Echoes from Vagabondia

by Bliss Carman


 

EL DORADO


 

THIS is the story
Of Santo Domingo,
The first established
Permanent city
Built in the New World.
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Miguel Dias,
A Spanish sailor
In the fleet of Columbus,
Fought with a captain,
Wounded him, then in fe
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Fled from his punishment.

Ranging the wilds, he came
On a secluded
Indian village
Of the peace-loving

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Comely Caguisas.
There he found shelter,
Food, fire, and hiding, —
Welcome unstinted.

Over this tribe ruled—

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No cunning chieftain
Grown gray in world-craft,
But a young soft-eyed
Girl, tender-hearted,
Loving, and regal
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Only in beauty,
With no suspicion
Of the perfidious
Merciless gold-lust
Of the white sea-wolves, —
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Roving, rapacious,
Conquerors, destroyers,
Strongly the stranger
Wooed with his foreign
Manners, his Latin
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Fervor and grace;
Beat down her gentle
Unreserved strangeness;

Made himself consort
Of a young queen, all
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Loveliness, ardor,
And generous devotion.
Her world she gave him,
Nothing denied him,
All, all for love’s sake
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Poured out before him, —
Lived but to pleasure
And worship her lover.

Such is the way
Of free-hearted women,

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Radiant beings
Who carry God’s secret;
All their seraphic
Unworldly wisdom
Spent without fearing
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Or calculation
For the enrichment
Of—whom, what, and wherefore?

Ask why the sun shines
And is not measured,

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Ask why the rain falls
Aeon by aeon,
Ask why the wind comes
Making the strong trees
Blossom in springtime,
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Forever unwearied!
Whoever earned these gifts,
Air, sun, and water?
Whoever earned his share
In that unfathomed
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Full benediction,
Passing the old earth’s
Cunningest knowledge,
Greater than all
The ambition of ages,
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Light as a thistle-seed,
Strong as a tide-run,
Vast and mysterious
As the night sky, —
The love of woman?
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Not long did Miguel
Dias abide content
With his good fortune.
Back to his voyaging
Turned his desire,
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Restless once more to rove
With boon companions,
Filled with the covetous
Thirst for adventure, —
The white man’s folly.
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Then poor Zamcaca,
In consternation
Lest she lack merit
Worthy to tether
His wayward fancy,
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Knowing no way but love,
Guileless, and sedulous
Only to gladden,
Quick and sweet-souled
As another madonna,
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Gave him the secret
Of her realm’s treasure, —
Raw gold unweighed,
Stored wealth unimagined;
Decked him with trappings
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Of that yellow peril;
And bade him go
Bring his comrades to settle
In her dominion.

Not long the Spaniards

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Stood on that bidding.
Gold was their madness,
Their Siren and Pandar.
Trooping they followed
Their friend the explorer,
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Greed-fevered ravagers
Of all things goodly,
Hot-foot to plunder
The land of his love-dream.
They swooped on that country,
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Founded their city,
Made Miguel Dias
Its first Alcalde, —
Flattered and fooled him,
Loud in false praises
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For the great wealth he had
By his love’s bounty.

Then the old story,
Older than Adam, —
Treachery, rapine,

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Ingratitude, bloodshed,
Wrought by the strong man
On unsuspecting
And gentler brothers.
The rabid Spaniard,
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Christian and ruthless
(Like any modern
Magnate of Mammon),
Harried that fearless,
Light-hearted, trustful folk
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Under his booted heel.
Tears (ah, a woman’s tears, —
The grief of angels, —)
Fell from Zamcaca,
Sorrowing, hopeless,
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Alone, for her people.

Sick from injustice,
Distraught, and disheartened,
Tortured by sight and sound
Of wrong and ruin,

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When the kind, silent,
Tropical moonlight,
Lay on the city,
In the dead hour
When the soul trembles
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Within the portals
Of its own province,
While far away seem
All deeds of daytime,
She rose and wondered;
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Gazed on the sleeping
Face of her loved one,
Alien and cruel;
Kissed her strange children,
Longingly laying a hand
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In farewell on each,
Crept to the door, and fled
Back to the forest.

Only the deep heart
Of the World-mother,

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Brooding below the storms
Of human madness,
Can know what desolate
Anguish possessed her.

Only the far mind

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Of the World-father,
Seeing the mystic
End and beginning,
Knows why the pageant
Is so betattered
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With mortal sorrow.