'Twas a fair river, fring'd with drooping reeds
And grasses rank that belted in its marge
A stream whose oozy shore was trampled thick
With spoor of buffalo and elephant,
And numberless strange roamers of the wild;
And here the ambush'd hunter views unseen
The clumsy hippopotami disport,
Swimming in sluggish play across the stream,
Or plunging like great whales in boiling deeps.
At length one mightier than the rest rolls up
His ebon flanks, and lifts its shapeless head;
Then swift the whistling bullet finds its mark,
Crashing its way through adamantine bone.
The wounded monster plung'd beneath the tide,
Then with a floundering splash emerg'd again,
Blowing like porpoise, spouting frothy gore,
Swimming in circles round and round the stream,
Now on the surface, and now diving deep,
Lashing with tail and with enormous limbs,
Till came convulsive the sharp pang of death.
Then came rejoicing Balaklai tribes,
From mud-built kraal, and wattled native hut,
In long lines winding through the mazy groves,
To feast and fatten on abundant spoil.
Famish'd, they cast their skin karosses down,
And shield and battle-club and assagai,
To cleave the flesh from bone and ivory tusk,
To build great bonfires and prolong their feasts.
Where the Leambye its perennial floods
Pours darkling thro' the overarching woods,
Dense woods with mosses and gray lichens drap'd,
Woods with ochilla-weed engarlanded,
Lurks the great sea-cow, black and vast of bulk,
An evil demon hideous to behold,
It ploughs those watery wastes, or sluggish sleeps
In sun-dried mud-flats, or in ambush lurks.
Amid the bending rushes of the shore,
Ofttimes in moonlit nights, when dance and drum
Have ceas'd in native huts their festive sounds,
And youth and maiden hasten to their bath
In the deep river, the insatiate brutes
Dart forth with gnashing jaws to seize the prey.
In heats of noon they haunt the open stream,
And in the river shallows love to stalk,
With flanks submerg'd, and only their black snouts
Thrust from the water; then they sudden plunge
And roll in clumsy gambols to and fro,
Or dive to munch the grass that grows below.
When night draws near the forest hunter goes,
Arm'd to entrap them. Nightly turns the herd
From the dark river to the open plain,
Where springs the juicy grass they love to crop.
Thither, in path direct, thro' tangled thorns,
O'er rock and fallen trees they bend their way,
Returning ere the dawn to lake and stream,
Where, hid in thickets of impervious shade,
The daring hunter lurks to meet his game.
Ofttimes those savage brutes in frenzied rage,
With bellowings like the volleying thunder-peal
Mingle in bloody duel on the wave.
Then fierce the combat; with their eyes aflame
They seize with jaw, they stab with pointed tusk,
Advance, retreat, till boils the ensanguin'd wave,
And the calm night re-echoes with their groans,
Till sinks the vanquish'd, gor'd and torn with wounds.