CHAINS, my good lord: in your raised brows I read
Some wonder at our chamber ornaments.
We brought this iron from our isles of gold.
Does the king know you deign to visit him
Whom once he rose from off his throne to greet
Before his people, like his brother king?
I saw your face that morning in the crowd.
At Barcelona—tho’ you were not then
So bearded. Yes. The city deck’d herself
To meet me, roar’d my name; the king, the queen
Bad me be seated, speak, and tell them all
The story of my voyage, and while I spoke
The crowd’s roar fell as at the ‘peace, be still!’
And when I ceased to speak, the king, the queen,
Sank from their thrones, and melted into tears,
And knelt, and lifted hand and heart and voice
In praise to God who led me thro’ the waste.
And then the great ‘Laudamus’ rose to heaven.
Chains for the Admiral of the Ocean! chains
For him who gave a new heaven, a new earth,
As holy John had prophesied of me,
Gave glory and more empire to the kings
Of Spain than all their battles! chains for him
Who push’d his prows into the setting sun,
And made West East, and sail’d the Dragon’s mouth,
And came upon the Mountain of the World,
And saw the rivers roll from Paradise!
Chains! we are Admirals of the Ocean, we,
We and our sons for ever. Ferdinand
Hath sign’d it and our Holy Catholic queen—
Of the Ocean—of the Indies—Admirals we—
Our title, which we never mean to yield,
Our guerdon not alone for what we did,
But our amends for all we might have done—
The vast occasion of our stronger life—
Eighteen long years of waste, seven in your Spain,
Lost, showing courts and kings a truth the babe
Will suck in with his milk hereafter—earth
Were you at Salamanca? No.
We fronted there the learning of all Spain,
All their cosmogonies, their astronomies
Guess-work they guess’d it, but the golden guess
Is morning-star to the full round of truth.
No guess-work! I was certain of my goal;
Some thought it heresy, but that would not hold.
King David call’d the heavens a hide, a tent
Spread over earth, and so this earth was flat:
Some cited old Lactantius: could it be
That trees grew downward, rain fell upward, men
Walk’d like the fly on ceilings? and besides,
The great Augustine wrote that none could breathe
Within the zone of heat; so might there be
Two Adams, two mankinds, and that was clean
Against God’s word: thus was I beaten back,
And chiefly to my sorrow by the Church.
And thought to turn my face from Spain, appeal
Once more to France or England; but our Queen
Recall’d me, for at last their Highnesses
Were half-assured this earth might be a sphere.
All glory to the all-blessed Trinity,
All glory to the mother of our Lord,
And Holy Church, from whom I never swerved
Not even by one hair’s-breadth of heresy,
I have accomplish’d what I came to do.
Not yet—not all—last night a dream—I sail’d
On my first voyage, harass’d by the frights
Of my first crew, their curses and their groans.
The great flame-banner borne by Teneriffe,
The compass, like an old friend false at last
In our most need, appall’d them, and the wind
Still westward, and the weedy seas—at length
The landbird, and the branch with berries on it,
The carven staff—and last the light, the light
On Guanahani! but I changed the name;
San Salvador I call’d it; and the light
Grew as I gazed, and brought out a broad sky
Of dawning over—not those alien palms,
The marvel of that fair new nature—not
That Indian isle, but our most ancient East
Moriah with Jerusalem; and I saw
The glory of the Lord flash up, and beat
Thro’ all the homely town from jasper, sapphire,
Chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius,
Chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase,
Jacynth, and amethyst—and those twelve gates,
Pearl—and I woke, and thought—death—I shall die—
I am written in the Lamb’s own Book of Life
To walk within the glory of the Lord
Sunless and moonless, utter light—but no!
The Lord had sent this bright, strange dream to me
To mind me of the secret vow I made
When Spain was waging war against the Moor—
I strove myself with Spain against the Moor.
There came two voices from the Sepulchre,
Two friars crying that if Spain should oust
The Moslem from her limit, he, the fierce
Soldan of Egypt, would break down and raze
The blessed tomb of Christ; whereon I vow’d
That, if our Princes harken’d to my prayer,
Whatever wealth I brought from that new world
Should, in this old, be consecrate to lead
A new crusade against the Saracen,
And free the Holy Sepulchre from thrall.
Gold? I had brought your Princes gold enough
If left alone! Being but a Genovese,
I am handled worse than had I been a Moor,
And breach’d the belting wall of Cambalu,
And given the Great Khan’s palaces to the Moor,
Or clutch’d the sacred crown of Prester John,
And cast it to the Moor: but had I brought
From Solomon’s now-recover’d Ophir all
The gold that Solomon’s navies carried home,
Would that have gilded me? Blue blood of Spain,
Tho’ quartering your own royal arms of Spain,
I have not: blue blood and black blood of Spain,
The noble and the convict of Castile,
Howl’d me from Hispaniola; for you know
The flies at home, that ever swarm about
And cloud the highest heads, and murmur down
Truth in the distance—these outbuzz’d me so
That even our prudent king, our righteous queen—
I pray’d them being so calumniated
They would commission one of weight and worth
To judge between my slander’d self and me—
Fonseca my main enemy at their court,
They sent me out his tool, Bovadilla, one
As ignorant and impolitic as a beast—
Blockish irreverence, brainless greed—who sack’d
My dwelling, seized upon my papers, loosed
My captives, feed the rebels of the crown,
Sold the crown-farms for all but nothing, gave
All but free leave for all to work the mines,
Drove me and my good brothers home in chains,
And gathering ruthless gold—a single piece
Weigh’d nigh four thousand Castillanos—so
They tell me—weigh’d him down into the abysm—
The hurricane of the latitude on him fell,
The seas of our discovering over-roll
I rim and his gold; the frailer caravel,
With what was mine, came happily to the shore.
There was a glimmering of God’s hand.
Hath more than gliminer’d on me. O my lord,
I swear to you I heard his voice between
The thunders in the black Veragua nights,
‘O soul of little faith, slow to believe!
Have I not been about thee from thy birth?
Given thee the keys of the great Ocean-sea?
Set thee in light till time shall be no more?
Is it I who have deceived thee or the world?
Endure! thou hast done so well for men, that men
Cry out against thee: was it otherwise
With mine own Son?’
And more than once in days
Of doubt and cloud and storm, when drowning hope
Sank all but out of sight, I heard his voice,
‘Be not cast down. I lead thee by the hand,
Fear not.’ And I shall hear his voice again—
I know know that he has led me all my life,
I am not yet too old to work his will—
His voice again.
Still for all that, my lord,
I lying here bedridden and alone,
Cast off, put by, scouted by court and king—
The first discoverer starves—his followers, all
Flower into fortune—our world’s way—and I,
Without a roof that I can call mine own,
With scarce a coin to buy a meal withal,
And seeing what a door for scoundrel scum
I open’d to the West, thro’ which the lust,
Villany, violence, avarice, of your Spain
Pour’d in on all those happy naked isles—
Their kindly native princes slain or slaved,
Their wives and children Spanish concubines,
Their innocent hospitalities quench’d in blood,
Some dead of hunger, some beneath the scourge,
Some over-labour’d, some by their own hands,—
Yea, the dear mothers, crazing Nature, kill
Their babies at the breast for hate of Spain—
Ah God, the harmless people whom we found
In Hispaniola’s island-Paradise!
Who took us for the very Gods from Heaven,
And we have sent them very fiends from Hell;
And I myself, myself not blameless, I
Could sometimes wish I had never led the way.
Only the ghost of our great Catholic Queen
Smiles on me, saying, ‘Be thou comforted!
This creedless people will be brought to Christ
And own the holy governance of Rome.’
But who could dream that we, who bore the Cross
Thither, were excommunicated there,
For curbing crimes that scandalised the Cross,
By him, the Catalonian Minorite,
Rome’s Vicar in our Indies? who believe
These hard memorials of our truth to Spain
Clung closer to us for a longer term
Than any friend of ours at Court? and yet
Pardon—too harsh, unjust. I am rack’d with pains.
You see that I have hung them by my bed,
And I will have them buried in my grave.
Sir, in that flight of ages which are God’s
Own voice to justify the dead—perchance
Spain once the most chivalric race on earth,
Spain then the mightiest, wealthiest realm on earth,
So made by me, may seek to unbury me,
To lay me in some shrine of this old Spain,
Or in that vaster Spain I leave to Spain.
Then some one standing by my grave will say,
‘Behold the bones of Christopher Colòn’—
‘Ay, but the chains, what do they mean—the chains?’—
I sorrow for that kindly child of Spain
Who then will have to answer, ‘These same chains
Bound these same bones back thro’ the Atlantic sea,
Which he unchain’d for all the world to come.’
O Queen of Heaven who seest the souls in Hell
And purgatory, I suffer all as much
As they do—for the moment. Stay, my son
Is here anon: my son will speak for me
Ablier than I can in these spasms that grind
Bone against bone. You will not. One last word.
You move about the Court, I pray you tell
King Ferdinand who plays with me, that one,
Whose life has been no play with him and his
Hidalgos—shipwrecks, famines, fevers, fights,
‘Mutinies, treacheries—wink’d at, and condoned—
That I am loyal to him till the death,
And ready—tho’ our Holy Catholic Queen,
Who fain had pledged her jewels on my first voyage,
Whose hope was mine to spread the Catholic faith,
Who wept with me when I return’d in chains,
Who sits beside the blessed Virgin now,
To whom I send my prayer by night and day—
She is gone—but you will tell the King, that I,
Rack’d as I am with gout, and wrench’d with pains
Gain’d in the service of His Highness, yet
Am ready to sail forth on one last voyager
And readier, if the King would hear, to lead
One last crusade against the Saracen,
And save the Holy Sepulchre from thrall.
Going? I am old and slighted: you have dared
Somewhat perhaps in coming? my poor thanks!
I am but an alien and a Genovese.