Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Americas: Vol. XXX. 1876–79.

South America: Panama (Darien)


By Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872)

FROM San Domingo’s crowded wharf

Fernandez’ vessel bore,

To seek in unknown lands afar

The Indian’s golden ore.

And hid among the freighted casks,

Where none might see or know,

Was one of Spain’s immortal men,

Three hundred years ago!

But when the fading town and land

Had dropped below the sea,

He met the captain face to face,

And not a fear, had he!

“What villain thou?” Fernandez cried,

“And wherefore serve us so?”

“To be thy follower,” he replied

Three hundred years ago.

He wore a manly form and face,

A courage firm and bold,

His words fell on his comrades’ hearts,

Like precious drops of gold.

They saw not his ambitious soul;

He spoke it not—for lo!

He stood among the common ranks

Three hundred years ago.

But when Fernandez’ vessel lay

At golden Darien,

A murmur, born of discontent,

Grew loud among the men:

And with the word there came the act;

And with the sudden blow

They raised Balboa from the ranks,

Three hundred years ago.

And while he took command beneath

The banner of his lord,

A mighty purpose grasped his soul,

As he had grasped the sword.

He saw the mountain’s fair blue height

Whence golden waters flow;

Then with his men he scaled the crags,

Three hundred years ago.

He led them up through tangled brakes,

The rivulet’s sliding bed,

And through the storm of poisoned darts

From many an ambush shed.

He gained the turret crag—alone—

And wept! to see below,

An ocean, boundless and unknown,

Three hundred years ago.

And while he raised upon that height

The banner of his lord,

The mighty purpose grasped him still,

As still he grasped his sword.

Then down he rushed with all his men,

As headlong rivers flow,

And plunged breast-deep into the sea,

Three hundred years ago.

And while he held above his head

The conquering flag of Spain,

He waved his gleaming sword, and smote

The waters of the main:

For Rome! for Leon! and Castile!

Thrice gave the cleaving blow;

And thus Balboa claimed the sea,

Three hundred years ago.