, looks round her:—“Ha! what sight? My lord, awake, behold!
The Heaven, that seemed all brazen, how like steel it glitters, clear and cold!
The desert’s yellow glare is lost! All round the dazzling light appears,—
It is a glitter like the sea’s, that with its breakers rocks Algiers!        40
 
“It surges, sparkles, like a stream! I scent its moisture cool from hence;
A wide-spread mirror yonder gleams! Awake! It is the Nile perchance.
Yet no! We travelled south, indeed;—then surely ’t is the Senegal!
Or, can it be the ocean free, whose billows yonder rise and fall?
 
“What matter? still ’t is water! Wake! My cloak ’s already flung away,—        45
Awake, my lord! and let us on—this deadly scorching to allay!
A cooling draught, a freshening bath, with life anew will nerve our limbs,
To reach yon fortress towering high, that distance now with rack bedims.
 
“I see around its portals gray the crimson banners, waving, set;
Its battled ramparts rough with spears; its hold with mosque and minaret;        50
All in its roads, with lofty masts, slow rocking, many a galley lies;
Our travellers crowd its rich bazaars, and fill its caravansaries.
 
“Beloved! I am faint with thirst! wake up! the twilight nears!”—Alas!
He raised his eye once more, and groaned—“It is the desert’s mocking glass!
A cheat, the play of spiteful fiends, more cruel than the Smoom!”—All hoarse        55
He stopped:—the vision fades!—she sank, the dying girl, upon his corse!
 
—Thus of his native land the Moor in Venice Haven oft would tell:
On Desdemona’s eager ear, the Captain’s story thrilling fell.
She started, as the gondola jarred on the quay with trembling prow;
He, silent, to the palace led the heiress of Brabantio.        60
 
 
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