Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  Kubleh: a Story of the Assyrian Desert

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Asia: Vols. XXI–XXIII. 1876–79.

Mesopotamia: Desert, the Assyrian

Kubleh: a Story of the Assyrian Desert

By Bayard Taylor (1825–1878)

THE BLACK-EYED children of the Desert drove

Their flocks together at the set of sun.

The tents were pitched: the weary camels bent

Their suppliant necks, and knelt upon the sand;

The hunters quartered by the kindled fires

The wild boars of the Tigris they had slain,

And all the stir and sound of evening ran

Throughout the Shammar camp. The dewy air

Bore its full burden of confused delight

Across the flowery plain, and while, afar,

The snows of Koordish mountains in the ray

Flashed roseate amber, Nimroud’s ancient mound

Rose broad and black against the burning West.

The shadows deepened, and the stars came out

Sparkling in violet ether; one by one

Glimmered the ruddy camp-fires on the plain,

And shapes of steed and horseman moved among

The dusky tents with shout and jostling cry,

And neigh and restless prancing. Children ran

To hold the thongs, while every rider drove

His quivering spear in the earth, and by his door

Tethered the horse he loved. In midst of all

Stood Shammeriyah, whom they dared not touch,—

The foal of wondrous Kubleh, to the Sheik

A dearer wealth than all his Georgian girls.

But when their meal was o’er,—when the red fires

Blazed brighter, and the dogs no longer bayed,—

When Shammar hunters with the boys sat down

To cleanse their bloody knives, came Alimàr,

The poet of the tribe, whose songs of love

Are sweeter than Bassora’s nightingales,—

Whose songs of war can fire the Arab blood

Like war itself: who knows not Alimàr?

Then asked the men: “O poet, sing of Kubleh!”

And boys laid down the knives half burnished, saying,

“Tell us of Kubleh, whom we never saw,—

Of wondrous Kubleh!” Closer flocked the group

With eager eyes about the flickering fire,

While Alimàr, beneath the Assyrian stars,

Sang to the listening Arabs:
“God is great!

O Arabs, never yet since Mahmoud rode

The sands of Yemen, and by Mecca’s gate

The wingéd steed bestrode, whose mane of fire

Blazed up the zenith, when, by Allah called,

He bore the Prophet to the walls of heaven,

Was like to Kubleh, Sofuk’s wondrous mare:

Not all the milk-white barbs, whose hoofs dashed flame

In Bagdad’s stables from the marble floor—

Who, swathed in purple housings, pranced in state

The gay bazaars, by great Al-Raschid backed:

Not the wild charger of Mongolian breed

That went o’er half the world with Tamerlane:

Nor yet those flying coursers, long ago

From Ormuz brought by swarthy Indian grooms

To Persia’s kings—the foals of sacred mares,

Sired by the fiery stallions of the sea!

“Who ever told, in all the Desert Land,

The many deeds of Kubleh? Who can tell

Whence came she, whence her like shall come again?

O Arabs, like a tale of Scherezade

Heard in the camp, when javelin shafts are tried

On the hot eve of battle, is her story.

“Far in the Southern sands, the hunters say,

Did Sofuk find her, by a lonely palm.

The well had dried; her fierce, impatient eye

Glared red and sunken, and her slight young limbs

Were lean with thirst. He checked his camel’s pace,

And while it knelt, untied the water-skin,

And when the wild mare drank, she followed him.

Thence none but Sofuk might the saddle gird

Upon her back, or clasp the brazen gear

About her shining head, that brooked no curb

From even him; for she, alike, was royal.

“Her form was lighter, in its shifting grace,

Than some impassioned Almée’s, when the dance

Unbinds her scarf, and golden anklets gleam

Through floating drapery, on the buoyant air.

Her light, free head was ever held aloft:

Between her slender and transparent ears

The silken forelock tossed; her nostril’s arch,

Thin-drawn, in proud and pliant beauty spread,

Snuffing the desert winds. Her glossy neck

Curved to the shoulder like an eagle’s wing,

And all her matchless lines of flank and limb

Seemed fashioned from the flying shapes of air

By hands of lightning. When the war-shouts rang

From tent to tent, her keen and restless eye

Shone like a blood-red ruby, and her neigh

Rang wild and sharp above the clash of spears.

“The tribes of Tigris and the Desert knew her:

Sofuk before the Shammar bands she bore

To meet the dread Jebours, who waited not

To bid her welcome; and the savage Koord,

Chased from his bold irruption on the plain,

Has seen her hoof-prints in his mountain snow.

Lithe as the dark-eyed Syrian gazelle,

O’er ledge and chasm and barren steep, amid

The Sindjar hills, she ran the wild ass down.

Through many a battle’s thickest brunt she stormed,

Reeking with sweat and dust, and fetlock deep

In curdling gore. When hot and lurid haze

Stifled the crimson sun, she swept before

The whirling sand-spout, till her gusty mane

Flared in its vortex, while the camels lay

Groaning and helpless on the fiery waste.

“The tribes of Taurus and the Caspian knew her:

The Georgian chiefs have heard her trumpet-neigh

Before the walls of Tiflis. Pines that grow

On ancient Caucasus have harbored her,

Sleeping by Sofuk, in their spicy gloom.

The surf of Trebizond has bathed her flanks,

When from the shore she saw the white-sailed bark

That brought him home from Stamboul. Never yet,

O Arabs, never yet was like to Kubleh!

“And Sofuk loved her. She was more to him

Than all his snowy-bosomed odalisques.

For many years, beside his tent she stood,

The glory of the tribe.

“At last she died;

Died, while the fire was yet in all her limbs,—

Died for the life of Sofuk, whom she loved.

The base Jebours—on whom be Allah’s curse!—

Came on his path, when far from any camp,

And would have slain him, but that Kubleh sprang

Against the javelin-points and bore them down,

And gained the open desert. Wounded sore,

She urged her light limbs into maddening speed

And made the wind a laggard. On and on

The red sand slid beneath her, and behind

Whirled in a swift and cloudy turbulence,

As when some star of Eblis downward hurled

By Allah’s bolt, sweeps with its burning hair

The waste of Darkness. On and on, the bleak,

Bare ridges rose before her, came and passed;

And every flying leap with fresher blood

Her nostril stained, till Sofuk’s brow and breast

Were flecked with crimson foam. He would have turned

To save his treasure, though himself were lost,

But Kubleh fiercely snapped the brazen rein.

At last, when through her spent and quivering frame

The sharp throes ran, our distant tents arose,

And with a neigh, whose shrill excess of joy

O’ercame its agony, she stopped and fell.

The Shammar men came round her as she lay,

And Sofuk raised her head and held it close

Against his breast. Her dull and glazing eye

Met his, and with a shuddering gasp she died.

Then like a child’s his bursting grief made way

In passionate tears, and with him all the tribe

Wept for the faithful mare.

“They dug her grave

Amid Al-Hather’s marbles, where she lies

Buried with ancient kings; and since that time

Was never seen, and will not be again,

O Arabs, though the world be doomed to live

As many moons as count the desert sands,

The like of wondrous Kubleh. God is great!”