THE PILLARS OF HERCULES
Here ends at last the Inland Sea!
Still seems its outlet, as of yore,
The anteroom of Mystery,
As, through its westward-facing door,
I see the vast Atlantic lie
In splendor ’neath a sunset sky.
Above its distant, glittering rim
Streams o’er the waves a flood of gold,
To gild the mountains, bare and grim,
Which guard this exit, as of old,—
The sombre sentries of two seas,
The Pillars reared by Hercules;—
Gibraltar,—on the northern shore,
By conquering Moors once proudly trod,—
And, to the south a league or more,
Huge Abyla, the “Mount of God”,
Whence burdened Atlas watched with ease
The Gardens of Hesperides.
How many slow-paced centuries passed,
Before brave sailors dared to creep
Beyond the gloom these monsters cast,
And venture on the unknown deep,
At last resolving to defy
The “God-established” termini!
Yet no fierce gods opposed their path;
No lurid bolt or arrow sped
To crush them with celestial wrath,
And number them among the dead;
The dreadful Pillars proved as tame
As other rocks of lesser fame.
Hence, when before them stretched the sea,
Majestic, limitless and clear,
A rapturous sense of being free
Dispelled all vestiges of fear
The longed-for ocean to explore
From pole to pole, from shore to shore.
Thus all men learn the God they dread
Is kinder than they had supposed,
And that, not God, but Man hath said,—
“The door to freedom must be closed!”
Once past that door, with broadened view,
They find Him better than they knew.
Meanwhile, along the sunlit strait
My ship glides toward the saffron west,
Beyond the old Phenician gate
To ocean’s gently heaving breast,
Whence, on the ever-freshening breeze,
There greet my spirit words like these;—
Sail bravely on! the morning light
Shall find thee far beyond the land;
Gibraltar’s battlemented height
And Afric’s tawny hills of sand
Shall soon completely sink from view
Beneath the ocean’s belt of blue.
Sail on! nor heed the shadows vast
Of fabled Powers, whose fear enslaves!
Their spectral shapes shall sink at last
Below the night’s abandoned waves;
Rest not confined by shoals and bars;
Steer oceanward by God’s fixed stars!
’Tis not in the bitterest woes of life
That the love of friends, as a rule, grows cold;
Still less does it melt in the heat of strife,
Or die from the canker of borrowed gold;
For pity comes when they see us grieved,
Or forced to lie on a couch of pain,
And a hasty word is soon retrieved,
And the loan of money may leave no stain.
’Tis oftenest lost through the deadly blight
Of Society’s pestilential air,
Which blackens the robe of purest white,
And fouls what once was sweet and fair.