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

Introductory to America

Voyage of Columbus

By Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)


’T WAS night. The moon o’er the wide wave disclosed

Her awful face, and Nature’s self reposed,

When, slowly rising in the azure sky,

Three white sails shone, but to no mortal eye,

Entering a boundless sea. In slumber cast,

The very ship-boy on the dizzy mast

Half breathed his orisons! Alone unchanged,

Calmly, beneath, the great commander ranged,

Thoughtful, not sad; and as the planet grew,

His noble form, wrapt in his mantle blue,

Athwart the deck a deepening shadow threw.

“Thee hath it pleased,—Thy will be done!” he said,

Then sought his cabin; and, their garments spread,

Around him lay the sleeping as the dead,

When by his lamp to that mysterious guide

On whose still counsels all his hopes relied,

That oracle to man in mercy given,

Whose voice is truth, whose wisdom is from heaven,

Who over sands and seas directs the stray,

And as with God’s own finger points the way,

He turned; but what strange thoughts perplexed his soul,

When, lo, no more attracted to the pole,

The compass, faithless as the circling vane,

Fluttered and fixed, fluttered and fixed again!

At length, as by some unseen hand imprest,

It sought with trembling energy—the west!

“Ah no!” he cried, and calmed his anxious brow.

“Ill, nor the signs of ill, ’t is thine to show;

Thine but to lead me where I wished to go!”

Columbus erred not. In that awful hour,

Sent forth to save, and girt with godlike power,

And glorious as the regent of the sun,

An angel came! He spoke, and it was done!

He spoke, and at his call a mighty wind,

Not like the fitful blast, with fury blind,

But deep, majestic, in its destined course,

Sprung with unerring, unrelenting force,

From the bright east. Tides duly ebbed and flowed,

Stars rose and set, and new horizons glowed;

Yet still it blew! As with primeval sway

Still did its ample spirit, night and day,

Move on the waters!—All, resigned to fate,

Folded their arms and sate; and seemed to wait

Some sudden change; and sought, in chill suspense,

New spheres of being and new modes of sense;

As men departing, though not doomed to die,

And midway on their passage to eternity.


Still, as beyond this mortal life impelled

By some mysterious energy, he held

His everlasting course. Still self-possessed,

High on the deck he stood, disdaining rest

(His amber chain the only badge he bore,

His mantle blue such as his fathers wore);

Fathomed, with searching hand, the dark profound,

And scattered hope and glad assurance round,

Though, like some strange portentous dream, the past

Still hovered, and the cloudless sky o’ercast.

At daybreak might the caravels be seen

Chasing their shadows o’er the deep serene;

Their burnished prows lashed by the sparkling tide,

Their green-cross standards waving far and wide.

And now once more to better thoughts inclined,

The seaman, mounting, clamored in the wind.

The soldier told his tales of love and war;

The courtier sung,—sung to his gay guitar.

Round, at Primero, sate a whiskered band;

So Fortune smiled, careless of sea or land!

Leon, Montalvan (serving side by side;

Two with one soul,—and as they lived, they died);

Vasco, the brave, thrice found among the slain,

Thrice, and how soon, up and in arms again,

As soon to wish he had been sought in vain,

Chained down in Fez, beneath the bitter thong,

To the hard bench and heavy oar so long!

Albert of Florence, who, at twilight-time,

In my rapt ear poured Dante’s tragic rhyme,

Screened by the sail as near the mast we lay,

Our nights illumined by the ocean-spray;

And Manfred, who espoused with jewelled ring

Young Isabel, then left her sorrowing:

Lerma “the generous,” Avila “the proud”;

Velasquez, Garcia, through the echoing crowd

Araced by their mirth,—from Ebro’s classic shore,

From golden Tajo, to return no more!