Reference > Cambridge History > The Victorian Age, Part Two > South African Poetry > Afar in the Desert
  Thomas Pringle The Bechuana Boy  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

XIII. South African Poetry.

§ 2. Afar in the Desert.

More original and of more permanent interest as a graphic and vivid picture of the Cape Colony of those days, still the unsubdued home of the wild beast, long since driven far toward the equator, is Afar in the Desert. This was pronounced by Coleridge to be one of the two or three most perfect lyric poems in the language. Its opening lines carry the reader at once into the midst of its scene:
Afar in the Desert I love to ride
With the silent Bushboy alone by my side,
Away, away, from the dwellings of men,
By the wild deer’s haunt, by the buffalo’s glen,
By valleys remote where the oribi plays,
Where the gnu, the gazelle and the hartebeest graze,
And the koodoo and eland untamèd recline
By the skirts of grey forests o’er-hung with wild vine.
Where the elephant browses at peace in his wood,
And the river-horse gambols unscared in the flood,
And the mighty rhinoceros wallows at will,
In the fen where the wild ass is drinking his fill.
No wonder that it has been translated into Cape Dutch, and is loved by both races alike. 1 
  The spirited Lion Hunt, a poetic sketch by a poet who, like Homer, had seen real lions and real hunts, ends with an allusion to Sir Walter Scott:
His head, with the paws, and the bones of his skull,
With the spoils of the leopard and buffalo bull,
We’ll send to Sir Walter: Now boys let us dine,
And talk of our deeds o’er a flask of old wine!
And Pringle added a note that this intention had actually been carried out, and that, in 1834, the trophies “had the honour to form part of the ornaments of the lamented poet’s antique armoury at Abbotsford.”

Note 1Ver in de Wildernis, a rendering by F. W. Reitz, a poet of mark, who was president of the Orange Free State in the years 1889 to 1896, is a most successful effort and indeed a significant token of the essential affinity of the two races. Nowhere, perhaps, is this better shown than in the last line, practically identical in both tongues:Want ver is der mensch, MAAR GOD IS NABY. [ back ]

  Thomas Pringle The Bechuana Boy  

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