Monday, May 11, 2020

Upon His Black Mare Riding, Girt with His Sword of Fame

Abd-El-Kader At Toulon
Or, The Caged Hawk
by William Makepeace Thackeray

No more, thou lithe and long-winged hawk, of desert-life for thee;
No more across the sultry sands shalt thou go swooping free:
Blunt idle talons, idle beak, with spurning of thy chain,
Shatter against thy cage the wing thou ne'er may'st spread again.

Long, sitting by their watchfires, shall the Kabyles tell the tale
Of thy dash from Ben Halifa on the fat Metidja vale;
How thou swept'st the desert over, bearing down the wild El Riff,
From eastern Beni Salah to western Ouad Shelif;

How thy white burnous welit streaming, like the storm-rack o'er the sea,
When thou rodest in the vanward of the Moorish chivalry;
How thy razzia was a whirlwind, thy onset a simoom,
How thy sword-sweep was the lightning, dealing death from out the gloom!

Nor less quick to slay in battle than in peace to spare and save,
Of brave men wisest councillor, of wise councillors most brave;
How the eye that flashed destruction could beam gentleness and love,
How lion in thee mated lamb, how eagle mated dove!

Availed not or steel or shot 'gainst that charmed life secure,
Till cunning France, in last resource, tossed up the golden lure;
And the carrion buzzards round him stooped, faithless, to the cast,
And the wild hawk of the desert is caught and caged at last.

Weep, maidens of Zerifah, above the laden loom!
Scar, chieftains of Al Elmah, your cheeks in grief and gloom!
Sons of the Beni Snazam, throw down the useless lance,
And stoop your necks and bare your backs to yoke and scourge of France!

Twas not in fight they bore him down; he never cried aman;
He never sank his sword before the PRINCE OF FRANGHISTAN;
But with traitors all around him, his star upon the wane,
He heard the voice of ALLAH, and he would not strive in vain.

They gave him what he asked them; from king to king he spake,
As one that plighted word and seal not knoweth how to break;
'Let me pass from out my deserts, be't mine own choice where to go,
I brook no fettered life to live, a captive and a show.'

And they promised, and he trusted them, and proud and calm he came,
Upon his black mare riding, girt with his sword of fame.
Good steed, good sword, he rendered both unto the Frankish throng;
He knew them false and fickle—but a Prince's word is strong.

How have they kept their promise? Turned they the vessel's prow
Unto Acre, Alexandria, as they have sworn e'en now?
Not so: from Oran northwards the white sails gleam and glance,
And the wild hawk of the desert is borne away to France!

Where Toulon's white-walled lazaret looks southward o'er the wave,
Sits he that trusted in the word a son of Louis gave.
O noble faith of noble heart! And was the warning vain,
The text writ by the BOURBON in the blurred black book of Spain?

They have need of thee to gaze on, they have need of thee to grace
The triumph of the Prince, to gild the pinchbeck of their race.
Words are but wind, conditions must be construed by GUIZOT;
Dash out thy heart, thou desert hawk, ere thou art made a show!

Abdelkader was an Algerian Sufi who became a freedom fighter during the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. He had extraordinary success for several years until the French army began practicing scorched earth tactics to take advantage of his supply weaknesses. The sophistication of his military tactics and the humanity with he treated prisoners made him an international name. He surrendered in December of 1847 on one condition, that he would be allowed to leave Algeria and go to Alexandria or Acre. The French agreed, he signed the treaty of surrender, and the French immediately broke their promise, arresting him and imprisoning him at Fort Lamalgue in Toulon. This led to an international outcry, of which protests like Thackeray's are but a small example. After the Revolution of 1848, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte realized that there was some propaganda value here in showing that the Second Republic was superior to the Orleans Monarchy that had preceded it, so he released Abdelkader and gave him pension on the condition that he never return to Algeria. He would later become famous again after he and those Algerians who went into exile to follow him saved several hundred Christians from rioters in Damascus in 1860.

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