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

West Indies: Jamaica, the Island

Port Royal

By Philip Freneau (1752–1832)

  • (Excerpt)
  • Old Port Royal, in the island of Jamaica, contained more than fifteen hundred buildings, and these for the most part large and elegant. This unfortunate town was for a long time reckoned the most considerable mart of trade in the West Indies. It was destroyed on the 17th of June, 1602, by an earthquake, which in two minutes sunk the far greater part of the buildings; by which disaster nearly three thousand people lost their lives.

  • HERE, by the margin of the murmuring main,

    While her proud remnants I explore in vain,

    And lonely stray through these dejected lands

    Fanned by the noontide breeze on burning sands,

    Where the dull Spaniard once possessed these shades,

    And ports defended by his palisades,—

    Though lost to us, Port Royal claims a sigh,

    Nor shall the Muse the unenvied verse deny.

    Of all the towns that graced Jamaica’s isle,

    This was her glory, and the proudest pile,

    Where toils on toils bade wealth’s gay structures rise,

    And commerce swelled her glory to the skies;

    St. Jago, seated on a distant plain,

    Ne’er saw the tall ship entering from the main,

    Unnoticed streams her Cobra’s margin lave,

    Where yond’ tall plantains shade her glowing wave,

    And burning sands or rock-surrounded hill

    Confess its founder’s fears, or want of skill.

    While o’er these wastes with wearied step I go,

    Past scenes of death return, in all their woe,

    O’er these sad shores in angry pomp he passed,

    Moved in the winds, and raged with every blast.

    Here opening gulfs confessed the Almighty Hand,

    Here the dark ocean rolled across the land,

    Here piles on piles an instant tore away,

    Here crowds on crowds in mingled ruin lay,

    Whom fate scarce gave to end their noonday feast,

    Or time to call the sexton or the priest.

    Where yond’ tall barque, with all her ponderous load,

    Commits her anchor to its dark abode,

    Eight fathoms down, where unseen waters flow

    To quench the sulphur of the caves below,

    There midnight sounds torment the sailor’s ear,

    And drums and fifes play drowsy concerts there,

    Sad songs of woe prevent the hours of sleep,

    And Fancy aids the fiddlers of the deep;

    Dull Superstition hears the ghostly hum,

    Smit with the terrors of the world to come.

    What now is left of all your boasted pride!

    Lost are those glories that were spread so wide.

    A spit of sand is thine, by Heaven’s decree,

    And wasting shores that scarce resist the sea:

    Is this Port Royal on Jamaica’s coast,

    The Spaniard’s envy and the Britain’s boast!

    A shattered roof o’er every hut appears,

    And mouldering brick-work prompts the traveller’s fears;

    A church, with half a priest, I grieve to see,

    Grass round its door, and rust upon its key!—

    One only inn with tiresome search I found,

    Where one sad negro dealt his beverage round.