Felicia Hemans

The Traveller
at the Source of the Nile

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;
There 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 from 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 fathers' 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 simoom!

Where was the glow of power and pride?
     The spirit born to roam?
His alter'd 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 burning tears,
E'en on that spot where fate had given
     The meed of toiling years!
-- Oh, happiness! how far we flee
Thine own sweet paths in search of thee!


Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) was a popular Victorian poet, and a friend of Wordsworth and Scott. The Journal of African Travel-Writing re-published this poem as an accompaniment to a discussion of Hemans's use of James Bruce's account of travel in Egypt.

The Journal of African Travel-Writing, Number 5, October 1998 (p. 50-51).

Copyright © 1998 The Journal of African Travel-Writing