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

Introductory to Africa

In Africa

By 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

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

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

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;

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

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,—

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

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

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!”