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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Lion’s Ride

By Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810–1876)

Translation of James Clarence Mangan

WHAT! wilt thou bind him fast with a chain?

Wilt bind the king of the cloudy sands?

Idiot fool! he has burst from thy hands and bands,

And speeds like Storm through his far domain.

See! he crouches down in the sedge,

By the water’s edge,

Making the startled sycamore boughs to quiver!

Gazelle and giraffe, I think, will shun that river.

Not so! The curtain of evening falls,

And the Caffre, mooring his light canoe

To the shore, glides down through the hushed karroo,

And the watch-fires burn in the Hottentot kraals,

And the antelope seeks a bed in the bush

Till dawn shall blush,

And the zebra stretches his limbs by the tinkling fountain,

And the changeful signals fade from the Table Mountain.

Now look through the dusk! What seest thou now?

Seest such a tall giraffe! She stalks,

All majesty, through the desert walks,—

In search of water to cool her tongue and brow.

From tract to tract of the limitless waste

Behold her haste!

Till, bowing her long neck down, she buries her face in

The reeds, and kneeling, drinks from the river’s basin.

But look again! look! see once more

Those globe-eyes glare! The gigantic reeds

Lie cloven and trampled like puniest weeds,—

The lion leaps on the drinker’s neck with a roar!

Oh, what a racer! Can any behold,

’Mid the housings of gold

In the stables of kings, dyes half so splendid

As those on the brindled hide of yon wild animal blended?

Greedily fleshes the lion his teeth

In the breast of his writhing prey; around

Her neck his loose brown mane is wound.

Hark, that hollow cry! She springs up from beneath

And in agony flies over plains and heights.

See, how she unites,

Even under such monstrous and torturing trammel,

With the grace of the leopard, the speed of the camel!

She reaches the central moon-lighted plain,

That spreadeth around all bare and wide;

Meanwhile, adown her spotted side

The dusky blood-gouts rush like rain—

And her woeful eyeballs, how they stare

On the void of air!

Yet on she flies—on, on; for her there is no retreating;

And the desert can hear the heart of the doomed one beating!

And lo! A stupendous column of sand,

A sand-spout out of that sandy ocean, upcurls

Behind the pair in eddies and whirls;

Most like some colossal brand,

Or wandering spirit of wrath

On his blasted path,

Or the dreadful pillar that lighted the warriors and women

Of Israel’s land through the wilderness of Yemen.

And the vulture, scenting a coming carouse,

Sails, hoarsely screaming, down the sky;

The bloody hyena, be sure, is nigh,—

Fierce pillager, he, of the charnel-house!

The panther, too, who strangles the Cape-Town sheep

As they lie asleep,

Athirst for his share in the slaughter, follows;

While the gore of their victim spreads like a pool in the sandy hollows!

She reels,—but the king of the brutes bestrides

His tottering throne to the last: with might

He plunges his terrible claws in the bright

And delicate cushions of her sides.

Yet hold!—fair play!—she rallies again!

In vain, in vain!

Her struggles but help to drain her life-blood faster;

She staggers, gasps, and sinks at the feet of her slayer and master!

She staggers, she falls; she shall struggle no more!

The death-rattle slightly convulses her throat;

Mayest look thy last on that mangled coat,

Besprent with sand, and foam, and gore!

Adieu! The orient glimmers afar,

And the morning-star

Anon will rise over Madagascar brightly.—

So rides the lion in Afric’s deserts nightly.