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James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

November 14

The Traveller at the Source of the Nile

By Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835)

(November 14, 1770)

IN sunset’s light o’er Afric thrown,

A wanderer proudly stood

Beside the well-spring, deep and lone,

Of Egypt’s awful flood;

The cradle of that mighty birth,

So long a hidden thing to earth.

He heard its life’s first murmuring sound,

A low mysterious tone;

A music sought, but never found

By kings and warriors gone;

He listen’d—and his heart beat high—

That was the song of victory!

The rapture of a conqueror’s mood

Rush’d burning through his frame,

The depths of that green solitude

Its torrents could not tame,

Though stillness lay with eve’s last smile,

Round those calm fountains of the Nile,

Night came with stars;—across his soul,

There swept a sudden change,

E’en at the pilgrim’s glorious goal,

A shadow dark and strange,

Breathed forth the thought, so swift to fall

O’er triumph’s hour—And is this all?

No more than this!—what seem’d it now

First by that spring to stand?

A thousand streams of lovelier flow

Bathed his own mountain land!

Whence, far o’er waste and ocean track,

Their wild sweet voices call’d him back.

They call’d him back to many a glade,

His childhood’s haunt of play,

Where brightly through the beechen shade

Their waters glanced away;

They call’d him, with their sounding waves,

Back to his father’s hills and graves.

But, darkly mingling with the thought

Of each familiar scene,

Rose up a fearful vision, fraught

With all that lay between,—

The Arab’s lance, the desert’s gloom,

The whirling sands, the red simoon!

Where was the glow of power and pride?

The spirit born to roam?

His weary heart within him died

With yearnings for his home;

All vainly struggling to repress

That gush of painful tenderness.

He wept—the stars of Afric’s heaven

Beheld his bursting tears,

E’en on that spot where fate had given

The meed of toiling years.

O happiness! how far we flee

Thine own sweet paths in search of thee!