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Chi se' tu, che vieni ?
Da me stesso non vegno.
I have seen the day,
That I have worn a visor, and could tell
THE following Poem (or to speak more properly, what remains of it') has here and there a lyrical turn of thought and expression. It is sudden in its transitions, and full of historical allusions; leaving much to be imagined by the reader.
The subject is a voyage the most memorable in the annals of mankind. Columbus was a person of extraordinary virtue and piety, acting under the sense of a diyine impulse; and his achievement the discovery of a New World, the inhabitants of which were shut out from the light of Revelation, and given up, as they believed, to the dominion of malignant spirits.
Many of the incidents will now be thought extravagant; yet they were once perhaps received with something more than indulgence. It was an age of miracles; and who can say that among the venerable legends in the library of the Escurial, or the more authentic records which fill the great chamber in the Archivo of Simancas, and which relate entirely to the deep tragedy of America, there are no volumes that mention the marvellous things here described? deed the story, as already told throughout Europe, admits of no heightening. Such was the religious enthusiasm of the early writers, that the Author had only to transfuse it into his verse; and he appears to have done little more; though some of the circumstances which he alludes to as well known, have long ceased to be so. By using the language of that day, he has called up Columbus " in his habit as he lived;" and the authorities, such as exist, are care fully given by the Translator.
INSCRIBED ON THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT.
UNCLASP me, Stranger; and unfold,
With trembling care, my leaves of gold
Rich in Gothic portraiture-
If yet, alas, a leaf endure,
In RABIDA's monastic fane,
I cannot ask, and ask in vain.
The language of Castile I speak;
'Mid many an Arab, many a Greek,
Old in the days of Charlemain;
When minstrel-music wander'd round,
And Science, waking, bless'd the sound.
No earthly thought has here a place,
The cowl let down on every face;
Yet here, in consecrated dust,
Here would I sleep, if sleep I must.
From Genoa when Columbus came,
(At once her glory and her shame)
"T was here he caught the holy flame.
"T was here the generous vow he made;
His banners on the altar laid.-
One hallow'd morn, methought, I felt
As if a soul within me dwelt!
But who arose and gave to me
The sacred trust I keep for thee,
And in his cell at even-tide
Knelt before the cross and died-
Inquire not now. His name no more
Glimmers on the chancel-floor,
Near the lights that ever shine
Before St. Mary's blessed shrine.
To me one little hour devote,
And lay thy staff and scrip beside thee;
Read in the temper that he wrote,
And may his gentle spirit guide thee!
My leaves forsake me, one by one;
The book-worm through and through has gone,
Oh haste-unclasp me, and unfold;
The tale within was never told!
PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
THERE is a spirit in the old Spanish Chroniclers of the sixteenth century that may be compared to the freshness of water at the fountain-head. Their simplicity, their sensibility to the strange and the wonderful, their very weaknesses, give an infinite value, by giving a life and a character to every thing they touch; and their religion, which bursts out everywhere, addresses itself to the imagination in the highest degree. If they err, their errors are not their own. They think and feel after the fashion of the time; and their narratives are so many moving pictures of the actions, manners, and thoughts of their contemporaries.
What they had to communicate, might well make them eloquent; but, inasmuch as relates to Columbus, the inspiration went no farther. No National Poem appeared on the subject; no Camoëns did honor to his Genius and his Virtues. Yet the materials, that have descended to us, are surely not unpoetical; and a desire to avail myself of them, to convey in some instances as far as I could, in others as far as I dared, their warmth of coloring and
1 The Original, in the Castilian language, according to the inscription that follows, was found among other MSS. in an old religious house near Palos, situated on an island formed by the wildness of imagery, led me to conceive the idea of river Tinto, and dedicated to our Lady of Rabida. The writer describes himself as having sailed with Columbus, but a Poem written not long after his death, when the style and manner are evidently of an after-time.
great consequences of the Discovery were beginning
to unfold themselves, but while the minds of men were still clinging to the superstitions of their fathers. The Event here described may be thought too recent for the Machinery; but I found them together.' A belief in the agency of Evil Spirits prevailed over both hemispheres; and even yet seems almost necessary to enable us to clear up the Darkness, and, in this instance at least,
To justify the ways of God to Men.
Him, by the Paynim bard descried of yore, (1
And ere his coming sung on either shore,
Him could not I exalt-by Heaven design'd
To lift the veil that cover'd half mankind!
Yet, ere I die, I would fulfil my vow;
Praise cannot wound his generous spirit now.
"Twas night. The Moon, o'er the wide wave, dia closed
Her awful face; and Nature's self reposed; When, slowly rising in the azure sky, Three white sails shone-but to no mortal eye, Entering a boundless sea. In slumber cast, Columbus, having wandered from kingdom to king- The very ship-boy, on the dizzy mast, dom, at length obtains three ships and sets sail on the Half breathed his orisons! Alone unchanged, Atlantic. The compass alters from its ancient direc- Calmly, beneath, the great Commander (2) ranged tion; the wind becomes constant and unremitting; Thoughtful, not sad; and, as the planet grew, night and day he advances, till he is suddenly stop- His noble form, wrapt in his mantle blue, ped in his course by a mass of vegetation, extending Athwart the deck a deepening shadow threw. as far as the eye can reach, and assuming the ap-"Thee hath it pleased-Thy will be done!" he said, (3 pearance of a country overwhelmed by the sea. Then sought his cabin; and, their capas' spread, Alarm and despondence on board. He resigns him- Around him lay the sleeping as the dead, self to the care of Heaven, and proceeds on his When, by his lamp, to that mysterious Guide, voyage; while columns of water move along in his On whose still counsels all his hopes relied, path before him. That Oracle to man in mercy given,
Meanwhile the deities of America assemble in Whose voice is truth, whose wisdom is from heaven, (4) council; and one of the Zemi, the gods of the island-Who over sands and seas directs the stray, ers, announces his approach. “In vain," says he," have And, as with God's own finger, points the way, we guarded the Atlantic for ages. A mortal has He turn'd; but what strange thoughts perplex'd his sou baffled our power; nor will our votaries arm against When, lo, no more attracted to the Pole, him. Yours are a sterner race. Hence; and, while The Compass, faithless as the circling vane, we have recourse to stratagem, do you array the na- Flutter'd and fix'd, flutter'd and fix'd again! tions round your altars, and prepare for an extermi- At length, as by some unseen hand imprest nating war." They disperse while he is yet speaking; It sought with trembling energy the West! 2 and, in the shape of a condor, he directs his flight to " Ah no," he cried, and calm'd his anxious brow, the fleet. His journey described. He arrives there." Ill, nor the signs of ill, 'tis thine to show, Thine but to lead me where I wish'd to go!"
A panic. A mutiny. Columbus restores order; con-
tinues on his voyage; and lands in a New World.
Ceremonies of the first interview. Rites of hospitality.
The ghost of Cazziva.
Two months pass away, and an Angel, appearing in a dream to Columbus, thus addresses him; "Return to Europe; though your Adversaries, such is the will of Heaven, shall let loose the hurricane against you. A little while shall they triumph; insinuating themselves into the hearts of your followers, and making the World, which you came to bless, a scene of blood and slaughter. Yet is there cause for rejoicing. Your work is done. The cross of Christ is planted here; and, in due time, all things shall be made perfect!"
Columbus err'd not. (5) In that awful hour,
Sent forth to save, and girt with godlike power,
And glorious as the regent of the Sun,
An Angel came! He spoke, and it was done!
He spoke, and, at his call, a mighty Wind, (6)
Not like the fitful blast, with fury blind,
But deep, majestic, in its destined course,
Sprung with unerring, unrelenting force,
From the bright East. Tides duly ebb'd and flow'd,
Stars rose and set; and new horizons glow'd;
Yet still it blew! As with primeval sway
Still did its ample spirit, night and day,
Move on the waters!-All, resign'd to Fate,
Folded their arms and sat; (7) and seem'd to wait
Some sudden change; and sought, in chill suspense,
New spheres of being, and new modes of sense;
As men departing, though not doom'd to die,
And midway on their passage to eternity.
Night-Columbus on the Atlantic-the Variation
of the Compass, etc.
WHO the great Secret of the Deep possess'd And, issuing through the portals of the West, Fearless, resolved, with every sail unfurl'd Planted his standard on the Unknown World?
1 Perhaps even a contemporary subject should not be rejected as such, however wild and extravagant it may be, if the manners be foreign and the place distant-major e longinquo reverentia. "L'éloignement des pays," says Racine, "répare en quelque sorte la trop grande proximité des temps; car le peuple ne met guère de différence entre ce qui est, si j'ose ainsi parler, à mille ans de lui, et ce qui en est à mille lieues."
The Voyage continued.
"WHAT vast foundations in the Abyss are there, (8)
As of a former world? Is it not where
Atlantic kings their barbarous pomp display'd; (9)
Sunk into darkness with the realms they sway'd,
1 The capa is the Spanish cloak.
2 Herrera, dec. 1, lib. i, c. 9.
When towers and temples, through the closing wave,
A glimmering ray of ancient splendor gave-
And we shall rest with them.-Or are we thrown"
(Each gazed on each, and all exclaim'd as one)
"Where things familiar cease and strange begin,
All progress barr'd to those without, within?
-Soon is the doubt resolved. Arise, behold-
We stop to stir no more-nor will the tale be told."
The pilot smote his breast; the watchman cried "Land!" and his voice in faltering accents died. (10) At once the fury of the prow was quell'd; And (whence or why from many an age withheld) (11) Shrieks, not of men, were mingling in the blast; And armed shapes of godlike stature pass'd! Slowly along the evening-sky they went, As on the edge of some vast battlement; Helmet and shield, and spear and gonfalon Streaming a baleful light that was not of the sun!
Long from the stern the great adventurer gazed With awe not fear; then high his hands he raised. Thou All-supreme-in goodness as in power, Who, from his birth to this eventful hour, Hast led thy servant (12) over land and sea, Confessing Thee in all, and all in Thee, Oh still"-He spoke, and lo, the charm accurst Fled whence it came, and the broad barrier burst! A vain illusion! (such as mocks the eyes Of fearful men, when mountains round them rise From less than nothing) nothing now beheld, But scatter'd sedge-repelling, and repell'd!
And once again that valiant company Right onward came, plowing the Unknown Sea. Already borne beyond the range of thought, With Light divine, with Truth immortal fraught, From world to world their steady course they keep, (13) Swift as the winds along the waters sweep, 'Mid the mute nations of the purple deep. -And now the sound of harpy-wings they hear; Now less and less, as vanishing in fear! And, see, the heavens bow down, the waters rise, And, rising, shoot in columns to the skies, (14) That stand-and still, when they proceed, retire, As in the desert burn'd the sacred fire; Moving in silent majesty, till Night Descends, and shuts the vision from their sight.
An Assembly of Evil Spirits.
THOUGH changed my cloth of gold for amice grey-(15)
In my spring-time, when every month was May,
With hawk and hound I coursed away the hour,
Or sung my roundelay in lady's bower.
And though my world be now a narrow cell,
(Renounced for ever all I loved so well)
Though now my head be bald, my feet be bare,
And scarce my knees sustain my book of prayer,
Oh I was there, one of that gallant crew,
And saw-and wonder'd whence his Power He drew,
Yet little thought, though by his side I stood,
Of his great Foes in earth and air and flood,
Then uninstructed.-But my sand is run,
And the Night coming-and my Task not done!-
'Twas in the deep immeasurable cave Of Andes, (16) echoing to the Southern wave,
'Mid pillars of Basalt, the work of fire,
That, giant-like, to upper day aspire;
"T was there that now, as wont in heaven to shine,
Forms of angelic mould, and grace divine,
Assembled. All, exiled the realms of rest,
In vain the sadness of their souls suppress'd;
Yet of their glory many a scatter'd ray
Shot through the gathering shadows of decay.
Each moved a God; and all, as Gods possess'd
One half the globe; from pole to pole confess'd! (17)
At day-break might the Caravels2 be seen,
Chasing their shadows o'er the deep serene;
Their burnish'd prows lash'd by the sparkling tide,
Their green-cross standards3 waving far and wide.
And now once more to better thoughts inclined,
The seaman, mounting, clamor'd in the wind.
The soldier (24) told his tales of love and war;
The courtier sung-sung to his gay guitar.
Round, at Primero, sate a whisker'd band;
So Fortune smiled, careless of sea or land! (25)
Leon, Montalvan (serving side by side;
Two with one soul-and, as they lived, they died),
Vasco the brave, thrice found among the slain,
Thrice, and how soon, up and in arms again,
As soon to wish he had been sought in vain,
Chain'd down in Fez, beneath the bitter thong,
To the hard bench and heavy oar so long!
Albert of Florence, who, at twilight-time,
In my rapt ear pour'd Dante's tragic rhyme,
Screen'd by the sail as near the mast we lay,
Our nights illumined by the ocean-spray ;
And Manfred, who espoused with jewell'd ring
Young Isabel, then left her sorrowing:
Lerma "the generous," Avila "the proud;"4
Velasquez, Garcia, through the echoing crowd
Traced by their mirth-from Ebro's classic shore,
From golden Tajo, to return no more!
Then sunk his generous spirit, and he wept.
The friend, the father rose; the hero slept.
Palos, thy port, with many a pang resign'd,
Fill'd with its busy scenes his lonely mind;
The solemn march, the vows in concert given, (27)
The bended knees and lifted hands to heaven,
The incensed rites, and choral harmonies,
The Guardian's blessings mingling with his sighs;
While his dear boys-ah, on his neck they hung, (28)
And long at parting to his garments clung.
The Voyage continued.
YET Who but He undaunted could explore (26)
A world of waves, a sea without a shore,
Trackless and vast and wild as that reveal'd
When round the Ark the birds of tempest wheel'd;
When all was still in the destroying hour-
No sign of man! no vestige of his power!
One at the stern before the hour-glass stood,
As 't were to count the sands; one o'er the flood
Gazed for St. Elmo; while another cried
"Once more good-morrow!" and sate down
3 F. Columbus, c. 23.
Oft in the silent night-watch doubt and fear
Broke in uncertain murmurs on his ear.
Oft the stern Catalan, at noon of day,
Mutter'd dark threats, and linger'd to obey;
Though that brave Youth-he, whom his courser
Right through the midst, when, fetlock-deep in gore
The great Gonzalo (29) battled with the Moor
(What time the Alhambra shook-soon to unfold
Its sacred courts, and fountains yet untold,
Its holy texts and arabesques of gold),
Though Roldan, (30) sleep and death to him alike,
Grasp'd his good sword and half unsheathed to strike
Oh born to wander with your flocks," he cried,
Day, when it came, came only with its light;
Though long invoked, 't was sadder than the night!
Look where He would, for ever as He turn'd,
He met the eye of one that inly mourn'd.
4 Many such appellations occur in Bernal Diaz. c. 204.
5 A luminous appearance of good omen.
And bask and dream along the mountain-side;
To urge your mules, tinkling from hill to hill;
Or at the vintage-feast to drink your fill,
And strike your castanets, with gipsy-maid
Dancing Fandangos in the chesnut shade-
Come on," he cried, and threw his glove in scorn,
"Not this your wonted pledge, the brimming horn,
Valiant in peace! adventurous at home!
Oh, had ye vow'd with pilgrim-staff to roam;
Or with banditti sought the sheltering wood,
Where mouldering crosses mark the scene of blood!-'
He said, he drew; then, at his Master's frown,
Sullenly sheathed, plunging the weapon down.
Still unsubdued by Danger's varying form,
Still, as unconscious of the coming storm,
He look'd elate; and, with his wonted smile,
On the great Ordnance leaning, would beguile
The hour with talk. His beard, his mien sublime,
and Shadow'd by Age-by Age before the time,'
From many a sorrow borne in many a clime,
Moved every heart. And now in opener skies
Stars yet unnamed of purer radiance rise!
Stars, milder suns, that love a shade to cast,
And on the bright wave fling the trembling mast!
Another firmament! the orbs that roll,
The flight of an Angel of Darkness.
WAR with the Great in War let others sing,
Havoc and spoil, and tears and triumphing,
The morning-march that flashes to the sun,
The feast of vultures when the day is done;
And the strange tale of many slain for one!
I sing a Man, amidst his sufferings here,
Who watch'd and served in humbleness and fear;
Gentle to others, to himself severe.
1 F. Columbus, c. 32.
2 Light vessels, formerly used by the Spaniards and Portu- Singly or clustering, round the Southern pole!
Nor yet the four that glorify the Night
Ah, how forget when to my ravish'd sight
The Cross shone forth in everlasting light! (31)
"Twas the mid hour, when He, whose accents dread,"
Still wander'd through the regions of the dead,
(Merion, commission'd with his host to sweep
From age to age the melancholy deep)
To elude the seraph-guard that watch'd for man,
And mar, as erst, the Eternal's perfect plan,
Rose like the Condor, and, at towering height,
In pomp of plumage sail'd,deep'ning the shades of night.
Roc of the West! to him all empire given! (32)
Who bears Axalhua's dragon-folds to heaven; (33)
His flight a whirlwind, and, when heard afar,
Like thunder, or the distant din of war!
(That in the aisles at midnight haunt me still,
Turning my lonely thoughts from good to ill)
Were there no graves-none in our land," they cry
That thou hast brought us on the deep to die?"
Silent with sorrow, long within his cloak
His face he muffled-then the Hero spoke.
"Generous and brave! when God himself is here,
Why shake at shadows in your mid career?
He can suspend the laws himself design'd,
He walks the waters, and the winged wind;
Himself your guide! and yours the high behest,
To lift your voice, and bid a world be blest!
And can you shrink? (42) to you, to you consign'd
The glorious privilege to serve mankind!
Oh had I perish'd, when my failing frame (43)
Clung to the shatter'd oar 'mid wrecks of flame!
-Was it for this I linger'd life away,
Mountains and seas fled backward as he pass'd
O'er the great globe, by not a cloud o'ercast
From the Antarctic, from the Land of Fire'
To where Alaska's wintry wilds retire; (34)
From mines of gold, (35) and giant-sons of earth,
To grots of ice, and tribes of pigmy birth
Who freeze alive, nor, dead, in dust repose,
High-hung in forests to the casing snows. (36)
Now 'mid angelic multitudes he flies,
That hourly come with blessings from the skies;
Wings the blue element, and, borne sublime,
Eyes the set sun, gilding each distant clime;
Then, like a meteor, shooting to the main,
Melts into pure intelligence again.
A mutiny excited.
WHAT though Despondence reign'd, and wild
TWICE in the zenith blazed the orb of light;
Stretch'd in the midst, and, through that dismal No shade, all sun, insufferably bright!
Then the long line found rest-in coral groves
Silent and dark, where the sea-lion roves :-
And all on deck, kindling to life again,
Sent forth their anxious spirits o'er the main.
By his white plume reveal'd and buskins white, (38)
Slept Roldan. When he closed his gay career,
Hope fled for ever, and with Hope fled Fear.
Blest with each gift indulgent Fortune sends,
Birth and its rights, wealth and its train of friends,
Star-like he shone! Now beggar'd and alone,
Danger he woo'd, and claim'd her for his own.
O'er him a Vampire his dark wings display'd. (39)
"T was Merion's self, covering with dreadful shade: (40)
He came, and, couch'd on Roldan's ample breast,
Each secret pore of breathing life possess'd,
Fanning the sleep that seem'd his final rest;
Then, inly gliding (41) like a subtle flame,
Subdued the man, and from his thrilling frame
Sent forth the voice! "We live, we breathe no more!
The fatal wind blows on the dreary shore!
On yonder cliffs beckoning their fellow-prey,
The spectres stalk, and murmur at delay!
-Yet if thou canst (not for myself I plead!
Mine but to follow where 't is thine to lead)
Oh turn and save! To thee, with streaming eyes,
To thee each widow kneels, each orphan cries!
Who now, condemn'd the lingering hours to tell,
Think and but think of those they loved so well!"
All melt in tears! but what can tears avail?
These climb the mast, and shift the swelling sail.
These snatch the helm; and round me now I hear
Smiting of hands, outcries of grief and fear,
The scorn of Folly, and of Fraud the prey; (44)
Bow'd down my mind, the gift His bounty gave,
At courts a suitor, and to slaves a slave?
-Yet in His name whom only we should fear,
("T is all, all I shall ask, or you shall hear),
Grant but three days."-He spoke not uninspired; (45
And each in silence to his watch retired.
At length among us came an unknown Voice!
"Go, if ye will; and, if ye can, rejoice.
Go, with unbidden guests the banquet share;
In his own shape shall Death receive you there."(46)
"Oh whence, as wafted from Elysium, whence
These perfumes, strangers to the raptured sense?
These boughs of gold, and fruits of heavenly hue,
Tinging with vermeil light the billows blue?
And (thrice, thrice blessed is the eye that spied,
The hand that snatch'd it sparkling in the tide)
Whose cunning carved this vegetable bowl,'
Symbol of social rites, and intercourse of soul?"
Such to their grateful ear the gush of springs,
Who course the ostrich, as away she wings;
Sons of the desert! who delight to dwell
'Mid kneeling camels round the sacred well;
Who, ere the terrors of his pomp be past,
Fall to the demon in the redd'ning blast.2
The sails were furl'd: with many a melting close,
Solemn and slow the evening-anthem rose,
Rose to the Virgin. (47) "T was the hour of day,
When setting suns o'er summer-seas display
A path of glory, opening in the west
To golden climes, and islands of the blest;
And human voices, on the silent air,
Went o'er the waves in songs of gladness there!
Chosen of Men! (48) 't was thine, at noon of night,
First from the prow to hail the glimmering light; (49)
1 Ex ligno lucido confectum, et arte mirà laboratum. P. Mar tyr, dec. i, 5. 2 The Simoom.