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.
 
Central and Southern Africa: Soudan
Timbuctoo
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)
 
I STOOD upon the mountain which o’erlooks
The narrow seas, whose rapid interval
Parts Afric from green Europe, when the sun
Had fallen below the Atlantic, and above
The silent heavens were blenched with faery light,        5
Uncertain whether faery light or cloud,
Flowing southward, and the chasms of deep, deep blue
Slumbered unfathomable, and the stars
Were flooded over with clear glory and pale.
I gazed upon the sheeny coast beyond,        10
There where the Giant of old Time infixed
The limits of his prowess, pillars high
Long time erased from earth; even as the Sea
When weary of wild inroad buildeth up
Huge mounds whereby to stay his yeasty waves.        15
And much I mused on legends quaint and old,
Which whilome won the hearts of all on earth
Toward their brightness, even as flame draws air;
But had their being in the heart of man,
As air is the life of flame: and thou wert then        20
A centred glory-circled memory,
Divinest Atalantis, whom the waves
Have buried deep, and thou of later name,
Imperial Eldorado, roofed with gold:
Shadows to which, despite all shocks of change,        25
All onset of capricious accident,
Men clung with yearning hope which would not die.
*        *        *        *        *
                    Then I raised
My voice and cried, “Wide Afric, doth thy sun
Lighten, thy hills enfold a city as fair        30
As those which starred the night o’ the elder world?
Or is the rumor of thy Timbuctoo
A dream as frail as those of ancient time?”
  A curve of whitening, flashing, ebbing light!
A rustling of white wings! the bright descent        35
Of a young Seraph! and he stood beside me
There on the ridge, and looked into my face
With his unutterable, shining orbs,
So that with hasty motion I did veil
My vision with both hands, and saw before me        40
Such colored spots as dance athwart the eyes
Of those that gaze upon the noonday sun.
Girt with a zone of flashing gold beneath
His breast, and compassed round about his brow
With triple arch of everchanging bows,        45
And circled with the glory of living light
And alternation of all hues, he stood.
  “O child of man, why muse you here alone
Upon the mountain, on the dreams of old
Which filled the earth with passing loveliness,        50
Which flung strange music on the howling winds,
And odors rapt from remote Paradise?
Thy sense is clogged with dull mortality;
Open thine eyes and see.”
*        *        *        *        *
  Then first within the south methought I saw        55
A wilderness of spires, and crystal pile
Of rampart upon rampart, dome on dome,
Illimitable range of battlement
On battlement, and the imperial height
Of canopy o’ercanopied.
                    Behind
        60
In diamond light upspring the dazzling peaks
Of pyramids, as far surpassing earth’s
As heaven than earth is fairer. Each aloft
Upon his narrowed eminence bore globes
Of wheeling suns, or stars, or semblances        65
Of either, showering circular abyss
Of radiance. But the glory of the place
Stood out a pillared front of burnished gold,
Interminably high, if gold it were
Or metal more ethereal, and beneath        70
Two doors of blinding brilliance, where no gaze
Might rest, stood open, and the eye could scan,
Through length of porch and valve and boundless hall,
Part of a throne of fiery flame, wherefrom
The snowy skirting of a garment hung,        75
And glimpse of multitude of multitudes
That ministered around it—if I saw
These things distinctly, for my human brain
Staggered beneath the vision, and thick night
Came down upon my eyelids, and I fell.        80
  With ministering hand he raised me up:
Then with a mournful and ineffable smile,
Which but to look on for a moment filled
My eyes with irresistible sweet tears,
In accents of majestic melody,        85
Like a swollen river’s gushings in still night
Mingled with floating music, thus he spake:
  “There is no mightier spirit than I to sway
The heart of man; and teach him to attain
By shadowing forth the Unattainable;        90
And step by step to scale that mighty stair
Whose landing-place is wrapt about with clouds
Of glory of heaven.
*        *        *        *        *
                    “I am the spirit,
The permeating life which courseth through        95
All the intricate and labyrinthine veins
Of the great vine of Fable, which, outspread
With growth of shadowing leaf and clusters rare,
Reacheth to every corner under heaven,
Deep-rooted in the living soil of truth;        100
So that men’s hopes and fears take refuge in
The fragrance of its complicated glooms,
And cool impeachéd twilights. Child of man,
Seest thou yon river, whose translucent wave,
Forth issuing from the darkness, windeth through        105
The argent streets o’ the city, imaging
The soft inversion of her tremulous domes,
Her gardens frequent with the stately palm,
Her pagods hung with music of sweet bells,
Her obelisks of rangéd chrysolite,        110
Minarets and towers? Lo! how he passeth by,
And gulfs himself in sands, as not enduring
To carry through the world those waves, which bore
The reflex of my city in their depth.
O city! O latest throne! where I was raised        115
To be a mystery of loveliness
Unto all eyes, the time is wellnigh come
When I must render up this glorious home
To keen Discovery; soon yon brilliant towers
Shall darken with the waving of her wand;        120
Darken and shrink and shiver into huts,
Black specks amid a waste of dreary sand,
Low-built, mud-walled, barbarian settlements.
How changed from this fair city!”
                        Thus far the Spirit:
Then parted heavenward on the wing: and I        125
Was left alone on Calpe, and the moon
Had fallen from the night, and all was dark!
 
 
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