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

Introductory to Africa


By Maria Lowell (1821–1853)

SHE sat where the level sands

Sent back the sky’s fierce glare;

She folded her mighty hands,

And waited with calm despair,

While the red sun dropped down the streaming air.

Her throne was broad and low,

Builded of cinnamon;

Huge ivory, row on row,

Varying its columns dun,

Barred with the copper of the setting sun.

Up from the river came

The low and sullen roar

Of lions, with eyes of flame,

That haunted its reedy shore,

And the neigh of the hippopotamus,

Trampling the watery floor.

Her great dusk face no light

From the sunset-glow could take;

Dark as the primal night

Ere over the earth God spake:

It seemed for her a dawn could never break.

She opened her massy lips,

And sighed with a dreary sound,

As when by the sand’s eclipse

Bewildered men are bound,

And like a train of mourners

The columned winds sweep round.

She said: “My torch at fount of day

I lit, now smouldering in decay:

Through futures vast I grope my way.

“I was sole queen the broad earth through:

My children round my knees upgrew,

And from my breast sucked Wisdom’s dew.

“Day after day to them I hymned;

Fresh knowledge still my song o’erbrimmed,

Fresh knowledge, which no time had dimmed.

“I sang of Numbers; soon they knew

The spell they wrought, and on the blue

Foretold the stars in order due;—

“Of Music; and they fain would rear

Something to tell its influence clear;

Uprose my Memnon, with nice ear,

“To wait upon the morning air,

Until the sun rose from his lair

Swifter, at greet of lutings rare.

“I sang of Forces whose great bands

Could knit together feeble hands

To uprear Thought’s supreme commands:

“Then, like broad tents, beside the Nile

They pitched the Pyramids’ great pile;

Where light and shade divided smile;

“And on white walls, in stately show,

Did Painting with fair movement go,

Leading the long processions slow.

“All laws that wondrous Nature taught,

To serve my children’s skill I brought,

And still for fresh devices sought.

“What need to tell? they lapsed away,

Their great light quenched in twilight gray,

Within their winding tombs they lay,

“And centuries went slowly by,

And looked into my sleepless eye,

Which only turned to see them die.

“The winds like mighty spirits came,

Alive and pure and strong as flame,

At last to lift me from my shame;

“For oft I heard them onward go,

Felt in the air their great wings row,

As down they dipped in journeying slow.

“Their course they steered above my head.

One strong voice to another said,—

‘Why sits she here so drear and dead?

“‘Her kingdom stretches far away;

Beyond the utmost verge of day,

Her myriad children dance and play.’

“Then throbbed my mother’s heart again,

Then knew my pulses finer pain,

Which wrought like fire within my brain.

“I sought my young barbarians, where

A mellower light broods on the air,

And heavier blooms swing incense rare.

“Swart-skinned, crisp-haired, they did not shun

The burning arrows of the sun;

Erect as palms stood every one.

“I said,—These shall live out their day

In song and dance and endless play;

The children of the world are they.

“Nor need they delve with heavy spade;

Their bread, on emerald dishes laid,

Sets forth a banquet in each shade.

“Only the thoughtful bees shall store

Their honey for them evermore;

They shall not learn such toilsome lore;

“Their finest skill shall be to snare

The birds that flaunt along the air,

And deck them in their feathers rare.

“So centuries went on their way,

And brought fresh generations gay

On my savannas green to play.

“There came a change. They took my free,

My careless ones, and the great sea

Blew back their endless sighs to me:

“With earthquake shudderings oft the mould

Would gape; I saw keen spears of gold

Thrusting red hearts down, not yet cold,

“But throbbing wildly; dreadful groans

Stole upward through Earth’s ribbéd stones,

And crept along through all my zones.

“I sought again my desert bare,

But still they followed on the air,

And still I hear them everywhere.

“So sit I dreary, desolate,

Till the slow-moving hand of Fate

Shall lift me from my sunken state.”

Her great lips closed upon her moan;

Silently sate she on her throne,

Rigid and black, as carved in stone.