The Desolate Valley

Thomas Pringle

Far up among the forest-belted mountains,
Where Winterberg, stern giant old and grey,
Looks down the subject dells, whose gleaming fountains
To wizard Kat their virgin tribute pay,
A valley opens to the noontide ray,
With green savannahs shelving to the brim
Of the swift River, sweeping on his way
To where Umtoka hies to meet with him,
Like a blue serpent gliding through the acacias dim.

Round this secluded region circling rise
A billowy waste of mountains, wild and wide;
Upon whose grassy slopes the pilgrim spies
The gnu and quagga, by the greenwood side,
Tossing their shaggy manes in tameless pride;
Or troop of elands near some sedgy fount;
Or kudu fawns, that from the thicket glide
To seek their dam upon the misty mount;
With harts, gazelles, and roes, more than the eye may count.

And as we journeyed up the pathless glen,
Flanked by romantic hills on either hand,
The boschbok oft would bound away- and then
Beside the willows, backward gazing, stand.
And where old forests darken all the land,
From rocky Katberg to the river's brink,
The buffalo would start upon the strand,
Where, 'mid palmetto flags, he stooped to drink,
And, crashing through the brakes, to the deep jungle shrink.

Then, couched at night in hunter's wattled shieling,
How wildly beautiful it was to hear
The elephant his shrill reveille pealing,
Like some far signal -trumpet on the ear!
While the broad midnight moon was shining clear,
How fearful to look forth upon the woods,
And see those stately forest-kings appear,
Emerging from their shadowy solitudes—
As if that trump had woke Earth's old gigantic broods!

Such the majestic, melancholy scene
Which 'midst that mountain-wilderness we found;
With scarce a trace to tell where man had been,
Save the old Caffer cabins crumbling round.
Yet this lone glen (Sicana's ancient ground),
To Nature's savage tribes abandoned long,
Had heard, erewhile, the Gospel's joyful sound,
And low of herds mixed with the Sabbath song.
But all is silent now. The Oppressor's hand was strong.

Now the blithe loxia hangs her pensile nest
From the wild-olive, bending o'er the rock,
Beneath whose shadow, in grave mantle drest,
The Christian Pastor taught his swarthy flock.
A roofless ruin, scathed by flame and smoke,
Tells where the decent Mission-chapel stood;
While the baboon with jabbering cry doth mock
The pilgrim, pausing in his pensive mood
To ask—'Why is it thus? Shall Evil baffle Good?'

Yes — for a season Satan may prevail,
And hold, as if secure, his dark domain;
The prayers of righteous men may seem to fail,
And Heaven's Glad Tidings be proclaimed in vain.

The Winterberg range in the Eastern Cape, South Africa rises to almost 2400 m and (rarely for South Africa) can sometimes be capped with snow.

Author's Notes:

The Wizard Kat is the Kat River, Umtoka is another river; Sicana, a secondary chief, or captain of a Caffer hamlet, at the Kat River, was one of the converts of the missionary Williams. This remarkable man composed the first Christian hymn, or sacred song, ever expressed in his native tongue; and, after the decease of his teacher, he continued to instruct his followers in the blessed truths he had learned, until his own death.

Main Location:

Winterberg Mountains, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Other locations:

Red Hartebeest in the Eastern Cape, South Africa