The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 110/The Sword of Bolivar

Featured in Volume 18, Number 110 of The Atlantic Monthly. (December 1866).

2336660The Atlantic Monthly — The Sword of Bolivar1866John Townsend Trowbridge


With the steadfast stars above us,
And the molten stars below,
We sailed through the Southern midnight,
By the coast of Mexico.

Alone, on the desolate, dark-ringed,
Rolling and flashing sea,
A grim old Venezuelan
Kept the deck with me,

And talked to me of his country,
And the long Spanish war,
And told how a young Republic
Forged the sword of Bolivar.

Of no base mundane metal
Was the wondrous weapon made,
And in no earth-born fire
Was fashioned the sacred blade.

But that it might shine the symbol
Of law and light in the land,
Dropped down as a star from heaven,
To flame in a hero's hand.

And be to the world a portent
Of eternal might and right,
They chose for the steel a splinter
From a fallen aerolite.

Then a virgin forge they builded
By the city, and kindled it
With flame from a shattered palm-tree,
Which the lightning's torch had lit,—

That no fire of earthly passion
Might taint the holy sword,
And no ancient error tarnish
The falchion of the Lord.

For Quito and New Granada
And Venezuela they pour
From three crucibles the dazzling
White meteoric ore.

In three ingots it is moulded,
And welded into one,
For an emblem of Colombia,
Bright daughter of the sun!

It is drawn on a virgin anvil,
It is heated and hammered and rolled,
It is shaped and tempered and burnished,
And set in a hilt of gold;

For thus by the fire and the hammer
Of war a nation is built,
And ever the sword of its power
Is swayed by a golden hilt.

Then with pomp and oratory
The mustachioed señores brought
To the house of the Liberator
The weapon they had wrought;

And they said, in their stately phrases,
"O mighty in peace and war!
No mortal blade we bring you,
But a flaming meteor.

"The sword of the Spaniard is broken,
And to you in its stead is given,
To lead and redeem a nation,
This ray of light from heaven."

The gaunt-faced Liberator
From their hands the symbol took,
And waved it aloft in the sunlight,
With a high, heroic look;

And he called the saints to witness:
"May these lips turn into dust,
And this right hand fail, if ever
It prove recreant to its trust!

"Never the sigh of a bondman
Shall cloud this gleaming steel,
But only the foe and the traitor
Its vengeful edge shall feel.

"Never a tear of my country
Its purity shall stain,
Till into your hands, who gave it,
I render it again."

Now if ever a chief was chosen
To cover a cause with shame,
And if ever there breathed a caitiff,
Bolivar was his name.

From his place among the people
To the highest seat he went,
By the winding paths of party
And the stair of accident.

A restless, weak usurper,
Striving to rear a throne,
Filling his fame with counsels
And conquests not his own;—

Now seeming to put from him
The sceptre of command,
Only that he might grasp it
With yet a firmer hand;—

His country's trusted leader,
In league with his country's foes,
Stabbing the cause that nursed him,
And openly serving those;—

The chief of a great republic
Plotting rebellion still,—
An apostate faithful only
To his own ambitious will.

Drunk with a vain ambition,
In his feeble, reckless hand,
The sword of Eternal Justice
Became but a brawler's brand.

And Colombia was dissevered,
Rent by factions, till at last
Her name among the nations
Is a memory of the past.

Here the grim old Venezuelan
Puffed fiercely his red cigar
A brief moment, then in the ocean
It vanished like a star;

And he slumbered in his hammock;
And only the ceaseless rush
Of the reeling and sparkling waters
Filled the solemn midnight hush,

As I leaned by the swinging gunwale
Of the good ship, sailing slow,
With the steadfast heavens above her,
And the molten heavens below.

Then I thought with sorrow and yearning
Of my own distracted land,
And the sword let down from heaven
To flame in her ruler's hand,—

The sword of Freedom, resplendent
As a beam of the morning star,
Received, reviled, and dishonored
By another than Bolivar!

And my prayers flew home to my country:
O ye tried and fearless crew!
O ye pilots of the nation!
Now her safety is with you.

Beware the traitorous captain,
And the wreckers on the shore;
Guard well the noble vessel;
And steadily evermore,

As ye steer through the perilous midnight,
Let your faithful glances go
To the steadfast stars above her,
From their fickle gleams below.

This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

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