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The Traveller at the Source of the Nile

Felicia Dorothea Hemans 1793 (Liverpool, Lancashire) – 1835 (Dublin, County Dublin)

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 listened—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 far 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 called him back.

They called him back to many a glade,
  His childhood's haunt of play,
Where brightly through the beechen shade
  Their waters glanced away;
They called 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 altered 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
  Behold his bursting 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!


* A remarkable description of feelings thus fluctuating from triumph to despondency, is given in Bruce's Abyssinian Travels. The buoyant exultation of his spirits on arriving at the source of the Nile, was almost immediately succeeded by a gloom, which he thus pourtrays: "I was, at that very moment, in possession of what had for many years been the principal object of my ambition and wishes; indifference, which, from the usual infirmity of human nature, follows, at least for a time, complete enjoyment, had taken place of it. The marsh and the fountains of the Nile, upon comparison with the rise of many of our rivers, became now a trifling object in my sight. I remembered that magnificent scene in my own native country, where the Tweed, Clyde, and Annan, rise in one hill. I began in my sorrow, to treat the inquiry about the source of the Nile as a violent effort of a distempered fancy."
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Submitted by Madeleine Quinn on October 25, 2019

2:30 min read
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Felicia Dorothea Hemans

Felicia Dorothea Hemans was an English poet. Two of her opening lines, "The boy stood on the burning deck" and "The stately homes of England", have acquired classic status. more…

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