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!


The Source of River Nile in Uganda

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.