Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Africa
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV.  1876–79.
Introductory to Africa
In Africa
Joaquin Miller (1837–1913)
(From Africa)

A SLAVE, and old, within her veins
There runs that warm, forbidden blood
That no man dares to dignify
In elevated song. The chains
That held her race but yesterday        5
Hold still the hands of men. Forbid
Is Ethiop. The turbid flood
Of prejudice lies stagnant still,
And all the world is tainted. Will
And wit lie broken as a lance        10
Against the brazen mailéd face
Of old opinion.

                None advance
Steel-clad and glad to the attack,
With trumpet and with song. Look back!
Beneath yon pyramids lie hid        15
The histories of her great race.
Old Nilus rolls right sullen by,
With all his secrets.

                    Who shall say:
My father reared a pyramid;
My brother clipped the dragon’s wings;        20
My mother was Semiramis?
Yea, harps strike idly out of place;
Men sing of savage Saxon kings
New-born and known but yesterday.
Nay, ye who boast ancestral name        25
And vaunt deeds dignified by time
Must not despise her. Who hath worn,
Since time began, a face that is
So all-enduring, old like this,—
A face like Africa’s?

The Sphinx is Africa. The bond
Of silence is upon her. Old
And white with tombs, and rent and shorn
And trampled on, yet all untamed;
All naked now, yet not ashamed,—        35
The mistress of the young world’s prime
Sleeps satisfied upon her fame.
Beyond the Sphinx, and still beyond,
Beyond the tawny desert-tomb
Of Time, beyond tradition, loom        40
And lift ghostlike from out the gloom
Her thousand cities, battle-torn
And gray with story and with time.
She points a hand and cries: “Go read
The granite obelisks that lord        45
Old Rome, and know my name and deed.
My archives these, and plundered when
I had grown weary of all men.”
We turn to these; we cry: “Abhorred
Old Sphinx, behold! we cannot read!”        50

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