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

Miscellaneous: Sargasso Sea, The

The Sargasso Sea

By Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)

  • (From The Voyage of Columbus)
  • “The sailors, according to Herrera, saw the signs of an inundated country (tierras anegadas); and it was the general expectation that they should end their lives there, as others had done in the frozen sea, “where Saint Amaro suffers no ship to stir backward or forward.”—Hist. del Almirante, c. 19.

  • “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, through the closing wave,

    A glimmering ray of ancient splendor 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 arméd 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!

    A vain illusion (such as mocks the eyes

    Of fearful men, when mountains round them rise

    From less than nothing), nothing now beheld

    But scattered sedge,—repelling, and repelled!

    And once again that valiant company

    Right onward came, ploughing the Unknown Sea.

    Already borne beyond the range of thought,

    With Light divine and Truth Immortal fraught,

    From world to world their steady course they keep,

    Swift as the winds along the waters sweep,

    Mid the mute nations of the purple deep.

    And now the sound of harpy-wings they hear;

    Now less and less, as vanishing in fear!

    And see, the heavens bow down, the waters rise,

    And, rising, shoot in columns to the skies,

    That stand,—and still, when they proceed, retire,

    As in the Desert burned the sacred fire;

    Moving in silent majesty, till night

    Descends, and shuts the vision from their sight.