Timbuctoo by


Printed in the Cambridge 'Chronicle and Journal' for Friday, 10th July, 1839, and at the University Press by James Smith, among the 'Profusiones Academicae Praemiis annuis dignatae, et in Curiâ Cantabrigiensi Recitatae Comitiis Maximis' A.D. M.DCCCXXIX. Reprinted in an edition of the 'Cambridge Prize Poems' from 1813 to 1858 inclusive, by Messrs. Macmillan in 1859, but without any alteration, except in punctuation and the substitution of small letters for capitals where the change was appropriate; and again in 1893 in the appendix to the reprint of the 'Poems by Two Brothers'.

    Deep in that lion-haunted island lies
    A mystic city, goal of enterprise.



  I stood upon the Mountain which o'erlooks
  The narrow seas, whose rapid interval
  Parts Afric from green Europe, when the Sun
  Had fall'n below th' Atlantick, and above
  The silent Heavens were blench'd with faery light,
  Uncertain whether faery light or cloud,
  Flowing Southward, and the chasms of deep, deep blue
  Slumber'd unfathomable, and the stars
  Were flooded over with clear glory and pale.
  I gaz'd upon the sheeny coast beyond,
  There where the Giant of old Time infixed
  The limits of his prowess, pillars high
  Long time eras'd from Earth: even as the sea
  When weary of wild inroad buildeth up
  Huge mounds whereby to stay his yeasty waves.
  And much I mus'd on legends quaint and old
  Which whilome won the hearts of all on Earth
  Toward their brightness, ev'n as flame draws air;
  But had their being in the heart of Man
  As air is th' life of flame: and thou wert then
  A center'd glory–circled Memory,
  Divinest Atalantis, whom the waves
  Have buried deep, and thou of later name
  Imperial Eldorado roof'd with gold:
  Shadows to which, despite all shocks of Change,
  All on-set of capricious Accident,
  Men clung with yearning Hope which would not die.
  As when in some great City where the walls
  Shake, and the streets with ghastly faces throng'd
  Do utter forth a subterranean voice,
  Among the inner columns far retir'd
  At midnight, in the lone Acropolis.
  Before the awful Genius of the place
  Kneels the pale Priestess in deep faith, the while
  Above her head the weak lamp dips and winks
  Unto the fearful summoning without:
  Nathless she ever clasps the marble knees,
  Bathes the cold hand with tears, and gazeth on
  Those eyes which wear no light but that wherewith
  Her phantasy informs them. Where are ye
  Thrones of the Western wave, fair Islands green?
  Where are your moonlight halls, your cedarn glooms,
  The blossoming abysses of your hills?
  Your flowering Capes and your gold-sanded bays
  Blown round with happy airs of odorous winds?
  Where are the infinite ways which, Seraph-trod,
  Wound thro' your great Elysian solitudes,
  Whose lowest depths were, as with visible love,
  Fill'd with Divine effulgence, circumfus'd,
  Flowing between the clear and polish'd stems,
  And ever circling round their emerald cones
  In coronals and glories, such as gird
  The unfading foreheads of the Saints in Heaven?
  For nothing visible, they say, had birth
  In that blest ground but it was play'd about
  With its peculiar glory. Then I rais'd
  My voice and cried "Wide Afric, doth thy Sun
  Lighten, thy hills enfold a City as fair
  As those which starr'd the night o' the Elder World?
  Or is the rumour of thy Timbuctoo
  A dream as frail as those of ancient Time?"
  A curve of whitening, flashing, ebbing light!
  A rustling of white wings! The bright descent
  Of a young Seraph! and he stood beside me
  There on the ridge, and look'd into my face
  With his unutterable, shining orbs,
  So that with hasty motion I did veil
  My vision with both hands, and saw before me
  Such colour'd spots as dance athwart the eyes
  Of those that gaze upon the noonday Sun.
  Girt with a Zone of flashing gold beneath
  His breast, and compass'd round about his brow
  With triple arch of everchanging bows,
  And circled with the glory of living light
  And alternation of all hues, he stood.

  "O child of man, why muse you here alone
  Upon the Mountain, on the dreams of old
  Which fill'd the Earth with passing loveliness,
  Which flung strange music on the howling winds,
  And odours rapt from remote Paradise?
  Thy sense is clogg'd with dull mortality,
  Thy spirit fetter'd with the bond of clay:
  Open thine eye and see." I look'd, but not
  Upon his face, for it was wonderful
  With its exceeding brightness, and the light
  Of the great angel mind which look'd from out
  The starry glowing of his restless eyes.
  I felt my soul grow mighty, and my spirit
  With supernatural excitation bound
  Within me, and my mental eye grew large
  With such a vast circumference of thought,
  That in my vanity I seem'd to stand
  Upon the outward verge and bound alone
  Of full beautitude. Each failing sense
  As with a momentary flash of light
  Grew thrillingly distinct and keen. I saw
  The smallest grain that dappled the dark Earth,
  The indistinctest atom in deep air,
  The Moon's white cities, and the opal width
  Of her small glowing lakes, her silver heights
  Unvisited with dew of vagrant cloud,
  And the unsounded, undescended depth
  Of her black hollows. The clear Galaxy
  Shorn of its hoary lustre, wonderful,
  Distinct and vivid with sharp points of light
  Blaze within blaze, an unimagin'd depth
  And harmony of planet-girded Suns
  And moon-encircled planets, wheel in wheel,
  Arch'd the wan Sapphire. Nay, the hum of men,
  Or other things talking in unknown tongues,
  And notes of busy life in distant worlds
  Beat like a far wave on my anxious ear.
  A maze of piercing, trackless, thrilling thoughts
  Involving and embracing each with each
  Rapid as fire, inextricably link'd,
  Expanding momently with every sight
  And sound which struck the palpitating sense,
  The issue of strong impulse, hurried through
  The riv'n rapt brain: as when in some large lake
  From pressure of descendant crags, which lapse
  Disjointed, crumbling from their parent slope
  At slender interval, the level calm
  Is ridg'd with restless and increasing spheres
  Which break upon each other, each th' effect
  Of separate impulse, but more fleet and strong
  Than its precursor, till the eye in vain
  Amid the wild unrest of swimming shade
  Dappled with hollow and alternate rise
  Of interpenetrated arc, would scan
  Definite round.

                  I know not if I shape
  These things with accurate similitude
  From visible objects, for but dimly now,
  Less vivid than a half-forgotten dream,
  The memory of that mental excellence
  Comes o'er me, and it may be I entwine
  The indecision of my present mind
  With its past clearness, yet it seems to me
  As even then the torrent of quick thought
  Absorbed me from the nature of itself
  With its own fleetness. Where is he that borne
  Adown the sloping of an arrowy stream,
  Could link his shallop to the fleeting edge,
  And muse midway with philosophic calm
  Upon the wondrous laws which regulate
  The fierceness of the bounding element?
  My thoughts which long had grovell'd in the slime
  Of this dull world, like dusky worms which house
  Beneath unshaken waters, but at once
  Upon some earth-awakening day of spring
  Do pass from gloom to glory, and aloft
  Winnow the purple, bearing on both sides
  Double display of starlit wings which burn
  Fanlike and fibred, with intensest bloom:
  E'en so my thoughts, ere while so low, now felt
  Unutterable buoyancy and strength
  To bear them upward through the trackless fields
  Of undefin'd existence far and free.

  Then first within the South methought I saw
  A wilderness of spires, and chrystal pile
  Of rampart upon rampart, dome on dome,
  Illimitable range of battlement
  On battlement, and the Imperial height
  Of Canopy o'ercanopied.

  In diamond light, upsprung the dazzling Cones
  Of Pyramids, as far surpassing Earth's
  As Heaven than Earth is fairer. Each aloft
  Upon his narrow'd Eminence bore globes
  Of wheeling suns, or stars, or semblances
  Of either, showering circular abyss
  Of radiance. But the glory of the place
  Stood out a pillar'd front of burnish'd gold
  Interminably high, if gold it were
  Or metal more ethereal, and beneath
  Two doors of blinding brilliance, where no gaze
  Might rest, stood open, and the eye could scan
  Through length of porch and lake and boundless hall,
  Part of a throne of fiery flame, where from
  The snowy skirting of a garment hung,
  And glimpse of multitudes of multitudes
  That minister'd around it–if I saw
  These things distinctly, for my human brain
  Stagger'd beneath the vision, and thick night
  Came down upon my eyelids, and I fell.

  With ministering hand he rais'd me up;
  Then with a mournful and ineffable smile,
  Which but to look on for a moment fill'd
  My eyes with irresistible sweet tears,
  In accents of majestic melody,
  Like a swol'n river's gushings in still night
  Mingled with floating music, thus he spake:

  "There is no mightier Spirit than I to sway
  The heart of man: and teach him to attain
  By shadowing forth the Unattainable;
  And step by step to scale that mighty stair
  Whose landing-place is wrapt about with clouds
  Of glory of Heaven. [1] With earliest Light of Spring,
  And in the glow of sallow Summertide,
  And in red Autumn when the winds are wild
  With gambols, and when full-voiced Winter roofs
  The headland with inviolate white snow,
  I play about his heart a thousand ways,
  Visit his eyes with visions, and his ears
  With harmonies of wind and wave and wood–
  Of winds which tell of waters, and of waters
  Betraying the close kisses of the wind–
  And win him unto me: and few there be
  So gross of heart who have not felt and known
  A higher than they see: They with dim eyes
  Behold me darkling. Lo! I have given thee
  To understand my presence, and to feel
  My fullness; I have fill'd thy lips with power.
  I have rais'd thee nigher to the Spheres of Heaven,
  Man's first, last home: and thou with ravish'd sense
  Listenest the lordly music flowing from
  Th'illimitable years. I am the Spirit,
  The permeating life which courseth through
  All th' intricate and labyrinthine veins
  Of the great vine of Fable, which, outspread
  With growth of shadowing leaf and clusters rare,
  Reacheth to every corner under Heaven,
  Deep-rooted in the living soil of truth:
  So that men's hopes and fears take refuge in
  The fragrance of its complicated glooms
  And cool impleached twilights. Child of Man,
  See'st thou yon river, whose translucent wave,
  Forth issuing from darkness, windeth through
  The argent streets o' the City, imaging
  The soft inversion of her tremulous Domes.
  Her gardens frequent with the stately Palm,
  Her Pagods hung with music of sweet bells.
  Her obelisks of ranged Chrysolite,
  Minarets and towers? Lo! how he passeth by,
  And gulphs himself in sands, as not enduring
  To carry through the world those waves, which bore
  The reflex of my City in their depths.
  Oh City! Oh latest Throne! where I was rais'd
  To be a mystery of loveliness
  Unto all eyes, the time is well nigh come
  When I must render up this glorious home
  To keen 'Discovery': soon yon brilliant towers
  Shall darken with the waving of her wand;
  Darken, and shrink and shiver into huts,
  Black specks amid a waste of dreary sand,
  Low-built, mud-wall'd, Barbarian settlement,
  How chang'd from this fair City!"

                                    Thus far the Spirit:
  Then parted Heavenward on the wing: and I
  Was left alone on Calpe, and the Moon
  Had fallen from the night, and all was dark!

[Footnote 1: Be ye perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.]

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