Evening Rambles

Thomas Pringle

The sultry summer-noon is past;
And mellow Evening comes at last.
With a low and languid breeze
Fanning the mimosa trees,
That cluster o'er the yellow vale,
And oft perfume the panting gale
With fragrance faint: it seems to tell
Of primrose-tufts in Scottish dell,
Peeping forth in tender spring
When the blithe lark begins to sing.

But soon, amidst our Lybian vale,
Such soothing recollections fail;
Soon we raise the eye to range
O'er prospects wild, grotesque, and strange;
Sterile mountains, rough and steep,
That bound abrupt the valley deep,
Heaving to the clear blue sky
Their ribs of granite bare and dry,
And ridges, by the torrents worn,
Thinly streaked with scraggy thorn,
Which fringes Nature's savage dress,
Yet scarce relieves her nakedness.

But where the Vale winds deep below,
The landscape hath a warmer glow:
There the spekboom spreads its bowers
Of light green leaves and lilac flowers;
And the aloe rears her crimson crest,
Like stately queen for gala drest;
And the bright-blossomed bean-tree shakes
Its coral tufts above the brakes,
Brilliant as the glancing plumes
Of sugar birds 28 among its blooms,
With the deep-green verdure blending
In the stream of light descending.

And now, along the grassy meads,
Where the skipping reebok feeds,
Let me through the mazes rove
Of the light acacia grove;
Now while yet the honey-bee
Hums around the blossomed tree;
And the turtles softly chide,
Wooingly, on every side;
And the clucking pheasant calls
To his mate at intervals;
And the duiker at my tread
Sudden lifts his startled head,
Then dives affrighted in the brake,
Like wild-duck in the reedy lake.

My wonted seat receives me now —
This cliff with myrtle -tufted brow,
Towering high o'er grove and stream,
As if to greet the parting gleam.
With shattered rocks besprinkled o'er,
Behind ascends the mountain hoar,
Whose crest overhangs the Bushman's Cave 31 ,
(His fortress once, and now his grave,)
Where the grim satyr- faced baboon s«
Sits gibbering to the rising moon,
Or chides with hoarse and angry cry
The herdsman as he wanders by.

Spread out below in sun and shade,
The shaggy Glen lies full displayed —
Its sheltered nooks, its sylvan bowers,
Its meadows flushed with purple flowers;
And through it like a dragon spread,
I trace the river's tortuous bed.
Lo there the Chaldee-willow weeps,
Drooping o'er the headlong steeps,
Where the torrent in his wrath
Hath rifted him a rugged path,
Like fissure cleft by earthquake's shock,
Through mead and jungle, mound and rock.
But the swoln water's wasteful sway,
Like tyrant's rage, hath passed away,
And left the ravage of its course
Memorial of its frantic force.
—Now o'er its shrunk and slimy bed
Rank weeds and withered wrack are spread,
With the faint rill just oozing through,
And vanishing again from view;
Save where the guana's glassy pool
Holds to some cliff its mirror cool,
Girt by the palmite's leafy screen,
Or graceful rock-ash, tall and green,
Whose slender sprays above the flood
Suspend the loxia's callow brood
In cradle- nests, with porch below,
Secure from winged or creeping foe—
Weasel or hawk or writhing snake;
Light swinging, as the breezes wake,
Like the ripe fruit we love to see
Upon the rich pomegranate-tree.

But lo, the sun's descending car
Sinks o'er Mount-Dunion's peaks afar;
And now along the dusky vale
The homeward herds and flocks I hail,
Returning from their pastures dry
Amid the stony uplands high.
First, the brown Herder with his flock
Comes winding round my hermit-rock:
His mien and gait and vesture tell,
No shepherd he from Scottish fell;
For crook the guardian gun he bears,
For plaid the sheep-skin mantle wears;
Sauntering languidly along;
Nor flute has he, nor merry song,
Nor book, nor tale, nor rustic lay,
To cheer him through his listless day.
His look is dull, his soul is dark;
He feels not hope's electric spark;
But, born the White Man's servile thrall,
Knows that he cannot lower fall.

Next the stout Neat-herd passes by,
With bolder step and blither eye;
Humming low his tuneless song,
Or whistling to the horned throng.
From the destroying foeman fled,
He serves the Colonist for bread:
Yet this poor heathen Bechuan
Bears on his brow the port of man;
A naked, homeless exile he —
But not debased by Slavery. 
Now, wizard-like, slow Twilight sails
With soundless wing adown the vales,
Waving with his shadowy rod
The owl and bat to come abroad,
With things that hate the garish sun,
To frolic now when day is done.
Now along the meadows damp
The enamoured fire -fly lights his lamp;
Link-boy he of woodland green
To light fair Avon's Elfin Queen;
Here, I ween, more wont to shine
To light the thievish porcupine,
Plundering my melon-bed,—
Or villain lynx, whose stealthy tread
Rouses not the wakeful hound
As he creeps the folds around.

But lo! the night-bird's boding scream
Breaks abrupt my twilight dream;
And warns me it is time to haste
My homeward walk across the waste,
Lest my rash tread provoke the wrath
Of adder coiled upon the path,
Or tempt the lion from the wood,
That soon will prowl athirst for blood.
—Thus, murmuring my thoughtful strain,
I seek our wattled cot again.

Glen-Lynden, 1822

Thomas Pringle and his family were among the great number of British emigrants to South Africa in 1820. They landed in the Eastern Cape and settled on a farm they called Glen Lynden.

The spekboom spreads its bowers:
The Spekboom ( Portulacaria AfraJ, a favourite food of the elephant, is a succulent arboreous evergreen, found in great abundance in many parts of the Colony, and, when profusely covered in summer with its lilac-like blossoms, has a very lively appearance.

The bright-blossomed bean-tree:
The Hottentot Bean-tree is the Guaiacum Afrum, or Scholia Speclosa, of botanists. It grows abundantly in some parts of the Glen- Lynden valley; and its clusters of scarlet flowers, intermingled with the small and elegant dark green foliage, give it a remarkable pre eminence among the trees of the cleughs, and the thick shrubbery on the lower declivities of the hills. The seeds of this leguminous plant are eaten by the natives,— whence its colonial name. The Caffer Bean-tree (Erythrina Caffra) is also a splendid flowering- tree.

Among several other beautiful flowering trees found in the forest of Glen-Lynden, the Koonap, and the Boschberg, one of the most remarkable is the Sophora Sylvatica. (Burch.) This tree sometimes attains the height of thirty feet, and rivals our laburnum in a profusion of bunches of fine yellow blossoms. It produces flowers even in the deepest shade of the forest.

Brilliant as the glancing plumes, Of sugar-birds among its blooms:
"The delicate humming-birds (Trochili) of South America," says Mr. Burchell, "are in Southern Africa represented by the Nectarinice, here called by the Dutch Colonists Suiker-vogek, (sugar-birds,) from having been observed, at least in the neighbourhood of Cape Town, to feed principally on the honey of the flowers of the Suiker-bosch (Protect mellifera)."

In the interior parts of the Colony, where this species of Protect does not prevail, I have seen at certain seasons of the year several species of Neetarinice or Certhwe, sometimes so numerous as to seem almost like a hive of bees, fluttering about various flowery shrubs, and sucking with their long sickle-shaped bills the honied sweets. The iridescent and brilliant colours of these beautiful little birds, outrivalling the blossoms among which they feed and sport, render them very attractive ; and one species (the Chalybea) has a clear melodious note, and sings delightfully.

The skipping reebok:
The Reebok, (Antilope Capreolus or villosa,) abounding in Glen-Lynden and the mountainous country around, is one of the smaller species of antelopes. These animals are generally found in pairs, and run with wonderful rapidity. The fur, which is of a cinereous colour, is of a soft, curly, and woolly texture.

The duiker:
The Duiker, or Diver, {Antilope mergens,) is so named on account of its peculiar mode of plunging among the brushwood when startled or pursued. It inhabits bushy countries.

The Bushman's Cave:
We discovered among the rocks of Glen-Lynden two or three caves, or rather dens, which bore the obvious traces of having formerly afforded shelter or concealment to the Bushman race, by whom the whole of this district appears, at no very remote period, to have been inhabited. On the sides of those caverns or overhanging rocks many of the rude paintings of the Bushmen are still visible. They are executed chiefly with a sort of red ochre; and represent with considerable spirit herds of various wild animals, and the hunters in pursuit of them. The paintings of the Bushmen are well described in Mr. Barrow's Travels.

The grim satyr-faced baboon:
Cercopithecus ursinus

The guana:
The Cape Guana, or Leguan.

The palmite's leafy screen:
The Palmite, Acorus Palmita, is a tall water-plant.

The white man's servile thrall:
The Hottentot, in his state of debasement.

A naked, homeless exile he:
The Bechuana Refugee.

Adder coiled upon the path:
The Night-adder is referred to.

Main Location:

Glen Lynden, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Evening in the mountains of the Eastern Cape