Later Poems

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 fear
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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,—
Roving, rapacious,
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Conquerors, destroyers.
Strongly the stranger
Wooed with his foreign
Manners, his Latin
Fervor and graces;
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Beat down her gentle,
Unreserved strangeness;

Made himself consort
Of a young queen, all
Loveliness, ardour,

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And generous devotion.
Her world she gave him,
Nothing denied him,
All, all for love’s sake
Poured out before him,—
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Lived but to pleasure
And worship her lover.

Such is the way
Of free-hearted women,
Radiant beings

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

Ask why the sun shines
And is not measured,
Ask why the rain falls

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Aeon by aeon,
Ask why the wind comes
Making the strong trees
Blossom in springtime,
Forever unwearied!
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Whoever earned these gifts,
Air, sun, and water?
Whoever earned his share
In that unfathomed
Full benediction,
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Passing the old earth’s
Cunningest knowledge,
Greater than all
The ambition of ages,
Light as a thistle-seed,
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Strong as a tide-run,
Vast and mysterious
As the night sky,—
The love of woman?
Not long did Miguel
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Dias abide content
With his good fortune.
Back to his voyaging
Turned his desire,
Restless once more to rove
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With boon companions,
Filled with covetous
Thirst for adventure,—
The white man’s folly.

Then poor Zamcaca,

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In consternation
Lest she lack merit
Worthy to tether
His wayward fancy,
Knowing no way but love,
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Guileless, and sedulous
Only to gladden,
Quick and sweet-souled
As another Madonna,
Gave him the secret
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Of her realm’s treasure,—
Raw gold unweighed,
Stored wealth unimagined;
Decked him with trappings
Of that yellow peril;
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And bade him go
Bring his comrades to settle
In her dominion.

Not long the Spaniards
Stood on that bidding.

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

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

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Wrought by the strong man
On unsuspecting
And gentler brothers.
The rabid Spaniard,
Christian and ruthless

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(Like any modern
Magnate of Mammon),
Harried that fearless,
Light-hearted, trustful folk
Under his booted heel.
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Tears (ah, a woman’s tears,—
The grief of angels,—)
Fell from Zamcaca,
Sorrowing, hopeless,
Alone, for her people.
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Sick from injustice,
Distraught, and disheartened,
Tortured by sight and sound
Of wrong and ruin,
When the kind, silent,
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Tropical moonlight,
Lay on the city,
In the dead hour
When the soul trembles
Within the portals
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Of its own province,
While far away seem
All deeds of daytime,
She rose and wondered;
Gazed on the sleeping
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Face of her loved one,
Alien and cruel;
Kissed her strange children,
Longingly laying a hand
In farewell on each,
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Crept to the door, and fled
Back to the forest

Only the deep heart
Of the World-mother,
Brooding below the storms

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Of human madness,
Can know what desolate
Anguish possessed her.

Only the far mind
Of the World-father,

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