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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Africa: Vol. XXIV. 1876–79.

Central and Southern Africa: Bushmen’s (Bosjesman’s) Country

Afar in the Desert

By Thomas Pringle (1789–1834)

AFAR in the desert I love to ride,

With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side:

When the sorrows of life the soul o’ercast,

And, sick of the present, I cling to the past;

When the eye is suffused with regretful tears,

From the fond recollections of former years;

And shadows of things that have long since fled

Flit over the brain, like ghost of the dead:—

Bright visions of glory, that vanished too soon;

Day-dreams, that departed ere manhood’s noon;

Attachments, by fate or by falsehood reft;

Companions of early days, lost or left;

And my native land, whose magical name

Thrills to the heart like electric flame;

The home of the childhood; the haunts of my prime;

All the passions and scenes of that rapturous time

When the feelings were young and the world was new,

Like the fresh bowers of Eden unfolding to view;

All, all now forsaken, forgotten, foregone;

And I, a lone exile, remembered by none;

My high aims abandoned, my good acts undone,

Aweary of all that is under the sun;—

With that sadness of heart which no stranger may scan,

I fly to the desert afar from man!

Afar in the desert I love to ride,

With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side:

When the wild turmoil of this wearisome life,

With its scenes of oppression, corruption, and strife;

The proud man’s frown and the base man’s fear,

The scorner’s laugh and the sufferer’s tear,

And malice, and meanness, and falsehood, and folly,

Dispose me to musing and dark melancholy;

When my bosom is full, and my thoughts are high,

And my soul is sick with the bondman’s sigh,—

Oh! then there is freedom, and joy, and pride,

Afar in the desert alone to ride!

There is rapture to vault on the champing steed,

And to bound away with the eagle’s speed,

With the death-fraught firelock in my hand,—

The only law of the desert land!

Afar in the desert I love to ride,

With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side:

Away, away from the dwellings of men,

By the wild deer’s haunt, by the buffalo’s glen;

By the valleys remote where the oribi plays,

Where the gnu, the gazelle, and the hartebeest graze,

And the kudu and eland unhunted recline

By the skirts of gray forests o’erhung 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.

Afar in the desert I love to ride,

With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side:

O’er the brown karroo, where the fleeting cry

Of the springbok’s fawn sounds plaintively,

And the timorous quagga’s shrill-whistling neigh

Is heard by the fountain at twilight gray;

Where the zebra wantonly tosses his mane,

With wild hoof scouring the desolate plain;

And the fleet-footed ostrich over the waste

Speeds like a horseman who travels in haste,

Hieing away to the home of her rest,

Where she and her mate have scooped their nest,

Far hid from the pitiless plunderer’s view

In the pathless depths of the parched karroo.

Afar in the desert I love to ride,

With the silent Bush-boy alone by my side:

Away, away, in the wilderness vast,

Where the white man’s foot hath never passed,

And the quivered Coranna or Bechuan

Hath rarely crossed with his roving clan:

A region of emptiness, howling and drear,

Which man hath abandoned from famine and fear;

Which the snake and the lizard inhabit alone,

With the twilight bat from the yawning stone;

Where grass, nor herb, nor shrub takes root,

Save poisonous thorns that pierce the foot;

And the bitter melon, for food and drink,

Is the pilgrim’s fare by the salt lake’s brink:

A region of drought, where no river glides,

Nor rippling brook with osiered sides;

Where sedgy pool, nor bubbling fount,

Nor tree, nor cloud, nor misty mount,

Appears to refresh the aching eye;

But the barren earth, and the burning sky,

And the blank horizon, round and round,

Spread, void of living sight or sound.

And here, while the night-winds round me sigh,

And the stars burn bright in the midnight sky,

As I sit apart by the desert stone,

Like Elijah at Horeb’s, cave alone,

A still small voice comes through the wild,

Like a father consoling his fretful child,

Which banishes bitterness, wrath, and fear,

Saying, “Man is distant, but God is near!”