The Lion's Ride

Ferdinand Freiligrath

King of deserts reigns the lion; will he through his realm go riding,   
Down to the lagoon he paces, in the tall sedge there lies hiding.   
Where gazelles and camelopards drink, he crouches by the shore;   
Ominous, above the monster, moans the quivering sycamore.   
When, at dusk, the ruddy hearthfires in the Hottentot kraals are glowing,           
And the motley, changeful signals on the Table Mountain growing   
Dim and distant,—when the Caffre sweeps along the lone karroo,—   
When in the bush the antelope slumbers, and beside the stream the gnu,—   
Lo! majestically stalking, yonder comes the tall giraffe,   
Hot with thirst, the gloomy waters of the dull lagoon to quaff;           
O’er the naked waste behold her, with parched tongue, all panting hasten,—   
Now she sucks the cool draught, kneeling, from the stagnant, slimy basin.   
Hark! a rustling in the sedges! with a roar, the lion springs   
On her back now. What a race-horse! Say, in proudest stalls of kings,   
Saw one ever richer housings than the courser’s motley hide,           
On whose back the tawny monarch of the beasts tonight will ride?   
Fixed his teeth are in the muscles of the nape, with greedy strain;   
Round the giant courser’s withers waves the rider’s yellow mane.   
With a hollow cry of anguish, leaps and flies the tortured steed;   
See her, how with skin of leopard she combines the camel’s speed!           
See, with lightly beating footsteps, how she scours the moonlit plains!   
From their sockets start the eyeballs; from the torn and bleeding veins,   
Fast the thick, black drops come trickling, o’er the brown and dappled neck,   
And the flying beast’s heart-beatings audible the stillness make.   
Like the cloud, that, guiding Israel through the land of Yemen, shone,           
Like a spirit of the desert, like a phantom, pale and wan,   
O’er the desert’s sandy ocean, like a waterspout at sea,   
Whirls a yellow, cloudy column, tracking them where’er they flee.   
On their track the vulture follows, flapping, croaking, through the air,   
And the terrible hyena, plunderer of tombs, is there;           
Follows them the stealthy panther,—Cape-town’s folds have known him well;   
Them their monarch’s dreadful pathway, blood and sweat full plainly tell.   
On his living throne, they, quaking, see their ruler sitting there,   
With sharp claw the painted cushion of his seat they see him tear.   
Restless the giraffe must bear him on, till strength and life-blood fail her;           
Mastered by such daring rider, rearing, plunging, naught avail her.   
To the desert’s verge she staggers,—sinks,—one groan—and all is o’er.   
Now the steed shall feast the rider, dead, and smeared with dust and gore.   
Far across, o’er Madagascar, faintly now the morning breaks;—   
Thus the king of beasts his journey nightly through his empire makes.

In the Poetry Atlas we have a number of poems about the Karoo. There are also poems about the Western Cape and many poems about South Africa.