Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
Embassy of Rocha
By Joel Barlow (1754–1812)
From the Columbiad.

  SOON the glad prince, in robes of white array’d,
Call’d his attendants, and the sire obey’d;
A diamond broad, in burning gold imprest,
Display’d the sun’s bright image on his breast;
A pearl-dropt girdle bound his waist below,        5
And the white lautu graced his lofty brow.
They journey’d forth, o’ermarching far the mound
That flank’d the kingdom on its Andean bound;
Ridge after ridge through vagrant hordes they pass’d,
Where each new tribe seem’d wilder than the last;        10
To all they preach and prove the solar sway
And climb fresh mountains on their tedious way.
  At length, as through disparting clouds they rise,
And hills above them still obstruct the skies,
While a dead calm o’er all the region stood        15
And not a leaf could fan its parent wood,
Sudden a strange portentous noise began;
The birds fled wild, the beasts for shelter ran;
Slow, sullen, loud, with deep astounding blare,
Swell the strong tones of subterranean war;        20
Behind, before, beneath them groans the ground,
Earth heaves and labors with the shuddering sound;
Columns of smoke, that cap the rumbling height,
Roll reddening far through heaven and choke the light;
From tottering steeps descend their cliffs of snow,        25
The mountains reel, the valleys rend below;
The headlong streams forget their usual round
And shrink and vanish in the gaping ground.
The sun descends; but night recalls in vain
Her silent shades, to recommence her reign;        30
The bursting mount gapes high, a sudden glare
Corruscates wide, till all the purpling air
Breaks into flame; it wheels and roars and raves
And wraps the welkin in its folding waves.
Light sailing cinders, through its vortex driven,        35
Stream high and brighten to the midst of heaven;
And, following slow, full floods of boiling ore
Swell, swoop aloft, and through the concave roar.
Torrents of molten rocks, on every side,
Lead o’er the shelves of ice their fiery tide;        40
Hills slide before them, skies around them burn,
Towns sink beneath and heaving plains upturn;
O’er many a league the flaming deluge hurl’d,
Sweeps total nations from the staggering world.
  Meanwhile, at distance through the livid light,        45
A busy concourse met their wondering sight;
The prince drew near; where lo! an altar stood,
Rude in its form and fill’d with burning wood;
Wrapt in the flames a child expiring lay
And the fond father thus was heard to pray:        50
“Receive, O dreadful power, from feeble age
This last pure offering to thy sateless rage;
Thrice has thy vengeance on this hated land
Claim’d a dear infant from my yielding hand,
Thrice have those lovely lips the victim press’d,        55
And all the mother torn that tender breast,
When the dread duty stifled every sigh
And not a tear escaped her beauteous eye.
Our fourth and last now meets the fatal doom;
Groan not, my child, thy god remands thee home;        60
Attend once more, thou dark infernal name,
From yon far streaming pyramid of flame;
Snatch from his heaving flesh the blasted breath,
Sacred to thee and all the fiends of death;
Then in thy hall, with spoils of nations crown’d,        65
Confine thy walks beneath the rending ground;
No more on earth the embowell’d flames to pour,
And scourge my people and my race no more.”
  Thus Rocha heard; and to the trembling crowd
Turn’d the bright image of his beaming god.        70
The afflicted chief, with fear and grief oppress’d,
Beheld the sign, and thus the prince address’d:
“From what far land, O royal stranger, say,
Ascend thy wandering steps this nightly way?
From plains like ours, by holy demons fired?        75
Have thy brave people in the flames expired?
And hast thou now, to stay the whelming flood,
No son to offer to the furious god?”
  “From happier lands I came,” the prince returns,
“Where no red flaming flood the concave burns,        80
No furious god bestorms our soil and skies,
Nor yield our hands the bloody sacrifice;
But life and joy the Power delights to give,
And bids his children but rejoice and live.
Thou seest through heaven the day-dispensing Sun        85
In living radiance wheel his golden throne,
O’er earth’s gay surface send his genial beams,
Force from yon cliffs of ice the vernal streams;
While fruits and flowers adorn the cultured field,
And seas and lakes their copious treasures yield:        90
He reigns our only god. In him we trace
The friend, the father of our happy race.
Late the lone tribes, on those unlabor’d shores,
Ran wild, and served imaginary powers;
Till he in pity taught their feuds to cease,        95
Devised their laws and fashion’d all for peace.
My sacred parents first the reign began,
Sent from his courts to guide the paths of man,
To plant his fruits, to manifest his sway,
And give their blessings where he gives the day.”
*      *      *      *      *      *
  The legates now their further course descried,
A young cazique attending as a guide,
O’er craggy cliffs pursued their eastern way,
Trod loftier champaigns, meeting high the day:
Saw timorous tribes in these sublime abodes        105
Adore the blasts and turn the storms to gods;
While every cloud that thunders through the skies
Claims from their hands a human sacrifice.
Awhile the youth, their better faith to gain,
Strives with his usual art, but strives in vain;        110
In vain he pleads the mildness of the sun;
A gale refutes him ere his speech be done;
Continual tempests from their orient blow,
And load the mountains with eternal snow.
The sun’s own beam, the timid clans declare,        115
Drives all their evils on the tortured air;
He draws the vapors up their eastern sky,
That sail and centre round his dazzling eye;
Leads the loud storms along his mid-day course
And bids the Andes meet their sweeping force,        120
Builds their bleak summits with an icy throne,
To shine through heaven, a semblance of his own;
Hence the sharp sleet these lifted lawns that wait,
And all the scourges that attend their state.
  Two toilsome days the virtuous Inca strove        125
To social life their savage minds to move;
When the third morning glow’d serenely bright,
He led their elders to an eastern height;
The world unlimited beneath them lay,
And not a cloud obscured the rising day.        130
Vast Amazonia, starr’d with twinkling streams,
In azure drest, a heaven inverted seems;
Dim Paraguay extends the aching sight,
Xaraya glimmers like the moon of night,
Land, water, sky, in blending borders play        135
And smile and brighten to the lamp of day.
When thus the prince: What majesty divine!
What robes of gold! what flames about him shine!
There walks the god; his starry sons on high
Draw their dim veil and shrink behind the sky;        140
Earth with surrounding nature ’s born anew,
And men by millions greet the glorious view.
Who can behold his all delighting soul
Give life and joy, and heaven and earth control,
Bid death and darkness from his presence move,        145
Who can behold and not adore and love?
Those plains, immensely circling, feel his beams,
He greens the groves, he silvers gay the streams,
Swells the wild fruitage, gives the beast his food,
And mute creation hails the genial god.        150
But richer boons his righteous laws impart,
To aid the life and mould the social heart,
His arts of peace through happy realms to spread,
And altars grace with sacrificial bread;
Such our distinguish’d lot, who own his sway,        155
Mild as his morning stars and liberal as the day.
  His unknown laws, the mountain chief replied,
May serve perchance your boasted race to guide:
And yon low plains, that drink his partial ray,
At his glad shrine their just devotions pay.        160
But we nor fear his frown nor trust his smile;
Vain as our prayers is every anxious toil;
Our beasts are buried in his whirls of snow,
Our cabins drifted to his slaves below.
Even now his placid looks thy hopes beguile,        165
He lures thy raptures with a morning smile;
But soon (for so those saffron robes proclaim)
His own black tempest shall obstruct his flame,
Storm, thunder, fire against the mountains driven,
Rake deep their sulphur’d sides, disgorging here his heaven.        170
  He spoke; they waited, till the fervid ray
High from the noontide shot the faithless day;
When lo, far gathering under eastern skies,
Solemn and slow, the dark red vapors rise;
Full clouds, convolving on the turbid air,        175
Move like an ocean to the watry war.
The host, securely raised, no dangers harm,
They sit unclouded and o’erlook the storm;
While far beneath, the sky-borne waters ride,
Veil the dark deep and sheet the mountain’s side;        180
The lightning’s glancing fires in fury curl’d
Bend their long forky foldings o’er the world;
Torrents and broken crags and floods of rain
From steep to steep roll down their force amain
In dreadful cataracts; the bolts confound        185
The tumbling clouds, and rock the solid ground.
  The blasts unburden’d take their upward course,
And o’er the mountain top resume their force.
Swift through the long white ridges from the north,
The rapid whirlwinds lead their terrors forth;        190
High walks the storm, the circling surges rise,
And wild gyrations wheel the hovering skies;
Vast hills of snow, in sweeping columns driven,
Deluge the air and choke the void of heaven;
Floods burst their bounds, the rocks forget their place,        195
And the firm Andes tremble to their base.
  Long gazed the host; when thus the stubborn chief,
With eyes on fire, and fill’d with sullen grief:
Behold thy careless god, secure on high,
Laughs at our woes and peaceful walks the sky,        200
Drives all his evils on these seats sublime,
And wafts his favors to a happier clime;
Sire of the dastard race, thy words disclose,
There glads his children, here afflicts his foes.
Hence! speed thy flight! pursue him where he leads,        205
Lest vengeance seize thee for thy father’s deeds,
Thy immolated limbs assuage the fire
Of those curst powers, who now a gift require.
  The youth in haste collects his scanty train
And with the sun flies o’er the western plain;        210
The fading orb with plaintive voice he plies,
To guide his steps and light him down the skies.
So when the moon and all the host of even
Hang pale and trembling on the verge of heaven,
While storms ascending threat their nightly reign,        215
They seek their absent sire and sink below the main.

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