San Borondon

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Saint Brandan, a Scotch abbot, long ago
Sailed southward with a swarm of monks, to sow
The seeds of true religion — nothing else —
Among the tribes of naked infidels.
And venturing far in unknown seas, he found
An island, which became monastic ground.
So runs the legend. Little else was known
Of him we Spaniards call San Borondon.
Some said he was a sorcerer, some a priest;
None truly knew. But this is clear at least,
That there was seen to appear and disappear
An island in the west, for many a year,
That bore his name: but no discoverer yet
His feet upon that shore had ever set.
At Teneriffe and Palma I was one
Who saw that island of San Borondon.
A hundred of us stood upon the shore,
And saw it as it oft was seen before.
The morn was clear; and westward from the bay
It glimmered on the horizon far away.
We watched the fog at sunrise upward curl
And float above that land of rose and pearl;
And sometimes saw behind a purple peak
The sun go down. And some said, "We will seek
Westward, until we touch the fairy coast,
Or prove it only some drowned island's ghost" —
But after many days returned to swear
The vision vanished in the pale blue air.
Yet still from off the fair Canary beach
Lay the strange land that none could ever reach.
Then others sailed and searched: and some of these
Returned no more across the treacherous seas;
And no one knew their fate. Until at last
We hailed a caravel with shattered mast
Toiling to harbor. Half her sails were gone.
"Ho, mariners, what news of Borondon?"
We shouted — but no answering voice replied;
No sailors on her gangway we descried;
Her shrouds looked ghostly thin, her ropes were dim
As spiders' webs athwart a tree's dead limb;
And still as death she drifted up the bay,
A battered hulk grown dumb and old and gray.
At length she touched the strand, and out there crept
A haggard man, who feebly toward us stepped,
And answered slowly, while we brought him food
And wine. He sitting on a stone, we stood
An eager crowd around him, while we sought
What news he from San Borondon had brought.
With eyes that seemed to gaze beyond the space
Of sea and sky — with strange averted face,
And voice as when some muttering undertone
Of wind is heard, when sitting all alone
On wintry nights, we see the moon grow pale
With hurrying mists — he thus began his tale.
"We saw the island as we sailed away.
It glimmered on the horizon half that day.
But while our caravel still westward steered,
Amazed we stood — the isle had disappeared.
At night there came a storm. The lightning flashed
From north to south. The frightful thunder crashed.
Under bare poles we scudded through the dark,
Till morning gleamed upon our drifting bark —
The red-eyed morn 'neath beetling brows of cloud, —
And the wind changed. Then some one cried aloud,
'Land — at the westward!' And with one accord
All took contagion of that haunting word
'San Borondon.' The island seemed to lie
Three leagues away against a strip of sky
That on the horizon opened like a crack
Of yellow light beneath the vault of black;
Then, as with hearts elate, we nearer sailed,
The clouds dispersed, the sun arose unveiled.
The wind had almost lulled; the waves grew calm.
We neared the isle, we saw the groves of palm,
The rugged cliffs, the streamlet's silver thread
Dropped from the misty mountains overhead;
The shadow-haunted gorges damp and deep;
The flowery meadows in their dewy sleep;
The waving grass along the winding rills;
And, inland far, long slopes of wooded hills.
And all the sea was calm for many a mile
About the shores of that enchanted isle.
Our sails half-filled flapped idly on the mast;
And all the morning and the noon had passed
Before we touched the shore. Then on the sand
We stepped and took possession of the land
For Spain. No signs of life we heard or saw.
But suddenly we stopped with fear and awe;
For on the beach were giant footsteps seen,
And upward tracked into the forests green,
Then lost. But there, with wondering eyes we found
A cross nailed to a tree — and on the ground
Stones ranged in mystic order — and the trace
Of fire once kindled in that lonely place.
As though some sorcerer's sabbath on this ground
A place for its unholy rites had found.
And so, in vague perplexity and doubt,
Until the sun had set, we roamed about.
And some into the forest far had strayed,
While others watched the ship at anchor laid.
When through the woods there rang a distant bell.
We crossed our breasts, and on our knees we fell.
Ave Maria — 't was the hour of prayer.
A consecrated stillness filled the air.
No heathen land was this; no wizard's spell
The clear sweet ringing of that holy bell.
Scarce had we spoken, when we heard a blast
Come rushing from the mountains, fierce and fast
Down a ravine with hoarse and hollow roar;
And sudden darkness fell upon the shore.
The ship — the ship! See how she strains her rope —
All, all aboard — cast off! we may not hope
To save her on these rocks. Away, away!'
Then as we leapt aboard in tossing spray,
Still fiercer blew the wind, and hurled us far
Into the night without a moon or star.
And from the deck the sea swept all the crew.
And I alone was left, to bring to you
This tale. When morning came, the isle was gone —
The unhallowed land you call San Borondon;
A land of sorcery and of wicked spells,
Of hills and groves profane and demon dells.
Good friends, beware! Seek not the accursed shore,
For they who touch its sands return no more,
Save by a miracle, as I have done —
Praised be Madonna and her blessed Son!"
Such was his story. But when morning came,
There lay that smiling island, just the same.
And still they sail to find the enchanted shore
That guards a fearful mystery evermore.
A thousand years may pass away — but none
Shall know the secret of San Borondon.
And so perchance, a thousand years may roll,
And none shall solve the enigma of the soul —
That baffling island in the unknown sea
Whose boundless deep we name Eternity.

© Christopher Pearse Cranch