Joaquin Miller

(Extract From Africa)

A slave, and old, within her veins   
There runs that warm, forbidden blood   
That no man dares to dignify   
In elevated song. The chains   
That held her race but yesterday           
Hold still the hands of men. Forbid   
Is Ethiop. The turbid flood   
Of prejudice lies stagnant still,   
And all the world is tainted. Will   
And wit lie broken as a lance           
Against the brazen mailéd face   
Of old opinion.

                None advance   
Steel-clad and glad to the attack,   
With trumpet and with song. Look back!   
Beneath yon pyramids lie hid           
The histories of her great race.   
Old Nilus rolls right sullen by,   
With all his secrets.

                    Who shall say:   
My father reared a pyramid;   
My brother clipped the dragon’s wings;           
My mother was Semiramis?   
Yea, harps strike idly out of place;   
Men sing of savage Saxon kings   
New-born and known but yesterday.   
Nay, ye who boast ancestral name           
And vaunt deeds dignified by time   
Must not despise her. Who hath worn,   
Since time began, a face that is   
So all-enduring, old like this,—   
A face like Africa’s?

The Sphinx is Africa. The bond   
Of silence is upon her. Old   
And white with tombs, and rent and shorn   
And trampled on, yet all untamed;   
All naked now, yet not ashamed,—           
The mistress of the young world’s prime   
Sleeps satisfied upon her fame.   
Beyond the Sphinx, and still beyond,   
Beyond the tawny desert-tomb   
Of Time, beyond tradition, loom           
And lift ghostlike from out the gloom   
Her thousand cities, battle-torn   
And gray with story and with time.   
She points a hand and cries: “Go read   
The granite obelisks that lord           
Old Rome, and know my name and deed.   
My archives these, and plundered when   
I had grown weary of all men.”   
We turn to these; we cry: “Abhorred   
Old Sphinx, behold! we cannot read!”