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Night-Columbus on the Atlantic-the Variation of the Compass, &c.
SAY who, when age on age had rolled away,
And still, as sunk the golden Orb of day,
The seaman watched him, while he lingered here,
With many a wish to follow, many a fear,
And gazed and gazed and wondered where he went,
So bright his path, so glorious his descent,
Who first adventured-In his birth obscure,
Yet born to build a Fame that should endure,
Who the great secret of the Deep possessed,
And issuing through the portals of the West,
Fearless, resolved, with every sail unfurled,
Planted his standard on the Unknown World?
Him, by the Paynim bard descried of yore,
And ere his coming sung on either shore,
Him, ere the birth of Time by Heaven designed
To lift the veil that covered half mankind,
None can exalt
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, disclosed 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,
The very ship-boy, on the dizzy mast,
Half breathed his orisons! Alone unchanged,
Calmly, beneath, the great Commander ranged,
Thoughtful not sad; and, as the planet grew,
His noble form, wrapt in his mantle blue,
Athwart the deck a deepening shadow threw.
"Thee hath it pleased-Thy will be done!" he said,
Then sought his cabin; and, their garments spread,
Around him lay the sleeping as the dead,
When, by his lamp to that mysterious Guide,
On whose still counsels all his hopes relied,
That Oracle to man in mercy given,
Whose voice is truth, whose wisdom is from heaven,
Who over sands and seas directs the stray,
And, as with God's own finger, points the way,
He turned; but what strange thoughts perplexed his
When, lo, no more attracted to the Pole,
The Compass, faithless as the circling vane,
Fluttered and fixed, fluttered and fixed again!
At length, as by some unseen Hand imprest,
It sought with trembling energy—the West !*
"Ah no!" he cried, and calmed his anxious brow.
"Ill, nor the signs of ill, 'tis thine to show;
Thine but to lead me where I wished to go
COLUMBUS erred not. 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,
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 ebbed and flowed;
Stars rose and set; and new horizons glowed;
*Herrera, dec. I. lib. i. c. 9.
Yet still it blew! As with primeval sway
Still did its ample spirit, night and day,
Move on the waters!—All, resigned to Fate,
Folded their arms and sate; and seemed to wait
Some sudden change; and sought, in chill suspense,
New spheres of being, and new modes of sense;
As men departing, though not doomed to die,
And midway on their passage to eternity.
"WHAT vast foundations in the Abyss are there,
As of a former world? Is it not where
ATLANTIC kings their barbarous pomp displayed;
Sunk into darkness with the realms they swayed,
When towers and temples, thro' the closing wave,
A glimmering ray of ancient splendour gave—
And we shall rest with them.-Or are we thrown"
(Each gazed on each, and all exclaimed as one)
Where things familiar cease and strange begin,
All progress barred 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.
At once the fury of the prow was quelled;
And (whence or why from many an age withheld)
Shrieks, not of men, were mingling in the blast;
And armed shapes of godlike stature passed!
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 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!
*They may give me what name they please. I am servant of Him, &c. Hist. del Almirante, c. 2.