R. M. MacSymon


Tana River, 1940-1941

Taken from the book Interlude.


The lion's roar is heard at night,

The stricken eland's dying fright,

Where Tana cleaves the desert sands

On Kenya's eastern border lands.


Impatiently the river glides,

Brown the floods and green the sides,

Past jungle dancing in the haze,

Native huts, and strips of maize.


Save for the river's narrow green,

A dreary waste, whose thorny screen

Gives little shelter from the rays

Of brazen sun and tropic days.


Beyond the Tana's scanty reach

No tom-toms throb, no monkey's screech

Is heard resounding in the air;

The land is barren, dry and bare.


Somali nomads know the waste,

Cross in fear and leave in haste,

With camel herds, and fat-tailed sheep;

For those who linger - deserts keep.


Two days by heavy camel tracks,

The Empire of the rods and axe -

Galib, lonte, Afmudu,

Down the Juba to Kismayu.


Along the Juba's shallow run

Bases an Empire, newly won

Across the intervening space

Rome and Britain, face to face.


For waves of European strife

Ripple the calm of primal life,

Legions at the Juba's mouth,

Rome expanding, moving south.


Between the rivers, sudden bouts

With Banda groups and Kenya scouts

Testing, probing, shots by night

From shadows flitting out of sight.


Attack, advance, the host moves on,

The parasite of war is gone.

Alone once more, the Tana glides;

Brown the flood, and green the sides.