Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Asia
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII.  1876–79.
Mesopotamia: Hit (Ait)
The Bituminous Lake
Robert Southey (1774–1843)
(From Thalaba the Destroyer, Book V)

        WHAT sound is borne on the wind?
              Is it the storm that shakes
        The thousand oaks of the forest?
              But Thalaba’s long locks
Flow down his shoulders moveless, and the wind        5
        In his loose mantle raises not a fold.
                Is it the river’s roar
        Dashed down some rocky descent?
                Along the level plain
              Euphrates glides unheard,        10
            What sound disturbs the night,
      Loud as the summer forest in the storm,
        As the river that roars among rocks?
              And what the heavy cloud
              That hangs upon the vale,        15
    Thick as the mist o’er a well-watered plain
      Settling at evening when the cooler air
              Lets its day-vapors fall;
            Black as the sulphur-cloud,
That through Vesuvius, or from Hecla’s mouth,        20
  Rolls up, ascending from the infernal fires.
            From Ait’s bitumen-lake
          That heavy cloud ascends;
              That everlasting roar
            From where its gushing springs        25
              Boil their black billows up.
                Silent the Arabian youth,
            Along the verge of that wide lake,
                Followed Mohareb’s way,
        Toward a ridge of rocks that banked its side.        30
            There from a cave, with torrent force,
                And everlasting roar,
              The black bitumen rolled.
            The moonlight lay upon the rocks;
              Their crags were visible,        35
              The shade of jutting cliffs,
And where broad lichens whitened some smooth spot,
              And where the ivy hung
              Its flowing tresses down.
            A little way within the cave        40
        The moonlight fell, glossing the sable tide
            That gushed tumultuous out;
          A little way it entered, then the rock
        Arching its entrance, and the winding way,
            Darkened the unseen depths.        45
                No eye of mortal man,
              If unenabled by enchanted spell,
            Had pierced those fearful depths;
                For mingling with the roar
          Of the portentous torrent, oft were heard        50
              Shrieks, and wild yells that scared
        The brooding Eagle from her midnight nest.
                The affrighted countrymen
                Call it the Mouth of Hell;
        And ever when their way leads near,        55
            They hurry with averted eyes,
            And dropping their beads fast,
              Pronounce the Holy Name.

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