Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Introductory to America


By James Montgomery (1771–1854)

(From The West Indies)

LONG lay the ocean-paths from man concealed;

Light came from heaven,—the magnet was revealed,

A surer star to guide the seaman’s eye

Than the pale glory of the northern sky;

Alike ordained to shine by night and day,

Through calm and tempest, with unsetting ray;

Where’er the mountains rise, the billows roll,

Still with strong impulse turning to the pole,

True as the sun is to the morning true,

Though light as film, and trembling as the dew.

Then man no longer plied with timid oar

And failing heart along the windward shore;

Broad to the sky he turned his fearless sail,

Defied the adverse, wooed the favoring gale,

Bared to the storm his adamantine breast,

Or soft on ocean’s lap lay down to rest;

While, free as clouds the liquid ether sweep,

His white-winged vessels coursed the unbounded deep;

From clime to clime the wanderer loved to roam,

The waves his heritage, the world his home.

Then first Columbus, with the mighty hand

Of grasping genius, weighed the sea and land;

The floods o’erbalanced: where the tide of light,

Day after day, rolled down the gulf of night,

There seemed one waste of waters: long in vain

His spirit brooded o’er the Atlantic main;

When, sudden as creation burst from naught,

Sprang a new world through his stupendous thought,

Light, order, beauty! While his mind explored

The unveiling mystery, his heart adored;

Where’er sublime imagination trod,

He heard the voice, he saw the face, of God.

Far from the western cliffs he cast his eye,

O’er the wide ocean stretching to the sky;

In calm magnificence the sun declined,

And left a paradise of clouds behind;

Proud at his feet, with pomp of pearl and gold,

The billows in a sea of glory rolled.