Under a Mimosa-Tree.
As I travelled across an African plain
the sun shone down hotly. Then I drew my horse
up under a mimosa-tree, and I took the saddle from
him and left him to feed among the parched bushes.
And all to right and to left stretched the brown earth.
And I sat down under the tree, because the heat beat
fiercely, and all along the horizon the air throbbed.
And after a while a heavy drowsiness came over me,
and I laid my head down against my saddle, and I fell
asleep there. And, in my sleep, I had a curious
I thought I stood on the border of
a great desert, and the sand blew about everywhere.
And I thought I saw two great figures like beasts of
burden of the desert, and one lay upon the sand with
its neck stretched out, and one stood by it.
And I looked curiously at the one that lay upon the
ground, for it had a great burden on its back, and
the sand was thick about it, so that it seemed to
have piled over it for centuries.
And I looked very curiously at it.
And there stood one beside me watching. And I
said to him, “What is this huge creature who
lies here on the sand?”
And he said, “This is woman;
she that bears men in her body.”
And I said, “Why does she lie
here motionless with the sand piled round her?”
And he answered, “Listen, I
will tell you! Ages and ages long she has lain
here, and the wind has blown over her. The oldest,
oldest, oldest man living has never seen her move:
the oldest, oldest book records that she lay here
then, as she lies here now, with the sand about her.
But listen! Older than the oldest book, older
than the oldest recorded memory of man, on the Rocks
of Language, on the hard-baked clay of Ancient Customs,
now crumbling to decay, are found the marks of her
footsteps! Side by side with his who stands beside
her you may trace them; and you know that she who
now lies there once wandered free over the rocks with
And I said, “Why does she lie there now?”
And he said, “I take it, ages
ago the Age-of-dominion-of-muscular-force found her,
and when she stooped low to give suck to her young,
and her back was broad, he put his burden of subjection
on to it, and tied it on with the broad band of Inevitable
Necessity. Then she looked at the earth and the
sky, and knew there was no hope for her; and she lay
down on the sand with the burden she could not loosen.
Ever since she has lain here. And the ages have
come, and the ages have gone, but the band of Inevitable
Necessity has not been cut.”
And I looked and saw in her eyes the
terrible patience of the centuries; the ground was
wet with her tears, and her nostrils blew up the sand.
And I said, “Has she ever tried to move?”
And he said, “Sometimes a limb
has quivered. But she is wise; she knows she
cannot rise with the burden on her.”
And I said, “Why does not he
who stands by her leave her and go on?”
And he said, “He cannot. Look-
And I saw a broad band passing along
the ground from one to the other, and it bound them
He said, “While she lies there
he must stand and look across the desert.”
And I said, “Does he know why he cannot move?”
And he said, “No.”
And I heard a sound of something cracking,
and I looked, and I saw the band that bound the burden
on to her back broken asunder; and the burden rolled
on to the ground.
And I said, “What is this?”
And he said, “The Age-of-muscular-force
is dead. The Age-of-nervous-force has killed
him with the knife he holds in his hand; and silently
and invisibly he has crept up to the woman, and with
that knife of Mechanical Invention he has cut the
band that bound the burden to her back. The Inevitable
Necessity it broken. She might rise now.”
And I saw that she still lay motionless
on the sand, with her eyes open and her neck stretched
out. And she seemed to look for something on the
far-off border of the desert that never came.
And I wondered if she were awake or asleep. And
as I looked her body quivered, and a light came into
her eyes, like when a sunbeam breaks into a dark room.
I said, “What is it?”
He whispered “Hush! the thought has come to
her, ‘Might I not rise?’”
And I looked. And she raised
her head from the sand, and I saw the dent where her
neck had lain so long. And she looked at the earth,
and she looked at the sky, and she looked at him who
stood by her: but he looked out across the desert.
And I saw her body quiver; and she
pressed her front knees to the earth, and veins stood
out; and I cried; “She is going to rise!”
But only her sides heaved, and she
lay still where she was.
But her head she held up; she did
not lay it down again. And he beside me said,
“She is very weak. See, her legs have been
crushed under her so long.”
And I saw the creature struggle:
and the drops stood out on her.
And I said, “Surely he who stands
beside her will help her?”
And he beside me answered, “He
cannot help her: she must help herself.
Let her struggle till she is strong.”
And I cried, “At least he will
not hinder her! See, he moves farther from her,
and tightens the cord between them, and he drags her
And he answered, “He does not
understand. When she moves she draws the band
that binds them, and hurts him, and he moves farther
from her. The day will come when he will understand,
and will know what she is doing. Let her once
stagger on to her knees. In that day he will stand
close to her, and look into her eyes with sympathy.”
And she stretched her neck, and the
drops fell from her. And the creature rose an
inch from the earth and sank back.
And I cried, “Oh, she is too
weak! she cannot walk! The long years have taken
all her strength from her. Can she never move?”
And he answered me, “See the light in her eyes!”
And slowly the creature staggered on to its knees.
And I awoke: and all to the east
and to the west stretched the barren earth, with the
dry bushes on it. The ants ran up and down in
the red sand, and the heat beat fiercely. I looked
up through the thin branches of the tree at the blue
sky overhead. I stretched myself, and I mused
over the dream I had had. And I fell asleep again,
with my head on my saddle. And in the fierce
heat I had another dream.
I saw a desert and I saw a woman coming
out of it. And she came to the bank of a dark
river; and the bank was steep and high. (The banks
of an African river are sometimes a hundred feet high,
and consist of deep shifting sands, through which
in the course of ages the river has worn its gigantic
bed.) And on it an old man met her, who had a long
white beard; and a stick that curled was in his hand,
and on it was written Reason. And he asked her
what she wanted; and she said “I am woman; and
I am seeking for the land of Freedom.”
And he said, “It is before you.”
And she said, “I see nothing
before me but a dark flowing river, and a bank steep
and high, and cuttings here and there with heavy sand
And he said, “And beyond that?”
She said, “I see nothing, but
sometimes, when I shade my eyes with my hand, I think
I see on the further bank trees and hills, and the
sun shining on them!”
He said, “That is the Land of Freedom.”
She said, “How am I to get there?”
He said, “There is one way,
and one only. Down the banks of Labour, through
the water of Suffering. There is no other.”
She said, “Is there no bridge?”
He answered. “None.”
She said, “Is the water deep?”
He said, “Deep.”
She said, “Is the floor worn?”
He said, “It is. Your foot may slip at
any time, and you may be lost.”
She said, “Have any crossed already?”
He said, “Some have tried!”
She said, “Is there a track to show where the
best fording is?”
He said, “It has to be made.”
She shaded her eyes with her hand; and she said, “I
And he said, “You must take
off the clothes you wore in the desert: they
are dragged down by them who go into the water so clothed.”
And she threw from her gladly the
mantle of Ancient-received-opinions she wore, for
it was worn full of holes. And she took the girdle
from her waist that she had treasured so long, and
the moths flew out of it in a cloud. And he said,
“Take the shoes of dependence off your feet.”
And she stood there naked, but for
one white garment that clung close to her.
And he said, “That you may keep. So they
wear clothes in the Land of
Freedom. In the water it buoys; it always swims.”
And I saw on its breast was written
Truth; and it was white; the sun had not often shone
on it; the other clothes had covered it up. And
he said, “Take this stick; hold it fast.
In that day when it slips from your hand you are lost.
Put it down before you; feel your way: where it
cannot find a bottom do not set your foot.”
And she said, “I am ready; let me go.”
And he said, “No-but stay; what is
that-in your breast?”
She was silent.
He said, “Open it, and let me see.”
And she opened it. And against
her breast was a tiny thing, who drank from it, and
the yellow curls above his forehead pressed against
it; and his knees were drawn up to her, and he held
her breast fast with his hands.
And Reason said, “Who is he, and what is he
And she said, “See his little wings-
And Reason said, “Put him down.”
And she said, “He is asleep,
and he is drinking! I will carry him to the Land
of Freedom. He has been a child so long, so long,
I have carried him. In the Land of Freedom he
will be a man. We will walk together there, and
his great white wings will overshadow me. He has
lisped one word only to me in the desert-’Passion!’
I have dreamed he might learn to say ‘Friendship’
in that land.”
And Reason said, “Put him down!”
And she said, “I will carry
him so-with one arm, and with the other
I will fight the water.”
He said, “Lay him down on the
ground. When you are in the water you will forget
to fight, you will think only of him. Lay him
down.” He said, “He will not die.
When he finds you have left him alone he will open
his wings and fly. He will be in the Land of
Freedom before you. Those who reach the Land
of Freedom, the first hand they see stretching down
the bank to help them shall be Love’s.
He will be a man then, not a child. In your breast
he cannot thrive; put him down that he may grow.”
And she took her bosom from his mouth,
and he bit her, so that the blood ran down on to the
ground. And she laid him down on the earth; and
she covered her wound. And she bent and stroked
his wings. And I saw the hair on her forehead
turned white as snow, and she had changed from youth
And she stood far off on the bank
of the river. And she said, “For what do
I go to this far land which no one has ever reached?
Oh, I am alone! I am utterly alone!”
And Reason, that old man, said to
her, “Silence! What do you hear?”
And she listened intently, and she
said, “I hear a sound of feet, a thousand times
ten thousand and thousands of thousands, and they beat
He said, “They are the feet
of those that shall follow you. Lead on! make
a track to the water’s edge! Where you stand
now, the ground will be beaten flat by ten thousand
times ten thousand feet.” And he said,
“Have you seen the locusts how they cross a stream?
First one comes down to the water-edge, and it is
swept away, and then another comes and then another,
and then another, and at last with their bodies piled
up a bridge is built and the rest pass over.”
She said, “And, of those that
come first, some are swept away, and are heard of
no more; their bodies do not even build the bridge?”
“And are swept away, and are
heard of no more-and what of that?”
“And what of that-” she said.
“They make a track to the water’s edge.”
“They make a track to the water’s
edge .” And she said, “Over
that bridge which shall be built with our bodies,
who will pass?”
He said, “The entire human race.”
And the woman grasped her staff.
And I saw her turn down that dark path to the river.
And I awoke; and all about me was
the yellow afternoon light: the sinking sun lit
up the fingers of the milk bushes; and my horse stood
by me quietly feeding. And I turned on my side,
and I watched the ants run by thousands in the red
sand. I thought I would go on my way now-the
afternoon was cooler. Then a drowsiness crept
over me again, and I laid back my head and fell asleep.
And I dreamed a dream.
I dreamed I saw a land. And on
the hills walked brave women and brave men, hand in
hand. And they looked into each other’s
eyes, and they were not afraid.
And I saw the women also hold each other’s hands.
And I said to him beside me, “What place is
And he said, “This is heaven.”
And I said, “Where is it?”
And he answered, “On earth.”
And I said, “When shall these things be?”
And he answered, “In the future.”
And I awoke, and all about me was
the sunset light; and on the low hills the sun lay,
and a delicious coolness had crept over everything;
and the ants were going slowly home. And I walked
towards my horse, who stood quietly feeding.
Then the sun passed down behind the hills; but I knew
that the next day he would arise again.