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

West Indies: Havana, Cuba

The Tomb of Columbus

By Henry Howard Brownell (1820–1872)

AN OLD cathedral, with its columned aisle,

And shrines, and pictured saints! The sun yet lingered

On Cuzco’s mountains, and the fragrant breath

Of unknown tropic flowers came o’er my path,

Wafted—how pleasantly! for I had been

Long on the seas, and their salt waveless glare

Had made green fields a longing. At the port

I left our bark, with her tired mariners;

And wandered on, amid gay-colored dwellings,

Through the great square, and through the narrow streets,

Till this old fane, inviting, stayed my steps.

While all alone, in the religious silence

And pensive spirit of the place, I stood

By the High Altar,—near it, on the wall,

A tablet of plain marble met my view,

Modestly wrought,—whereon an effigy,

And a few simple words in a strange tongue,

Telling “Here lies Columbus.” And that niche,—

That narrow space held all now left of him

For whom the ancient world was once too little!

But where were they,—the fetters that had bound

Those patient, manly limbs? the gift of Spain

To him who gave a world? (in the king’s name

’T was written thus,)—he kept them to the last,

And charged they should lie with him in the grave.

No loftier tomb? methought he should have lain

Enshrined in some vast pile, some gorgeous dome,

Reared by Castile to him who made her name

Great in the nations. But he needs them not.

And haply, it is meeter thus for him

To rest surrounded by his own high deeds,—

Like the great builder laid beneath the temple

He reared. “If thou wouldst view his monument,

Look round thee.” No severe majestic column,—

No mountain-piled, eternal pyramid,—

Such as a world might raise to its discoverer,

Marks his repose. But the keel-crowded port,

And the green island, and the waving palms,

And the deep murmur of a peopled city,

And the great ocean whitened with new sails,

And the wide continent stretching beyond,—

All, in a voice more eloquent than words,—

Inscription,—told of him that lived and died.

And mine own being—Haply, but for thee

(If, in the tangled chain of crossed events

We shudder now to dwell upon, this soul

Had ’scaped the fatal blank of non-existence),

Even now, I might have slaved in some old sea-port,

Bowed to the oar,—or delved in Hunnish mines,

A serf,—or toiled a reaper in the fields

Of “merry England,”—none too merry now!

How quiet and how peaceful seemed his rest

From his long labors!—all was calm repose.

Within, such holy stillness,—but, alas!

Without, (sole stain on that great honored name,)

A dismal sound of fetters! the chain-gang

Passing just then, with its accursed clank.

Long by that simple tomb I lingered,—long

Gazed with an awe more reverent than the pile

Heaped over king or kaiser could inspire.

On those calm, resolute features ye might read,

As in a book, his strange, eventful story.

There was the faith; the long-enduring hope,

More than Ulyssean; the courage high,—

That fought the infidel,—and with stout heart,

Clung to the shattered oar, which bore a greater

Than Cæsar and his fortunes,—and when all

Cried out “We sail to Death!” held firmly on

Through storm and sunshine. In those furrowed lines,

As on some faithful chart, might still be traced

The weary voyaging of many years:

That restless spirit pent in narrow limits,

Yet ever looking with unquiet eye,

Beyond old landmarks,—with unwearied soul,

Still searching, prying into the unknown,

And hoarding richer sea-lore,—till at last,

Possessed and haunted of one grand belief,—

One mighty thought no wretchedness could lay.

The weary interval,—eighteen long years,

Wandering from court to court,—his wondrous tale

Lost in half-heeding, dull, incredulous ears.

The patient toil,—the honorable want,

Endured so nobly,—in his threadbare coat,

Mocked by the rabble,—the half-uttered jeer,—

And the pert finger tapping on the head.

May Heaven accord us patience! as to him.

And now, a wayworn traveller, where, Rabida!

Thy lonely convent overlooks the sea

(Soon to be furrowed by ten thousand keels),

He waits, preferring no immodest suit,—

A little bread and water for his boy,

O’ertasked with travel? then the welcome in,

And the good friar,—saints receive his soul!

And now (the audience gained) at Salamanca,

Before them all, a simple mariner,

He stands, unawed by the solemnity

Of gowns and caps,—with courteous, grave demeanor,

And in plain words unfolds his noble purpose.

Embarked, and on the seas,—at last! at last!

The toil of a long life,—a deathless name,—

The undetermined fates of all to come,—

Staked on his prow,—it is no little thing

Will turn aside that soul, long resolute

(Though every heart grow faint, and every tongue

Murmur in mutiny) to hold its course,

Onward, still onward, through the pathless void,

The lone untravelled wilderness of waves,—

Onward! still onward! we shall find it yet!

And next (O sad and shameful sight!) exposed

On the high deck of a returning bark,

(Returning from that land so lately found!)

A spectacle! those aged, honored limbs,

Gyved like a felon’s, while the hooting crowd

Sent curses in her wake. But when arrived,

Again exalted, favored of the crown,

And courted by the noblest,—who forgets,

With his gray hairs uncovered, how he knelt

Before his royal mistress (that great heart,

Nor insult, nor disgrace, nor chains could move,

O’ercome with kindness), weeping like a child?

Lastly, his most resigned and Christian end;

When, now aware of the last hour approaching,

He laid the world, so long pursued, aside;

Forgave his foes, and setting decently

His house in order, with his latest breath

Commended that great soul to Him who gave it,

Who seldom hath received or given a greater.

Thus loitering in the many-peopled past,

And haunted by old thoughts, the twilight shadows

O’ertook me, still beside the sepulchre

Reclined in pleasant gloom, and loath to leave.

Anon a train of dark-stoled priests swept in,

And chanted forth old hymns. Was it profane

To deem their holy strain a requiem

O’er him, whose mighty ashes lay enshrined

So near his Maker? but for whom, perchance,

The sound of anthem and of chant sublime,

And old Te Deum’s solemn majesty,

Had never echoed in the Western World.

Along each vaulted aisle the sacred tones

Floated, and swelled, and sank, and died away.

So all departed,—and among the rest,

That spell upon my soul yet lingering,

I went my way,—and, passing to our ship,

Culled a few flowers, yet springing on the spot,

Where, wearied with long travail o’er the deep,

He landed (so they tell), and said the mass,

Beneath a tall and goodly Ceiba-tree.

But that is gone,—and all will soon be gone.