Port Royal

by Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau

HERE, by the margin of the murmuring main,
While her proud remnants I explore in vain,
And lonely stray through these dejected lands
Fann’d by the noon-tide breeze on burning sands,
Where the dull Spaniard once possess’d these shades,
And ports defended by his palisades—
Though lost to us, Port Royal claims a sigh,
Nor shall the muse the unenvied verse deny.
  Of all the towns that graced Jamaica’s isle,
This was her glory, and the proudest pile,
Where toils on toils bade wealth’s gay structures rise,
And commerce swell’d her glory to the skies:
St Jago, seated on a distant plain,
Ne’er saw the tall ship entering from the main,
Unnoticed streams her Cobra’s margin lave,
Where yon tall plantains shade her glowing wave,
And burning sands, or rock-surrounded hill
Confess its founder’s fears—or want of skill.
  While o’er these wastes with wearied step I go,
Past scenes of death return, in all their wo,
O’er these sad shores, in angry pomp he pass’d,
Moved in the winds, and raged with every blast—
Here, opening gulphs confess’d the Almighty hand,
Here, the dark ocean roll’d across the land,
Here, piles on piles an instant tore away,
Here, crowds on crowds in mingled ruin lay,
Whom fate scarce gave to end their noon-day feast,
Or time to call the sexton, or the priest.
Where yon tall bark, with all her ponderous load,
Commits her anchor to its dark abode,
Eight fathoms down, where unseen waters flow,
To quench the sulphur of the caves below:
There midnight sounds torment the sailors ear,
And drums and fifes play drowsy concerts there,
Sad songs of wo prevent the hour of sleep,
And fancy aids the fiddlers of the deep;
Dull Superstition hears the ghostly hum,
Smit with the terrors of the world to come.
  What now is left of all your boasted pride!
Lost are those glories that were spread so wide,
A spit of sand is thine by heaven’s decree,
And wasting shores that scarce resist the sea:
Is this Port Royal on Jamaica’s coast,
The Spaniard’s envy, and the Briton’s boast!
A shatter’d roof o’er every hut appears,
And mouldering brick work prompts the traveller’s fears;
A church, with half a priest, I grieve to see,
Grass round its door, and rust upon its key!—
One only inn with tiresome search I found
Where one sad negro dealt his beverage round;—
His was the part to wait the impatient call,
He was the landlord, post-boy, pimp, and all;
His wary eyes on every side were cast,
Beheld the present, and revolved the past,
Now here, now there, in swift succession stole,
Glanced at the bar, or watch’d the unsteady bowl.
  No sprightly lads or gay bewitching maids
Walk on these wastes, or wander in these shades;
To other shores past times beheld them go,
And some are slumbering in the caves below;
A negro tribe but ill their place supply,
With bending back, short hair, and downcast eye;
A swarthy race lead up the evening dance,
Trip o’er the sands and dart the alluring glance:
A feeble rampart guards the unlucky town,
Where banish’d tories come to seek renown,
Where worn out slaves their bowls of beer retail,
And sunburnt strumpets watch the approaching sail.
  Here (scarce escaped the wild tornado’s rage,)
Why sail’d I here to swell my future page!
To these dull scenes with eager haste I came
To trace the relics of their ancient fame,
Not worth the search!—what domes are left to fall,
Guns, gales, and earthquakes shall destroy them all—
All shall be lost!—though hosts their aid implore,
The Twelve Apostles shall protect no more,
Nor guardian heroes awe the impoverish’d plain;
No priest shall mutter, and no church remain,
Nor this palmetto yield her evening shade,
Where the dark negro his dull music play’d,
Or casts his view beyond the adjacent strand,
And points, still grieving, to his native land,
Turns and returns from yonder murmuring shore,
And pants for countries he must see no more.
  Where shall I go, what Lethe shall I find
To drive these dark ideas from my mind!
No buckram heroes can relieve the eye,
And George’s honors only raise a sigh—
  Ye mountains vast, whose heights the heaven sustain,
Adieu, ye mountains, and fair Kingston’s plain,
Where nature still the toils of art transcends—
In this dull spot the enchanting prospect ends:
Where burning sands are wing’d by every blast,
And these mean fabrics but entomb the past;
Where want, and death, and care, and grief reside,
And threatening moons advance the imperious tide,
Ye stormy winds, awhile your wrath suspend;
Who leaves the land, a bottle, and a friend,
Quits this bright isle for yon blue seas and sky,
Or even Port Royal quits—without a sigh!

Last updated January 11, 2023