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

Turkestan: Oxus, the River

The Tartar Camp

By Matthew Arnold (1822–1888)

AND the first gray of morning filled the east,

And the fog rose out of the Oxus stream.

But all the Tartar camp along the stream

Was hushed, and still the men were plunged in sleep:

Sohrab alone, he slept not: all night long

He had lain wakeful, tossing on his bed;

But when the gray dawn stole into his tent,

He rose, and clad himself, and girt his sword,

And took his horseman’s cloak, and left his tent,

And went abroad into the cold wet fog,

Through the dim camp to Peran-Wisa’s tent.

Through the black Tartar tents he passed, which stood

Clustering like bee-hives on the low flat strand

Of Oxus, where the summer floods o’erflow

When the sun melts the snows in high Pamere:

Through the black tents he passed, o’er that low strand,

And to a hillock came, a little back

From the stream’s brink, the spot where first a boat,

Crossing the stream in summer, scrapes the land.

The men of former times had crowned the top

With a clay fort: but that was fallen; and now

The Tartars built there Peran-Wisa’s tent,

A dome of laths, and o’er it felts were spread.


The sun, by this, had risen, and cleared the fog

From the broad Oxus and the glittering sands:

And from their tents the Tartar horsemen filed

Into the open plain; so Haman bade;

Haman, who next to Peran-Wisa ruled

The host, and still was in his lusty prime.

From the black tents, long files of horse, they streamed:

As when, some gray November morn, the files,

In marching order spread, of long-necked cranes,

Stream over Casbin, and the southern slopes

Of Elburz, from the Aralian estuaries,

Or some frore Caspian reed-bed, southward bound

For the warm Persian sea-board: so they streamed.

The Tartars of the Oxus, the King’s guard,

First, with black sheep-skin caps and with long spears;

Large men, large steeds, who from Bokhara come

And Khiva, and ferment the milk of mares.

Next the more temperate Toorkmuns of the south,

The Tukas, and the lances of Salore,

And those from Attruck and the Caspian sands;

Light men, and on light steeds, who only drink

The acrid milk of camels, and their wells.

And then a swarm of wandering horse, who came

From far, and more doubtful service owned;

The Tartars of Ferghana, from the banks

Of the Jaxartes, men with scanty beards

And close-set skull-caps; and those wilder hordes

Who roam o’er Kipchak and the northern waste,

Kalmuks and unkemped Kuzzaks, tribes who stray

Nearest the Pole, and wandering Kirghizzes,

Who come on shaggy ponies from Pamere.

These all filed out from camp into the plain.

And on the other side the Persians formed:

First a light cloud of horse, Tartars they seemed,

The Ilyats of Khorassan: and behind,

The royal troops of Persia, horse and foot,

Marshalled battalions bright in burnished steel.


But the majestic river floated on,

Out of the mist and hum of that low land,

Into the frosty starlight, and there moved,

Rejoicing, through the hushed Chorasmian waste,

Under the solitary moon: he flowed

Right for the Polar Star, past Orgunjè,

Brimming and bright and large: then sands begin

To hem his watery march, and dam his streams,

And split his currents; that for many a league

The shorn and parcelled Oxus strains along

Through beds of sand and matted rushy isles—

Oxus forgetting the bright speed he had

In his high mountain cradle in Pamere,

A foiled circuitous wanderer;—till at last

The longed-for dash of waves is heard, and wide

His luminous home of waters opens, bright

And tranquil, from whose floor the new-bathed stars

Emerge, and shine upon the Aral Sea.