For days the hunter march'd o'er wooded hills
And mountain ranges, frowning like great forts
With buttress'd wall and granite parapet;
And oft had met amid those savage scenes
Fair, blooming valleys sown with scarlet flowers
And shrubs delicious with their honey'd sweets,
Shady with thickets of the sandal-wood,
And delicate acacias, on whose tops
The camelopards tall delight to brouse;
There oft had met the bounding antelope,
And shaggy buffaloes, whose headlong charge
And muffled roar like earthquake shook the ground.
At last, emerging from the mountain base,
He saw far stretching to th' horizon's verge,
A rolling plain of limitless extent,
And here, beside a stream, he pitch'd his camp.
Dark iguanas, perch'd on pendent branch,
Sleep in the sunshine in the noon-day heats,
Or plunge in wave, alarm'd by dipping oar;
And there the armor-plated crocodiles
Bask on the black mud-slides in repose,
Or lash with iron tails the slothful pool;
There serpents venomous and twisting snakes
Hang from the branches or infest the swamps;
And there the musky hippopotami,
Frightful with rounded head and gnashing tusk,
Wallow at will, and fright with snorting roar.
The summer suns of centuries had seen
Those countless herds in woods primeval roam,
Wide over grassy plains and shrubby slopes;
Herds that had scorn'd the rude barbarian hordes,
Who came with shaft and slender spear to slay,
But fled from lion's roar, and borele's horn,
Or the mad charge of trampling elephant.
By this clear watercourse with jungles fring'd,
Border'd by yellow sands that bore impress
Of lion's spoor, and elephant's great foot,
And hoof of buffalo or tall giraffe,
And trail of all the wanderers of the waste,
The hunter's watch'd. Sometimes would come a troop
Of black-fac'd baboons chattering in the wood,
Zebras and blue hartebeests would caper round,
Herds of doe-pallahs slow would canter by,
Led by some princely buck of stately head;
And borelé, the black rhinoceros,
Would come with brandish'd horn and angry roar;
The shrill-voic'd jackals their sad coronachs
Would raise, and gaunt hyenas howl;
There frequent came, fast crashing thro' the wood,
The bulky buffalo, whose massive horn
Form'd shield, like rugged oak, to guard his brow;
And with surpassing dignity there came
The camelopards, of colossal height,
Stalking with lengthen'd stride and soaring head;
All these strange creatures of the wilderness
Came to the hunter's stream for sport or drink,
Soon with their dripping blood the wave to stain.
So, night by night, near dark, secluded pool,
Or in the blaze of noon, o'er boundless plains
Sown with bush-grass and aromatic herb,
Or in some thorny grove or ancient wood,
The hunter met and slew borelé grim.
Not without perils! Once, in tangled swamp,
The black rhinoceros had turn'd to bay,
Wounded and maddened; high he toss'd his horn
And red his wicked eye with murder gleam'd,
Snorting with wrath and trampling fierce the ground;
Then with a headlong charge he frenzied came,
While horse and rider fled with panic speed,
The horrid, horny snout in hot pursuit!
And well that day the gallant desert barb
Maintain'd the matchless fame of Arab blood;
No need for jambock-lash or gory spear,
When life and liberty were all before,
And gnashing tusk and iron hoof behind!
Ah! then no mortal weapon might avail,
Nought but a speed miraculous to save!
E'en the vast elephant, supreme in strength,
Would wheel his dusky flanks and flee amain,
And crested lion of the Afric waste
Would droop his shaggy mane and slink away!
Watching the waters on one moonlit night,
A black rhinoceros came down to drink,
Or wade and wallow in the gelid wave,
And there the hunter's rifle laid him low.
Serene was night with moonlight's silver flood,
And breeze to stir the aloe's thorny tops,
To rustle the tall palms that lined the brink,
Or toss th' acacia leaves that swoon'd in sleep.
The parrots green no longer mock'd the ear,
And monkeys brown that sprang along the trees
And chatter'd all day long, were hush'd in rest.
But sudden change came o'er the tranquil scene,
When six great lions stalk'd from out the wood,
Follow'd by jackals and hyenas grim,
Who scented from afar the slaughter'd beast.
The lions peacefully the banquet shar'd,
Tearing the carcass with their dripping claws;
But fierce the meaner beasts would snarl and fight,
And for each morsel red contend around,
And fill with fiendish laugh and scream and howl
The dim and drowsy solitudes of night;
Nor ceas'd the clamor till the reddening East
Flush'd the whole air with roses of the morn.