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

Introductory to Africa


By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

Translated by K. F. Kroeker

YE zones, so strange and wondrous,

Thou distant magic land,

Where swarthy men are roving

Burnt by the sun’s fierce brand;

Where all things glow and sparkle,

Where Phœbus’ golden beam

The genuine gold doth darken

That flashes bright in every stream.

Thy forests dark and deserts

Are present to my view,

Thy feathery palms are mirrored

In lakes of deepest blue;

The wild beasts’ roar is sounding

From cleft and cavern black,

With heavy bales and costly

The Arab loads his camel’s back.

There, too, the curly negro

Gold-dust in rivers seeks,

And there Mount Atlas gravely

Rears heaven-supporting peaks;

The sunlight tinges brightly

Its crags with radiant blush,

While elephants gray and sombre

With ponderous step the meadows crush.

To dip his mane in the river

The lion stoopeth down,

And swiftly as the lightning

Canoes dart, light and brown;

They pass o’er depths securely,

And dates and rosin bear,

And from the waves dark faces

All dripping and all wet appear.

O zone! So hot and glowing,

Queen of the earth art thou!

Sand is thy mantle flowing,

The sun doth crown thy brow:

Of gold, thou queenly woman,

Are all the clasps and rims,

That fasten with fiery splendor

The garment to thy burning limbs.

The strand, with rocks and quicksands,

Naked and parched with heat,

Cut into shapes fantastic,

Is a footstool for thy feet;

The ocean far beneath it

Its edge doth hem and braid,

Washing thy sandals, foaming,

As an anxious and a willing maid.

On dazzling mats of scarlet

Thou liest thoughtful and calm,

The spotted panthers are licking

The fingers of thy left palm;

While skilfully thy right hand,

Sparkling with jewels rare,

Into a tress is twisting

The lion’s mane of tawny hair,

And then again, untwining it,

Into a five-toothed prong,

Dost comb the hair’s dense tresses

His curvéd back along:

His flanks are proudly heaving;—

Anon, with the same hand

Commandingly thou scarest

The slim giraffes across the sand.

Upon thy shoulder sitting

In his plumage’ bright display,

With chattering and with screaming

Perches a parrot gay;

He lays his beak so crooked

Against thy listening ear,

With voice both loud and ringing

Relates he stories strange to hear.

A silken turban, broidered

With flowers, decks thy hair,

A rich and costly necklace,

Such as sultanas wear,

Of thousand links close-knitted

To chain compact and sound,

With golden coil encircles

Thy neck which sun and heat have browned.

Who is there, that has seen thee

In all thy splendor quite?

Dense forests ever screen thee,

Waving with leafy night

Before thy golden crescent,

Before thy cheek’s rich bloom,

Before thy lips of ruby,

Before thine eye which flashes gloom.

None, none have yet beheld thee,

O Queen, from face to face,

Although full many a suitor

Advanced with fearless pace

To lift the veil that covers

Thy brow with mystic fold,—

Ah, with his life atoned he

The attempt he ventured all too bold!

From off thy throne thou rosest

With menace dread to see,—

“Arouse ye, O my lions,

Tear him, and fight for me;

O sun! thy living fire

From cloudless tent on high

Hurl down on the offender

With scorching ardor, hot and dry!

“Subdue his strength, ye vapors,

With sultry poisonous breath,

And let at every palm-tree

A javelin threaten death;

Ye curly-headed negroes,

Haste, bring to me his blood,

Let fly your hissing arrows,

And take an aim full sure and good!”

Then up doth bound the lion,

Roaring with fierce delight,

And strikes his paw unwieldy

In the breast of the hapless white;

From every bush a warrior

With hideous grin doth leap,

And with its breath of poison

Simoom the desert plain doth sweep.

His spur the Jolof presses

Deep in his charger’s side;

How can the fainting pale-face

Such rage as this abide?

All gashed and gory, sinking

A corpse upon the sand,

He cruelly hath perished,

O dread Sultana, through thy hand!

Thee, whom he fain desired

To disclose to every eye,

And who didst therefore bear him

Displeasure kindled high;

Thee, in thy sanctuary,

He would have glorified,

Wherefore didst thou deter him

To publish thine own fame and pride?

The negro-kings who saw thee

Thirst for the white man’s blood,

Now offer it unto thee

In humble suppliant mood;

The golden bowl doth brandish,

Flashing in blood-red sheen,

That many a drop of crimson

Is sprinkled on thy veil of green.

Thy swelling lips thou pressest

Against the vessel’s rim,

On the yellow sand thou gazest

With savage smile and grim;

The corpse before thee is lying,

Fiercely the sun doth sting;

Through ages and through nations

Thy murdered suitors’ fame shall ring!