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


The Spectre-Caravan

By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

Translated by J. C. Mangan

’T WAS at midnight, in the desert, where we rested on the ground;

There my Beddaweens were sleeping, and their steeds were stretched around;

In the farness lay the moonlight on the mountains of the Nile,

And the camel-bones that strewed the sands for many an arid mile.

With my saddle for a pillow I did prop my weary head,

And my caftan-cloth unfolded o’er my limbs was lightly spread,

While beside me, both as captain and as watchman of my band,

Lay my Bazra sword and pistols twain a-shimmering on the sand.

And the stillness was unbroken, save at moments, by a cry

From some stray belated vulture sailing blackly down the sky,

Or the snortings of a sleeping steed at waters fancy-seen,

Or the hurried warlike mutterings of some dreaming Beddaween.

When, behold!—a sudden sandquake,—and atween the earth and moon

Rose a mighty host of shadows, as from out some dim lagoon;

Then our coursers gasped with terror, and a thrill shook every man,

And the cry was “Allah Akbar! ’t is the Spectre-Caravan!”

On they came, their hueless faces tóward Mecca evermore:

On they came, long files of camels, and of women whom they bore;

Guides and merchants, youthful maidens, bearing pitchers like Rebecca,

And behind them troops of horsemen, dashing, hurrying on to Mecca!

More and more! the phantom-pageant overshadowed all the plains,

Yea, the ghastly camel-bones arose, and grew to camel-trains;

And the whirling column-clouds of sand to forms in dusky garbs,

Here, afoot as Hadjee pilgrims,—there, as warriors on their barbs!

Whence we knew the night was come when all whom death had sought and found,

Long ago amid the sands whereon their bones yet bleach around,

Rise by legions from the darkness of their prisons low and lone,

And in dim procession march to kiss the Kaaba’s Holy Stone.

More and more! the last in order have not passed across the plain,

Ere the first with slackened bridle fast are flying back again.

From Cape Verde’s palmy summits, even to Babel-Mandel’s sands,

They have sped ere yet my charger, wildly rearing, breaks his bands!

Courage! hold the plunging horses; each man to his charger’s head!

Tremble not as timid sheep-flocks tremble at the lion’s tread.

Fear not, though yon waving mantles fan you as they hasten on;

Call on Allah! and the pageant ere you look again is gone!

Patience! till the morning breezes wave again your turban’s plume;

Morning air and rosy dawning are their heralds to the tomb.

Once again to dust shall daylight doom these wanderers of the night;

See, it dawns!—a joyous welcome neigh our horses to the light!