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

Mexico: Acapulco

The Lost Galleon

By Bret Harte (1836–1902)

IN sixteen hundred and forty-one,

The regular yearly galleon,

Laden with odorous gums and spice,

India cottons and India rice,

And the richest silks of far Cathay,

Was due at Acapulco Bay.

Due she was, and over-due,—

Galleon, merchandise, and crew,

Creeping along through rain and shine,

Through the tropics, under the line.

The trains were waiting outside the walls,

The wives of sailors thronged the town,

The traders sat by their empty stalls,

And the viceroy himself came down;

The bells in the tower were all a-trip,

Te Deums were on each father’s lip,

The limes were ripening in the sun

For the sick of the coming galleon.

All in vain. Weeks passed away,

And yet no galleon saw the bay:

India goods advanced in price;

The governor missed his favorite spice;

The señoritas mourned for sandal,

And the famous cottons of Coromandel;

And some for an absent lover lost,

And one for a husband,—Donna Julia,

Wife of the captain, tempest-tossed,

In circumstances so peculiar:

Even the fathers, unawares,

Grumbled a little at their prayers;

And all along the coast that year

Votive candles were scarce and dear.

Never a tear bedims the eye

That time and patience will not dry;

Never a lip is curved with pain

That can’t be kissed into smiles again:

And these same truths, as far as I know,

Obtained on the coast of Mexico

More than two hundred years ago,

In sixteen hundred and fifty-one,—

Ten years after the deed was done,—

And folks had forgotten the galleon:

The divers plunged in the Gulf for pearls

White as the teeth of the Indian girls;

The traders sat by their full bazaars;

The mules with many a weary load,

And oxen, dragging their creaking cars,

Came and went on the mountain road.

Where was the galleon all this while:

Wrecked on some lonely coral isle?

Burnt by the roving sea-marauders,

Or sailing north under secret orders?

Had she found the Anian passage famed,

By lying Moldonado claimed,

And sailed through the sixty-fifth degree

Direct to the North Atlantic sea?

Or had she found the “River of Kings,”

Of which De Fonté told such strange things

In sixteen forty? Never a sign,

East or West or under the line,

They saw of the missing galleon;

Never a sail or plank or chip,

They found of the long-lost treasure-ship,

Or enough to build a tale upon.

But when she was lost, and where and how,

Are the facts we ’re coming to just now.

Take, if you please, the chart of that day

Published at Madrid,—por el Rey;

Look for a spot in the old South Sea,

The hundred and eightieth degree

Longitude, west of Madrid: there,

Under the equatorial glare,

Just where the East and West are one,

You ’ll find the missing galleon,—

You ’ll find the “San Gregorio,” yet

Riding the seas, with sails all set,

Fresh as upon the very day

She sailed from Acapulco Bay.

How did she get there? What strange spell

Kept her two hundred years so well,

Free from decay and mortal taint?

What but the prayers of a patron saint?

A hundred leagues from Manilla town

The “San Gregorio’s” helm came down;

Round she went on her heel, and not

A cable’s length from a galliot

That rocked on the waters, just abreast

Of the galleon’s course, which was west-souwest.

Then said the galleon’s commandante,

General Pedro Sobriente

(That was his rank on land and main,

A regular custom of old Spain),

“My pilot is dead of scurvy: may

I ask the longitude, time, and day?”

The first two given and compared;

The third,—the commandante stared!

“The first of June? I make it second.”

Said the stranger, “Then you ’ve wrongly reckoned;

I make it first: as you came this way,

You should have lost—d’ ye see—a day;

Lost a day, as plainly see,

On the hundred and eightieth degree.”

“Lost a day?” “Yes: if not rude,

When did you make east longitude?”

“On the ninth of May,—our patron’s day.”

“On the ninth?—you had no ninth of May!

Eighth and tenth was there; but stay”—

Too late; for the galleon bore away.

Lost was the day they should have kept,—

Lost unheeded and lost unwept;

Lost in a way that made search vain,

Lost in the trackless and boundless main;

Lost like the day of Job’s awful curse,

In his third chapter, third and fourth verse.

Wrecked was their patron’s only day:

What would the holy fathers say?

Said the Fray Antonio Estavan,

The galleon’s chaplain,—a learned man,—

“Nothing is lost that you can regain;

And the way to look for a thing is plain

To go where you lost it, back again.

Back with your galleon till you see

The hundred and eightieth degree.

Wait till the rolling year goes round,

And there will the missing day be found;

For you ’ll find—if computation ’s true—

That sailing east will give to you

Not only one ninth of May, but two,—

One for the good saint’s present cheer,

And one for the day we lost last year.”

Back to the spot sailed the galleon;

Where, for a twelvemonth, off and on

The hundred and eightieth degree,

She rose and fell on a tropic sea;

But lo! when it came to the ninth of May,

All of a sudden becalmed she lay

One degree from that fatal spot,

Without the power to move a knot;

And of course the moment she lost her way,

Gone was her chance to save that day.

To cut a lengthening story short,

She never saved it. Made the sport

Of evil spirits and baffling wind,

She was always before or just behind,—

One day too soon, or one day too late;

And the sun, meanwhile, would never wait.

She had two eighths, as she idly lay,

Two tenths, but never a ninth of May.

And there she rides through two hundred years

Of dreary penance and anxious fears;

Yet through the grace of the saint she served

Captain and crew are still preserved.

By a computation that still holds good,

Made by the Holy Brotherhood,

The “San Gregorio” will cross that line

In nineteen hundred and thirty-nine,—

Just three hundred years to a day

From the time she lost the ninth of May.

And the folk in Acapulco town,

Over the waters, looking down,

Will see in the glow of the setting sun

The sails of the missing galleon,

And the royal standard of Philip Rey;

The gleaming mast and glistening spar,

As she nears the surf of the outer bar.

A Te Deum sung on her crowded deck,

An odor of spice along the shore,

A crash, a cry from a shattered wreck,—

And the yearly galleon sails no more

In or out of the olden bay;

For the blessed patron has found his day.

Such is the legend. Hear this truth:

Over the trackless past, somewhere,

Lie the lost days of our tropic youth,

Only regained by faith and prayer,

Only recalled by prayer and plaint.

Each lost day has its patron saint!