The Corcovado

William Gibson

Oft had I visited this splendid Bay,   
Or River of January, so miscalled   
By the old voyagers, who deemed that here   
Some mighty stream, rivalling the Amazon,   
Emptied its wealth of waters; oft my fancy           
Had soared to the Sublime, scaling the heights   
Around me, with all Beauty at its feet:   
But I had been content, with bodily foot   
Planted upon no loftier pinnacle   
Than the ship’s deck, to gaze, not undelighted,           
Upon this lucid harbor-sheet, embosomed   
In its sweet zone of hills, so wild and lovely   
That Nature seems, in her most frolic mood,   
To have shaped out and richly pranked them forth,   
Lavish of light and generous with her green.           
Now, more aspiring, I have wearily toiled   
Up the steep bed of mountain streams, beside   
The gray-mossed aqueduct, through forests dense,   
Shut from the wind but open to the sun,   
With limbs grown languid and quick-panted breathing;           
And I have reached the topmost crag which crowns   
The Corcovado: its peculiar peak,   
Seen from below, with one precipitous side,   
Not all unlike a superincumbent billow   
Walled up against the shore in act to break,—           
So pausing “on the curl” forevermore.   
But here, on its high summit all-commanding,   
What view is mine? Alas! a blinding mist   
Is all, which, swept from seaward by the breeze,   
Foldeth the mountain in its white cloud-fleeces.           
There is a heavy sound upon the wind,   
Whether from over, under, or around,   
A roaring like the noise of many waters,   
A roll like thunders long reverberate,   
Filling the wide air with sustainèd pealing.           
As did Ixion, in the Grecian fable,   
I have stretched forth my hand to clasp a goddess,   
Seeking and yearning for the Beautiful   
In its divinest essence,—and I meet   
The embraces of a cloud;—and angry Jove           
Threatens with the loud thunder all the while!   
The passing thought fleets with the passing cloud,   
Which travels inland, riding on the wind,—   
And, lo! the blue Atlantic, breaking white   
Upon the white-beached mainland and the islands,           
With a long roll and a loud roar,—in chorus   
Booming the mighty multitudinous Deep!   
All lesser tumult heard not at this height,   
I listen to the voice of sovereign Power;   
Power, the majestic, the unchainable,           
The infinite and eternal Power of God!   
Here speaks it ever.—But how solemnly   
Is the primeval and enduring Force   
Of all things stamped on these insensate cliffs!   
There was a time, when, silent as they stand,           
Hard now and steadfast, chaos rocked and raged,   
And they, with fierce heat liquid, were upheaved   
Into these forms fantastic: so convulsed   
Was never Ocean in his stormiest hour.   
The lapsing ages leave them as they are,           
Revealing yet Earth’s strong original frame,   
But showing, too, how Strength is loved of Beauty,   
Whose gentler spirit, like a younger Nature,   
Doth, with caressing tendrils clasping it,   
Make, as Love ever doth, its object lovely:           
Hebe had bound, with rosy-taper fingers,   
A chaplet thus on brows of Hercules:   
So doth a childish sister love to sport   
With a stern elder, dear to her withal:   
The very rocks, the great rocks ramparting           
The dusk ravines, are, by her summer breath,   
Made gay, laughing out into lustrous flowers;   
And all the massy tropical foliage   
Glows, in her sunlight, of so glad a green   
It welcometh the wanderer from the sea           
With the warm welcome of a loved one’s smile!   
 With Youth and Morning, from the smoking crater   
Of dark Vesuvius, I have seen the sun   
Rise diamond-clear upon thy rosy sea,   
Thy mountain-islands and romantic shores,           
O Naples, beautiful in boyish dreams!   
Disparagement seems sacrilege to thee,   
And thy domains, divine Parthenope!   
Yet may the New World claim fair rivalry,   
Her birthright, dowered by the Beautiful,           
As here, with such exuberant natural charms   
They need no other ornament, and ask   
No interest borrowed from the storied past.   
What though no monuments nor memories,   
No mythic legend and no ethnic verse,           
Haunt land and sea, and hallow all the air?   
Lo! down this precipice I could drop the plummet   
Into a bay surpassing Baia,   
By Virgil lined with his Elysian Fields:   
There, where its beauty nestles in the mountains,           
Gardens are mapped beneath me, dark and rich   
With bowers, wherein no Queen of old Romance   
Hath woven enchantments and no antique Grace   
Breathed sanctity, yet to whose bloomy shades   
Dear Nature, visioned like Egeria,           
Might come, though universal as the air,   
And look into the heart of him who loved her   
With a peculiar smile for him alone:   
There, in the mountain-shadows glossy green,   
Undimpled as the face of quiet thought,           
Its waters scarcely crisp enough to mark   
Their margin on the silver-sanded shore,   
And the ear catches not their cadencing—   
Sweet bay of Botofogo! Far away,   
Yon Organ Mountains, through whose pipes stupendous,           
Shooting up miles into the cloudless ether,   
Nature might swell eternal anthem-music   
To the beneficent Heaven,—with what superb   
Disdain would they o’erlook the Apennines!   
Capri and Ischia,—what are they to these           
Islands and towery isolations round me,   
At once so picturesque and so imposing?   
Earth has no equal, glorious as thou art,   
Sea of the Siren! to this ocean-flood,   
Rolled up among the mountains and the hills;           
Sweeping into deep coves with sheltering headlands,   
With long curves of white beach and creamy foam;   
Its whole broad surface like a shield of silver,—   
A noble shield, large as the giant-gods,   
Who, climbing Heaven, piled Pelion upon Ossa,           
Might have upheld; a glittering shield, embossed   
With massive emeralds; such those linkèd hills   
And lovely isles seem in their gem-like green.   
Upon its bosom the tall thronging ships   
Show like a fleet of their own boats at anchor;           
And, on its shores, the imperial capital   
Of the Brazils is dwarfed so by the distance   
It might beseem the court of Liliput,   
A populous ant-hill metropolitan:   
Yet scarce less spacious the still waters seem           
Than when I viewed them from the ship or shore,   
Though from this lofty rock o’erlooking them,   
O’erlooking with the mountains—my compeers!   
Yea, in the exaltation of my thought,   
And actual elevation, these huge piles           
Of senseless granite look like things of life,   
And I am of them—they are my compeers!   
I drink in something of the strong delight   
Which plumes the eagle, drinking of the morning,   
Ere, soaring upward from his rock-built eyrie,           
He melts away, a star into the sunlight.   
And I can fancy wingèd Mercury,   
When, having stolen Jove’s sceptre for a time,   
He lords it from the top of high Olympus,—   
The Universe beneath his feathered heel!           
Long shall my sense of ampler being, long   
This interfusion with sublimer things   
And this perception of diviner power   
Than oft are given us, live within my soul!   
Long shall this grandeur live upon my eye,           
When, with its imagery magnificent,   
Its shadows broad and sunbright colorings,   
The panorama shall have passed away!


THe Corcovado is a mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro (the River of January). The name "Corcovado" means "Hunchback "in Portugese. The mountain is crowned by the world-famous statue "Christ the Redeemer". The statue of Christ with his arms outstretched is 38m high.