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

Mesopotamia: Hit (Ait)

The Bituminous Lake

By Robert Southey (1774–1843)

(From Thalaba the Destroyer, Book V)

WHAT sound is borne on the wind?

Is it the storm that shakes

The thousand oaks of the forest?

But Thalaba’s long locks

Flow down his shoulders moveless, and the wind

In his loose mantle raises not a fold.

Is it the river’s roar

Dashed down some rocky descent?

Along the level plain

Euphrates glides unheard,

What sound disturbs the night,

Loud as the summer forest in the storm,

As the river that roars among rocks?

And what the heavy cloud

That hangs upon the vale,

Thick as the mist o’er a well-watered plain

Settling at evening when the cooler air

Lets its day-vapors fall;

Black as the sulphur-cloud,

That through Vesuvius, or from Hecla’s mouth,

Rolls up, ascending from the infernal fires.

From Ait’s bitumen-lake

That heavy cloud ascends;

That everlasting roar

From where its gushing springs

Boil their black billows up.

Silent the Arabian youth,

Along the verge of that wide lake,

Followed Mohareb’s way,

Toward a ridge of rocks that banked its side.

There from a cave, with torrent force,

And everlasting roar,

The black bitumen rolled.

The moonlight lay upon the rocks;

Their crags were visible,

The shade of jutting cliffs,

And where broad lichens whitened some smooth spot,

And where the ivy hung

Its flowing tresses down.

A little way within the cave

The moonlight fell, glossing the sable tide

That gushed tumultuous out;

A little way it entered, then the rock

Arching its entrance, and the winding way,

Darkened the unseen depths.

No eye of mortal man,

If unenabled by enchanted spell,

Had pierced those fearful depths;

For mingling with the roar

Of the portentous torrent, oft were heard

Shrieks, and wild yells that scared

The brooding Eagle from her midnight nest.

The affrighted countrymen

Call it the Mouth of Hell;

And ever when their way leads near,

They hurry with averted eyes,

And dropping their beads fast,

Pronounce the Holy Name.