Thomas Buchanan Read

From San Domingo’s crowded wharf   
  Fernandez’ vessel bore,   
To seek in unknown lands afar   
  The Indian’s golden ore.   
And hid among the freighted casks,           
  Where none might see or know,   
Was one of Spain’s immortal men,   
  Three hundred years ago!   
But when the fading town and land   
  Had dropped below the sea,           
He met the captain face to face,   
  And not a fear, had he!   
“What villain thou?” Fernandez cried,   
  “And wherefore serve us so?”   
“To be thy follower,” he replied           
  Three hundred years ago.   
He wore a manly form and face,   
  A courage firm and bold,   
His words fell on his comrades’ hearts,   
  Like precious drops of gold.           
They saw not his ambitious soul;   
  He spoke it not—for lo!   
He stood among the common ranks   
  Three hundred years ago.   
But when Fernandez’ vessel lay           
  At golden Darien,   
A murmur, born of discontent,   
  Grew loud among the men:   
And with the word there came the act;   
  And with the sudden blow           
They raised Balboa from the ranks,   
  Three hundred years ago.   
And while he took command beneath   
  The banner of his lord,   
A mighty purpose grasped his soul,           
  As he had grasped the sword.   
He saw the mountain’s fair blue height   
  Whence golden waters flow;   
Then with his men he scaled the crags,   
  Three hundred years ago.           
He led them up through tangled brakes,   
  The rivulet’s sliding bed,   
And through the storm of poisoned darts   
  From many an ambush shed.   
He gained the turret crag—alone—           
  And wept! to see below,   
An ocean, boundless and unknown,   
  Three hundred years ago.   
And while he raised upon that height   
  The banner of his lord,           
The mighty purpose grasped him still,   
  As still he grasped his sword.   
Then down he rushed with all his men,   
  As headlong rivers flow,   
And plunged breast-deep into the sea,           
  Three hundred years ago.   
And while he held above his head   
  The conquering flag of Spain,   
He waved his gleaming sword, and smote   
  The waters of the main:           
For Rome! for Leon! and Castile!   
  Thrice gave the cleaving blow;   
And thus Balboa claimed the sea,   
  Three hundred years ago.

In 1513, Vasco Nunez de Balboa was the first European to see the Pacific Ocean. He saw it from the mountains of Darien, in what is now Panama. This event is evoked in Keat's great sonnet 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer', though Keats mistakenly makes Cortes the leader of the expedition.

After seeing the Pacific, Balboa marched down from the mountains and walked into the sea at a place he named San Miguel.


Main Location:

San Miguel Bay, Panama

Other locations: