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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Burden of the Desert

By William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870)

[From Poems. 1853.]

THE BURDEN of the Desert,

The Desert like the deep,

That from the south in whirlwinds

Comes rushing up the steep;—

I see the spoiler spoiling,

I hear the strife of blows;

Up, watchman, to thy heights and say

How the dread conflict goes!

What hear’st thou from the desert?—

“A sound, as if a world

Were from its axle lifted up

And to an ocean hurled;

The roaring as of waters,

The rushing as of hills,

And lo! the tempest-smoke and cloud,

That all the desert fills.”

What seest thou on the desert?—

“A chariot comes,” he cried,

“With camels and with horsemen,

That travel by its side;

And now a lion darteth

From out the cloud, and he

Looks backward ever as he flies,

As fearing still to see!”

What, watchman, of the horsemen?—

“They come, and as they ride,

Their horses crouch and tremble,

Nor toss their manes in pride;

The camels wander scattered,

The horsemen heed them naught,

But speed, as if they dreaded still

The foe with whom they fought.”

What foe is this, thou watchman?—

“Hark! Hark! the horsemen come;

Still looking on the backward path,

As if they feared a doom;

Their locks are white with terror,

Their very shouts a groan;

‘Babylon,’ they cry, ‘has fallen,

And all her gods are gone!’”