Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. V. Nature
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume V. Nature.  1904.
 
VI. Animate Nature
The Lion’s Ride
Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)
 
Anonymous translation from the German

THE LION is the desert’s king; through his domain so wide
Right swiftly and right royally this night he means to ride.
By the sedgy brink, where the wild herds drink, close couches the grim chief;
The trembling sycamore above whispers with every leaf.
 
At evening, on the Table Mount, when ye can see no more        5
The changeful play of signals gay; when the gloom is speckled o’er
With kraal fires; when the Caffre wends home through the lone karroo;
When the boshbok in the thicket sleeps, and by the stream the gnu;
 
Then bend your gaze across the waste,—what see ye? The giraffe,
Majestic, stalks towards the lagoon, the turbid lymph to quaff;        10
With outstretched neck and tongue adust, he kneels him down to cool
His hot thirst with a welcome draught from the foul and brackish pool.
 
A rustling sound, a roar, a bound,—the lion sits astride
Upon his giant courser’s back. Did ever king so ride?
Had ever king a steed so rare, caparisons of state        15
To match the dappled skin whereon that rider sits elate?
 
In the muscles of the neck his teeth are plunged with ravenous greed;
His tawny mane is tossing round the withers of the steed.
Up leaping with a hollow yell of anguish and surprise,
Away, away, in wild dismay, the cameleopard flies.        20
 
His feet have wings; see how he springs across the moonlit plain!
As from their sockets they would burst, his glaring eyeballs strain;
In thick black streams of purling blood, full fast his life is fleeting;
The stillness of the desert hears his heart’s tumultuous beating.
 
Like the cloud that, through the wilderness, the path of Israel traced,—        25
Like an airy phantom, dull and wan, a spirit of the waste,—
From the sandy sea uprising, as the water-spout from ocean,
A whirling cloud of dust keeps pace with the courser’s fiery motion.
 
Croaking companion of their flight, the vulture whirs on high;
Below, the terror of the fold, the panther fierce and sly,        30
And hyenas foul, round graves that prowl, join in the horrid race;
By the footprints wet with gore and sweat, their monarch’s course they trace.
 
They see him on his living throne, and quake with fear, the while
With claws of steel he tears piecemeal his cushion’s painted pile.
On! on! no pause, no rest, giraffe, while life and strength remain!        35
The steed by such a rider backed may madly plunge in vain.
 
Reeling upon the desert’s verge, he falls, and breathes his last;
The courser, stained with dust and foam, is the rider’s fell repast.
O’er Madagascar, eastward far, a faint flush is descried:—
Thus nightly, o’er his broad domain, the king of beasts doth ride.        40
 
 
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