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

Arabia: Desert of Arabia

The Date-Garden of the Desert

By George Bancroft Griffith (b. 1841)

FAINT and athirst, in arid wastes astray,

Wandered an Arab, parted from his band,

Who reached an herbless spot at close of day,

Where cooling moisture rose amid the sand.

Though weak and weary, to his arm-pits deep

The pilgrim scooped the sand that wetter grew;

Then, hopeful, laid him down to rest and sleep,

And round his aching limbs his mantle drew.

At early dawn, with trembling form he rose,

And, lo! the basin he at twilight made,

Mirrored the sun, and, strengthened by repose,

He quaffed the fountain, and his thirst allayed.

“Allah be praised!” he sang with bounding heart,

And from his scanty store of dates he ate;

Both man and beast, with strength renewed, depart,

And reach their tribe where shifting sands abate.

One seed alone that morn unnoticed fell,

One kernel of their fruit in that small pool,

Whose sleeping germ awoke in its lone cell

A tiny rootlet kept by moisture cool.

Behold! its fibrous threads sink slowly down,

A little stem arises; leaves take form,

And feathery fans unfold a lovely crown,

And cap a palm-tree daring heat and storm.

Its tuft of living greenness nodded high,

Its blossoming clusters perfumed all the waste;

Majestic, pierced the unimpeded sky,

And beckoned all that saw to thither haste.

Far over that secluded, boundless plain,

Its sweets exhaled to lure all living things,

Till, midst its foliage finding rest again,

Swift birds of passage folded weary wings.

Its ripening fruits, like rubied gems of gold,

In luscious bunches hung on every limb,

There insects hummed, and life grew manifold;

From many nests was breathed the birdling’s hymn;

And glossy vines and brilliant shrubs soon wound

Their loving bands around the tall, strong tree;

Young palms arose, and o’er the naked ground

Coarse grasses crept, and twining growths swung free.

Erelong the shadows of a little wood

Shut out the scorching beams of lurid sun,

Where panting antelopes unfrighted stood,—

God’s timid creatures gathered one by one.

The swift gazelle and ostrich daily fed

On tender buds and herbage fresh and green;

The golden-hammer tapped all day o’erhead,

Nor aught disturbed the beauty of the scene.

So years slipped by; and he who dropped the date

Within the hollow of the lonely vale,

Among his children’s children sadly sate;

With age and sorrow drooping, wan and pale;

While hostile tribes annoyed the kindred sore,

And drouth had withered all the sward around,

He called a council, and long pondered o’er

How some relief from many ills be found.

A sudden gleam lit all his rugged face,

And lifted as a cloud his load of care;

He sent his sons to that lone garden-place,

To see if trace of moisture still was there;—

That vale so precious in the long ago,

When death was baffled by the fount that flowed

From those wet sands,—and, bowing faint and low,

Once more he asked God’s blessing, oft bestowed.

Lo! they return with shouts and hurried tramp,

“Haste! haste,” they cry, “to that most blest retreat!

Yea, by to-morrow eve we may encamp

In earthly Eden, refuge fruitful, sweet!”

The tears ran streaming from the old man’s eyes,—

“See what a kernel has produced,” he said,

“For our deliverance! I pray you prize

And lay me ’neath that palm when I am dead!”