James Madison Bell

Descriptive Voyage from New York to Aspinwall

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Farewell, for now my gallant bark,
Loosed from her mooring, quits the shore
Amid a fog and mist as dark
As that which spread old Egypt o'er.


On this black and fearful night,
She dare not venture out to sea
Lest on some rock or reef she might,
At early dawn, all foundered be.


The white cap's surges bear aloft
Our vessel, in the murky air,
Then down within the sea's deep trough
She's plunged, but not to linger there,


But she was built to brave the wind
And mountain billows all combined,
And while she feels their angry tread,
They bring to her no gloomy dread.


Hence till the mist and fog had fled;
Until the morning rays had spread
Her genial rays o'er land and tide,
My anchored bark doth proudly ride.


'Tis morn and now my goodly ship,
With spreading canvas all unfurled,
Like frighted deer doth bound and skip;
Old Neptune's waves doth proudly hurl,


While smiles of peace and calm resign
Paints every cheek or decks the brow;
And of the Hundreds none repine,
But all seems resignation now.


A steady, brisk, increasing gale
Spreads to the compass all our sail
And bears us o'er the trackless main
From friends we hope to meet again.


'Tis night and now, if forged in wrath
And on destruction's errand sent,
The mountain waves that sweep our path
Could scarcely be more violent;


But while she reels thus to and fro
The sickest of the sick am I
And from my system would I throw
It's last contents, or even die.


Oh, of all that's known or heard
Of sickness in its varied form,
The last of all to be preferred
Is sea sick-sickness in a storm.


Too sick to live, nor can we tell
Why in this neither state we dwell,
For life seems scarcely worth the breath
That severs our sad state from death.


And were it not for superstition,
We'd claim some Jonah somewhere stored;
And yet 'tis true our sad condition
Changed not till one leaped over board.


Yes, on that night of winds and tide,
One poor unfortunate and unknown
Leaped from our vessel's wave-washed side
And found his coral bed alone.


O! Thou eternal mystery,
Thou grand, sublime, though awful sea,
Alas, how oft thy fury smothers
The last fond hope of wives and mothers.


'Tis morn the fourth and calm's the sea
As though some talesmanic wand
Had quelled the waves inebriety
By virtue of the wielder's hand;


For e'er had bloomed the misty morn,
Fair Luna sweeping o'er the main
Had caught the fierce winds in her horn,
And bound the mad waves with a chain.


Then old Atlantic calmed his raid,
As though some shrewd Philistine maid
Had won his heart and ta'en away
His bristling waves and angry spray --


'Tis moonlight on the deep blue sea,
And, skimming o'er the curling wave,
My gallant bark moves blithe and free
As mind could wish or heart could crave.


Nor lays she for the sluggish breeze
That fain would seek a night's repose.
Impelled by steam she beats the seas,
With her huge arm thus on she goes.


And bears me toward that sunny clime,
Where grows the orange and the lime
And flowers of every varied hue
From lily white to violet blue.


'Tis morn the seventh and the last,
And here my Baltic voyage must end;
Through calms and storms and death she's past
To reach this hot and sultry clime;


For Aspinwall is a sultry place,
Where noxious vapors taint the air,
And peopled by a tribal race
Most thinly clad with little care;


And yet the denizens you find
Residing here are wondrous kind,
And versed in many a tender word
By which the heart to love is stirred.


Yet Aspinwall's a sultry place,
For here the sunshine and the rain
Meet each other and embrace
As lovers do, -- then part again.


For, in the space of one brief hour,
The sun will shine and then a shower
Of rain will fall so thick and fast,
You'd think the clouds would weep their last.


But O, if in her gorgeous dress,
Nature in all her loveliness
The world encomium should command,
'Tis on this narrow frith of land;


For rarer fruits and fairer flowers
Scarce ever bloomed in Eden bowers,
Than bud and bloom and ripen here
Through all the seasons of the year.


For there's no rose without a thorn,
Nor much of joy without regret;
For where our brightest hopes are born,
Sad disappointments oft are met.


Nor have we an exception found
In this bright land, so seeming fair,
For here, while beauty paints the ground,
A foul miasma taints the air;
And dread malaria's poisoned breath,
Spread far and wide the fumes of death,


And oft so direful in their sway,
That hundreds perish in a day.
O Land of sunshine and of showers,
Of rarest fruits and fairest flowers,


Adieu! Adieu, for at the quay
A vessel waits to bear away,
Not only me, but many a score
That fain would leave thy fevered shore.

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James Madison Bell