TO THE SPANISH EXPEDITION FOR THE PROMOTION OF VACCINATION IN AMERICA, UNDER DON FRANCISCO BALMIS
Fair Virgin of the world, America!
Thou who so innocent to heaven display'st
Thy bosom stored with plenty's rich array,
And brow of gentle youth! Thou, who so graced
The tenderest and most lovely of the zones
Of mother Earth to shine, shouldst be of fate
The sweet delight and favour'd love it owns,
That but pursues thee with relentless hate,
Hear me! If ever was a time mine eyes,
When scanning thy eventful history,
Did not burst forth in tears; if could thy cries
My heart e'er hear unmoved, from pity free
And indignation; then let me disclaim'd
Of virtue be eternally as held,
And barbarous and wicked be one named
As those who with such ruin thee assail'd.
In the eternal book of life are borne,
Written in blood, those cries, which then sent forth
Thy lips to Heaven, such fury doom'd to mourn,
And yet against my country call in wrath.
Forbidding glory and success attend
The fatal field of crimes. Will they ne'er cease?
Will not the bitter expiation end
Sufficed of three eventful centuries?
We are not now those who on daring's wing,
Before the world, the Atlantic's depths disdain'd,
And from the silence found thee covering,
That fiercely tore thee, bleeding and enchain'd!
«No, ye are not the same. But my lament
Is not for this to cease: I could forget
The rigours which my conquerors relent,
Their avarice with cruelties beset:
The crime was of the age, and not of Spain.
But when can I forget the evils sore
Which I must miserably yet sustain?
Among them one, come, see what I deplore,
If horror will not you deter. From you,
Your fatal ships first launch'd, the mortal pest,
The poison that now desolates me flew.
As in doom'd plains by ruthless foes oppress'd,
As serpent that incessantly devours,
So ever from your coming, to consume
Has it raged o'er me. See here, how it lowers!
And in the hidden place of death and gloom,
Buries my children and my loves. Affords
Your skill no remedy? O! ye, who call
Yourselves as of America the lords,
Have pity on my agony. See, fall
Beneath your insane fury, not sufficed
One generation, but a hundred slain!
And I expiring, desolate, unprized,
Beseech assistance, and beseech in vain».
Such were the cries that to Olympus rose,
When in the fields of Albion found remote,
Variola's fell havocs to oppose,
Kind Nature show'd the happy antidote.
The docile mother of the herd was found
Enrich'd with this great gift; there stored attent
Where from her copious milky founts around
She gives so many life and aliment.
Jenner to mortals first the gift reveal'd:
Thenceforward mothers to their hearts could press
Their children without fear to lose them heal'd;
Nor fear'd thenceforward in her loveliness
The maiden, lest the fatal venom spoil
Her cheek of roses, or her brow of snow.
All Europe then is join'd in grateful toil,
For gift so precious and immense to know,
In praises loud to echo Jenner's name;
And altars to his skill to raise decrees,
There to long ages hallowing his fame,
Beside their tutelar divinities.
Of such a glory at the radiant light,
With noble emulation fill'd his breast,
A Spaniard rose,--«Let not my country slight»,
He cried, «on such a great occasion's test,
Her ancient magnanimity to employ.
'Tis fortune's gift discovering it alone;
That let an Englishman his right enjoy.
Let Spain's sublime and generous heart be shown,
Giving her majesty more honour true,
By carrying this treasure to the lands
Which most the evil's dire oppressions knew.
There, for I feel a deity commands,
There will I fly, and of the raging wave
Will brave in bearing it the furious strife;
America's infested plains to save
From death, as planting there the tree of life».
He spoke, and scarcely from his burning lip
These echoes had beneficently flowed,
When floating in the port, prepared the ship,
To give commencement to so blest a road,
Moved spreading her white canvas to the air.
On his fate launch'd himself the aëronaut.
Waves of the sea, in favouring calmness bear,
As sacred, this deposit to be brought
Through your serene and liquid fields. There goes
Of thousand generations long the hope;
Nor whelm it, nor let thunder it oppose;
Arrest the lightning, with no storms to cope,
Stay them until that from those fertile shores
Come forth the prows, triumphant in their pride,
That fraught remote with all their golden stores,
With vice and curses also come allied.
Honour to Balmis! O, heroic soul!
That in such noble toil devotest thy breath,
Go fearless to thy end. The dreadful roll
Of ocean always hoarse, and threatening death;
The fearful whirlpool's all-devouring throat,
The cavern'd rock's black face, where dash'd by fate,
Break the wreck'd barks, the dangers they denote
Greatest are not most cruel thee that wait.
From man expect them! Impious, envious man,
In error wrapped and blind, will prove him bent,
When hush'd against thee is the hurricane,
To combat rough the generous intent.
But firmly and secure press forward on;
And hold in mind, when comes for strife the day,
That without constant, anxious toil, can none
Hope glory's palms to seize, and bear away.
At length thou comest; America salutes
Her benefactor, and at once her veins
The destined balm to purify deputes.
A further generous ardour then regains
Thy breast; and thou, obedient to the hand
Divine that leads thee, turn'st the sounding prow
Where Ganges rolls, and every Eastern land
The gift may take. The Southern Ocean now
Astonished sees thee, o'er her mighty breast
Untiring passing. Luzon thee admires,
Good always sowing on thy road impress'd:
And as it China's toilsome shore acquires,
Confucius from his tomb of honour'd fame,
If could his venerable form arise,
To see it in glad wonder might exclaim,
«'Twas worthy of my virtue, this emprise!»
Right worthy was it of thee, mighty sage!
Worthy of that divine and highest light,
Which reason and which virtue erst array'd
To shine in happier days, now quench'd in night.
Thou, Balmis! never mayst return; nor grows
In Europe now the sacred laurel meet
With which to crown thee. There in calm repose,
Where peace and independence a retreat
May find, there rest thee! where thou mayst receive
At length the august reward of deeds so blest.
Nations immense shall come for thee to grieve,
Raising in grateful hymns to Heaven address'd
Thy name with fervorous zeal. And though now laid
In the cold tomb's dark precincts thou refuse
To hear them, listen to them thus convey'd
At least, as in the accents of my Muse.
Manuel José Quintana, diciembre 1806
Translation by James Kennedy
James Kennedy. "Modern poets and poetry of Spain" (1860). Produced by Cornell University Library, 1992.