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

Central and Southern Africa: Soudan


By Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)

I STOOD upon the mountain which o’erlooks

The narrow seas, whose rapid interval

Parts Afric from green Europe, when the sun

Had fallen below the Atlantic, and above

The silent heavens were blenched with faery light,

Uncertain whether faery light or cloud,

Flowing southward, and the chasms of deep, deep blue

Slumbered unfathomable, and the stars

Were flooded over with clear glory and pale.

I gazed upon the sheeny coast beyond,

There where the Giant of old Time infixed

The limits of his prowess, pillars high

Long time erased from earth; even as the Sea

When weary of wild inroad buildeth up

Huge mounds whereby to stay his yeasty waves.

And much I mused on legends quaint and old,

Which whilome won the hearts of all on earth

Toward their brightness, even as flame draws air;

But had their being in the heart of man,

As air is the life of flame: and thou wert then

A centred glory-circled memory,

Divinest Atalantis, whom the waves

Have buried deep, and thou of later name,

Imperial Eldorado, roofed with gold:

Shadows to which, despite all shocks of change,

All onset of capricious accident,

Men clung with yearning hope which would not die.


Then I raised

My voice and cried, “Wide Afric, doth thy sun

Lighten, thy hills enfold a city as fair

As those which starred the night o’ the elder world?

Or is the rumor of thy Timbuctoo

A dream as frail as those of ancient time?”

A curve of whitening, flashing, ebbing light!

A rustling of white wings! the bright descent

Of a young Seraph! and he stood beside me

There on the ridge, and looked into my face

With his unutterable, shining orbs,

So that with hasty motion I did veil

My vision with both hands, and saw before me

Such colored spots as dance athwart the eyes

Of those that gaze upon the noonday sun.

Girt with a zone of flashing gold beneath

His breast, and compassed round about his brow

With triple arch of everchanging bows,

And circled with the glory of living light

And alternation of all hues, he stood.

“O child of man, why muse you here alone

Upon the mountain, on the dreams of old

Which filled the earth with passing loveliness,

Which flung strange music on the howling winds,

And odors rapt from remote Paradise?

Thy sense is clogged with dull mortality;

Open thine eyes and see.”


Then first within the south methought I saw

A wilderness of spires, and crystal pile

Of rampart upon rampart, dome on dome,

Illimitable range of battlement

On battlement, and the imperial height

Of canopy o’ercanopied.

In diamond light upspring the dazzling peaks

Of pyramids, as far surpassing earth’s

As heaven than earth is fairer. Each aloft

Upon his narrowed eminence bore globes

Of wheeling suns, or stars, or semblances

Of either, showering circular abyss

Of radiance. But the glory of the place

Stood out a pillared front of burnished gold,

Interminably high, if gold it were

Or metal more ethereal, and beneath

Two doors of blinding brilliance, where no gaze

Might rest, stood open, and the eye could scan,

Through length of porch and valve and boundless hall,

Part of a throne of fiery flame, wherefrom

The snowy skirting of a garment hung,

And glimpse of multitude of multitudes

That ministered around it—if I saw

These things distinctly, for my human brain

Staggered beneath the vision, and thick night

Came down upon my eyelids, and I fell.

With ministering hand he raised me up:

Then with a mournful and ineffable smile,

Which but to look on for a moment filled

My eyes with irresistible sweet tears,

In accents of majestic melody,

Like a swollen river’s gushings in still night

Mingled with floating music, thus he spake:

“There is no mightier spirit than I to sway

The heart of man; and teach him to attain

By shadowing forth the Unattainable;

And step by step to scale that mighty stair

Whose landing-place is wrapt about with clouds

Of glory of heaven.


“I am the spirit,

The permeating life which courseth through

All the intricate and labyrinthine veins

Of the great vine of Fable, which, outspread

With growth of shadowing leaf and clusters rare,

Reacheth to every corner under heaven,

Deep-rooted in the living soil of truth;

So that men’s hopes and fears take refuge in

The fragrance of its complicated glooms,

And cool impeachéd twilights. Child of man,

Seest thou yon river, whose translucent wave,

Forth issuing from the darkness, windeth through

The argent streets o’ the city, imaging

The soft inversion of her tremulous domes,

Her gardens frequent with the stately palm,

Her pagods hung with music of sweet bells,

Her obelisks of rangéd chrysolite,

Minarets and towers? Lo! how he passeth by,

And gulfs himself in sands, as not enduring

To carry through the world those waves, which bore

The reflex of my city in their depth.

O city! O latest throne! where I was raised

To be a mystery of loveliness

Unto all eyes, the time is wellnigh come

When I must render up this glorious home

To keen Discovery; soon yon brilliant towers

Shall darken with the waving of her wand;

Darken and shrink and shiver into huts,

Black specks amid a waste of dreary sand,

Low-built, mud-walled, barbarian settlements.

How changed from this fair city!”
Thus far the Spirit:

Then parted heavenward on the wing: and I

Was left alone on Calpe, and the moon

Had fallen from the night, and all was dark!