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The Desert-Born
by [?]

“Fly to the desert, fly with me.”–LADY HESTER STANHOPE.

[Note: For the purposes of his pun on “night-mare,” Hood adroitly utilizes the story of the famous Lady Hester Stanhope, whom Kinglake, in his Eothen, first made familiar to so many of us. He there speaks of the “quiet women in Somersetshire,” and their surprise when they learned that “the intrepid girl who used to break their vicious horses for them” was reigning over the wandering tribes of Western Asia!]

‘Twas in the wilds of Lebanon, amongst its barren hills,–
To think upon it, even now, my very blood it chills!–
My sketch-book spread before me, and my pencil in my hand,
I gazed upon the mountain range, the red tumultuous sand,
The plumy palms, the sombre firs, the cedars tall and proud,–
When lo! a shadow pass’d across the paper like a cloud,
And looking up I saw a form, apt figure for the scene,
Methought I stood in presence of some oriental queen!

The turban on her head was white as any driven snow;
A purple bandalette past o’er the lofty brow below,
And thence upon her shoulders fell, by either jewell’d ear;
In yellow folds voluminous she wore her long cachemere;
Whilst underneath, with ample sleeves, a turkish robe of silk
Enveloped her in drapery the color of new milk;
Yet oft it floated wide in front, disclosing underneath
A gorgeous Persian tunic, rich with many a broider’d wreath,
Compelled by clasps of costly pearls around her neck to meet–
And yellow as the amber were the buskins on her feet!
Of course I bowed my lowest bow–of all the things on earth,
The reverence due to loveliness, to rank, or ancient birth,
To pow’r, to wealth, to genius, or to anything uncommon,
A man should bend the lowest in a Desert to a Woman!
Yet some strange influence stronger still, though vague and undefin’d,
Compell’d me, and with magic might subdued my soul and mind;
There was a something in her air that drew the spirit nigh,
Beyond the common witchery that dwells in woman’s eye!
With reverence deep, like any slave of that peculiar land,
I bowed my forehead to the earth, and kissed the arid sand;
And then I touched her garment’s hem, devoutly as a Dervise,
Predestinated (so I felt) forever to her service.

Nor was I wrong in auguring thus my fortune from her face,
She knew me, seemingly, as well as any of her race;
“Welcome!” she cried, as I uprose submissive to my feet;
“It was ordained that you and I should in this desert meet!
Aye, ages since, before thy soul had burst its prison bars,
This interview was promis’d in the language of the stars!”
Then clapping, as the Easterns wont, her all-commanding hands,
A score of mounted Arabs came fast spurring o’er the sands,
Nor rein’d they up their foaming steeds till in my very face
They blew the breath impetuous, and panting from the race.
“Fear nought,” exclaimed the radiant one, as I sprang off aloof,
“Thy precious frame need never fear a blow from horse’s hoof!
Thy natal star was fortunate as any orb of birth,
And fate hath held in store for thee the rarest gift of earth.”
Then turning to the dusky men, that humbly waited near,
She cried, “Go bring the BEAUTIFUL–for lo! the MAN is here!”

Off went th’ obsequious train as swift as Arab hoofs could flee,
But Fancy fond outraced them all, with bridle loose and free,
And brought me back, for love’s attack, some fair Circassian bride,
Or Georgian girl, the Harem’s boast, and fit for sultan’s side;
Methought I lifted up her veil, and saw dark eyes beneath,
Mild as gazelle’s, a snowy brow, ripe lips, and pearly teeth,
A swanlike neck, a shoulder round, full bosom, and a waist
Not too compact, and rounded limbs, to oriental taste.
Methought–but here, alas! alas! the airy dream to blight,
Behold the Arabs leading up a mare of milky white!
To tell the truth, without reserve, evasion, or remorse,
The last of creatures in my love or liking is a horse:
Whether in early youth some kick untimely laid me flat,
Whether from born antipathy, as some dislike a cat,
I never yet could bear the kind, from Meux’s giant steeds
Down to those little bearish cubs of Shetland’s shaggy breeds;–
As for a warhorse, he that can bestride one is a hero,
Merely to look at such a sight my courage sinks to zero.