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.
 
Introductory to Egypt, Nubia, and Abyssinia
Gebir
Walter Savage Landor (1775–1864)
 
(From Book I)

GEBIR, at Egypt’s youthful queen’s approach
Laid by his orbéd shield; his vizor-helm,
His buckler, and his corset he laid by,
And bade that none attend him: at his side
Two faithful dogs that urge the silent course,        5
Shaggy, deep-chested, croucht; the crocodile,
Crying, oft made them raise their flaccid ears
And push their heads within their master’s hand.
There was a brightening paleness in his face,
Such as Diana rising o’er the rocks        10
Showered on the lonely Latmian; on his brow
Sorrow there was, yet naught was there severe.
But when the royal damsel first he saw,
Faint, hanging on her handmaid, and her knees
Tottering, as from the motion of the car,        15
His eyes lookt earnest on her, and those eyes
Showed, if they had not, that they might have, loved,
For there was pity in them at that hour.
With gentle speech, and more with gentle looks,
He soothed her; but lest Pity go beyond        20
And crost Ambition lose her lofty aim,
Bending, he kist her garment, and retired.
He went, nor slumbered in the sultry noon,
When viands, couches, generous wines, persuade,
And slumber most refreshes; nor at night,        25
When heavy dews are laden with disease;
And blindness waits not there for lingering age.
Ere morning dawned behind him, he arrived
At those rich meadows where young Tamar fed
The royal flocks intrusted to his care.        30
“Now,” said he to himself, “will I repose
At least this burthen on a brother’s breast.”
His brother stood before him: he, amazed,
Reared suddenly his head, and thus began;
“Is it thou, brother! Tamar, is it thou!        35
Why, standing on the valley’s utmost verge,
Lookest thou on that dull and dreary shore
Where beyond sight Nile blackens all the sand?
And why that sadness? When I past our sheep
The dew-drops were not shaken off the bar,        40
Therefor if one be wanting, ’t is untold.”
  “Yes, one is wanting, nor is that untold,”
Said Tamar; “and this dull and dreary shore
Is neither dull nor dreary at all hours.”
Whereon the tear stole silent down his cheek,        45
Silent, but not by Gebir unobserved:
Wondering he gazed awhile, and pitying spake.
“Let me approach thee; does the morning light
Scatter this wan suffusion o’er thy brow,
This faint blue lustre under both thine eyes?”        50
  “O brother, is this pity or reproach?”
Cried Tamar; “cruel if it be reproach,
If pity, O how vain!” “Whate’er it be
That grieves thee, I will pity, thou but speak,
And I can tell thee, Tamar, pang for pang.”        55
  “Gebir! then more than brothers are we now!
Everything (take my hand) will I confess.
I neither feed the flock nor watch the fold;
How can I, lost in love? But, Gebir, why
That anger which has risen to your cheek?        60
Can other men? could you? what, no reply!
And still more anger, and still worse concealed!
Are these your promises? your pity this?”
  “Tamar, I well may pity what I feel—
Mark me aright—I feel for thee—proceed—        65
Relate me all.” “Then will I all relate,”
Said the young shepherd, gladdened from his heart.
“’T was evening, though not sunset, and the tide
Level with these green meadows, seemed yet higher:
’T was pleasant; and I loosened from my neck        70
The pipe you gave me, and began to play.
O that I ne’er had learnt the tuneful art!
It always brings us enemies or love.
Well, I was playing, when above the waves
Some swimmer’s head methought I saw ascend;        75
I, sitting near, surveyed it, with my pipe
Awkwardly held before my lips half-closed.
Gebir! it was a nymph! a nymph divine!
I cannot wait describing how she came,
How I was sitting, how she first assumed        80
The sailor; of what happened there remains
Enough to say, and too much to forget.
The sweet deceiver stept upon this bank
Before I was aware; for with surprise
Moments fly rapid as with love itself.        85
Stooping to tune afresh the hoarsened reed,
I heard a rustling, and where that arose
My glance first lighted on her nimble feet.
Her feet resembled those long shells explored
By him who to befriend his steed’s dim sight        90
Would blow the pungent powder in the eye.
Her eyes too! O immortal Gods! her eyes
Resembled—what could they resemble? what
Ever resemble those? Even her attire
Was not of wonted woof nor vulgar art;        95
Her mantle showed the yellow samphire-pod,
Her girdle the dove-colored wave serene.
‘Shepherd,’ said she, ‘and will you wrestle now,
And with the sailor’s hardier race engage?’
I was rejoiced to hear it, and contrived        100
How to keep up contention: could I fail
By pressing not too strongly, yet to press?
‘Whether a shepherd, as indeed you seem,
Or whether of the hardier race you boast,
I am not daunted; no; I will engage.’        105
‘But first,’ said she, ‘what wager will you lay?’
‘A sheep,’ I answered: ‘add whate’er you will.’
‘I cannot,’ she replied, ‘make that return:
Our hided vessels in their pitchy round
Seldom, unless from rapine, hold a sheep.        110
But I have sinuous shells of pearly hue
Within, and they that lustre have imbibed
In the Sun’s palace-porch, where when unyoked
His chariot-wheel stands midway in the wave:
Shake one and it awakens, then apply        115
Its polisht lips to your attentive ear,
And it remembers its august abodes,
And murmurs as the ocean murmurs there.
And I have others given me by the Nymphs,
Of sweeter sound than any pipe you have;        120
But we, by Neptune! for no pipe contend,
This time a sheep I win, a pipe the next.’
Now came she forward, eager to engage,
But first her dress, her bosom then surveyed,
And heaved it, doubting if she could deceive.        125
Her bosom seemed, enclosed in haze like heaven,
To baffle touch, and rose forth undefined:
Above her knee she drew the robe succinct,
Above her breast, and just below her arms.
‘This will preserve my breath when tightly bound,        130
If struggle and equal strength should so constrain.’
Thus, pulling hard to fasten it, she spake,
And, rushing at me, closed: I thrilled throughout
And seemed to lessen and shrink up with cold.
Again with violent impulse gusht my blood,        135
And hearing naught external, thus absorbed,
I heard it, rushing through each turbid vein,
Shake my unsteady, swimming sight in air.
Yet with unyielding though uncertain arms
I clung around her neck; the vest beneath        140
Rustled against our slippery limbs entwined;
Often mine springing with eluded force
Started aside and trembled till replaced:
And when I most succeeded, as I thought,
My bosom and my throat felt so comprest        145
That life was almost quivering on my lips,
Yet nothing was there painful: these are signs
Of secret arts and not of human might;
What arts I cannot tell; I only know
My eyes grew dizzy and my strength decayed;        150
I was indeed o’ercome—with what regret,
And more, with what confusion, when I reacht
The fold, and yielding up the sheep, she cried,
‘This pays a shepherd to a conquering maid.’
She smiled, and more of pleasure than disdain        155
Was in her dimpled chin and liberal lip,
And eyes that languisht, lengthening, just like love.
She went away; I on the wicker gate
Leaned, and could follow with my eyes alone.
The sheep she carried easy as a cloak;        160
But when I heard its bleating, as I did,
And saw, she hastening on, its hinder feet
Struggle, and from her snowy shoulder slip,
One shoulder its poor efforts had unveiled,
Then all my passions mingling fell in tears;        165
Restless then ran I to the highest ground
To watch her; she was gone; gone down the tide;
And the long moonbeam on the hard wet sand
Lay like a jasper column half upreared.”
 
 
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