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

Arabia: Sinai, the Mount

The Scheik of Sinai in 1830

By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

Translated by W. E. Aytoun

“LIFT me without the tent, I say,—me and my Ottoman;

I ’ll see the messenger myself! It is the caravan

From Africa, thou sayest, and they bring us news of war?

Draw me without the tent, and quick! As at the desert-well

The freshness of the bubbling stream delights the tired gazelle,

So pant I for the voice of him that cometh from afar!”

The scheik was lifted from his tent, and thus outspake the Moor:

“I saw, old chief, the tricolor on Algiers’ topmost tower;

Upon its battlements the silks of Lyons flutter free.

Each morning in the market-place the muster-drum is beat,

And to the war-hymn of Marseilles the squadrons pace the street.

The armament from Toulon sailed; the Franks have crossed the sea.

“Towards the south the columns marched beneath a cloudless sky;

Their weapons glittered in the blaze of the sun of Barbary;

And with the dusty desert-sand their horses’ manes were white.

The wild marauding tribes dispersed in terror of their lives;

They fled unto the mountains with their children and their wives,

And urged the clumsy dromedary up the Atlas’ height.

“The Moors have ta’en their vantage-ground, the volleys thunder fast;

The dark defile is blazing like a heated oven-blast;

The lion hears the strange turmoil, and leaves his mangled prey,—

No place was that for him to feed,—and thick and loud the cries,

Feu! Allah! Allah! En avant! in mingled discord rise;

The Franks have readied the summit,—they have won the victory!

“With bristling steel, upon the top the victors take their stand:

Beneath their feet, with all its towns, they see the promised land,—

From Tunis even unto Fez, from Atlas to the seas.

The cavaliers alight to gaze; and gaze full well they may,

Where countless minarets stand up so solemnly and gray

Amidst the dark-green masses of the flowering myrtle-trees.

“The almond blossoms in the vale, the aloe from the rock

Throws out its long and prickly leaves, nor dreads the tempest’s shock:

A blessed land, I ween, is that, though luckless is its Bey.

‘There lies the sea, beyond lies France! her banners in the air

Float proudly and triumphantly,—a salvo! come, prepare!’

And loud and long the mountains rang with that glad artillery.”

“’T is they!” exclaimed the aged scheik. “I ’ve battled by their side;

I fought beneath the Pyramids! That day of deathless pride,—

Red as thy turban, Moor, that eve, was every creek in Nile!

But tell me,” and he griped his hand, “their sultan? Stranger, say,—

His form, his face,—his gesture, man,—thou saw’st him in the fray?

His eye,—what wore he?” But the Moor sought in his vest awhile.

“Their sultan, Scheik, remains at home within his palace walls;

He sends a pasha in his stead to brave the bolts and balls:

He was not there. An aga burst for him through Atlas’ hold.

Yet I can show thee somewhat too: a Frankish cavalier

Told me his effigy was stamped upon this medal here,—

He gave it me with others for an Arab steed I sold.”

The old man took the golden coin; gazed steadfastly awhile;

If that could be the sultan whom from the banks of Nile

He guided o’er the desert-path; then sighed, and thus spake he:

“’T is not his eye, ’t is not his brow,—another face is there;

I never saw this man before,—his head is like a pear!

Take back the medal, Moor,—’t is not that which I thought to see.”