East and West Poems

St. Thomas

(A Geographical Survey, 1868)

Bret Harte

VERY FAIR and full of promise
Lay the island of St. Thomas:
Ocean o’er its reefs and bars
Hid its elemental scars;
Groves of cocoanut and guava
Grew above its fields of lava.
So the gem of the Antilles—
“Isles of Eden,” where no ill is—
Like a great green turtle slumbered
On the sea that it encumbered.

Then said William Henry Seward,
As he cast his eye to leeward,
“Quite important to our commerce
Is this island of St. Thomas.”

Said the Mountain ranges, “Thank’ee,
But we cannot stand the Yankee
O’er our scars and fissures poring,
In our very vitals boring,
In our sacred caverns prying,
All our secret problems trying,—
Digging, blasting, with dynamit
Mocking all our thunders! Damn it!
Other lands may be more civil;
Bust our lava crust if we will!”

Said the Sea, its white teeth gnashing
Through its coral-reef lips flashing,
“Shall I let this scheming mortal
Shut with stone my shining portal,
Curb my tide and check my play,
Fence with wharves my shining bay?
Rather let me be drawn out
In one awful waterspout!”

Said the black-browed Hurricane,
Brooding down the Spanish Main,
“Shall I see my forces, zounds!
Measured by square inch and pounds,
With detectives at my back
When I double on my track,
And my secret paths made clear,
Published o’er the hemisphere
To each gaping, prying crew?
Shall I? Blow me if I do!”

So the Mountains shook and thundered,
And the Hurricane came sweeping,
And the people stared and wondered
As the Sea came on them leaping:
Each, according to his promise,
Made things lively at St. Thomas.

Till one morn, when Mr. Seward
Cast his weather eye to leeward,
There was not an inch of dry land
Left to mark his recent island.
Not a flagstaff or a sentry,
Not a wharf or port of entry,—
Only—to cut matters shorter—
Just a patch of muddy water
In the open ocean lying,
And a gull above it flying.

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