Treasure Trove

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

We were a crew of what you please,
Men with the lust of gold gone mad;
Dutch and Yankee and Portuguese,
With a nigger or two from Trinidad,
The scum of the Caribbees:
Outbound, outbound for a treasure ground,
A pirate isle no man had found,
A long-lost isle in the Southern Seas,
An isle of the Southern Seas.

We sailed our ship by a chart we bore,
The parchment script of a buccaneer,
Whose skeleton, found on a Carib shore,
Had kept its secret for many a year,
Locked in a buckle of belt it wore.
And the dim chart told of buried gold,
A hidden harbor and pirate hold,
On an isle that seamen touched no more,
That sailors knew no more.

We were a crew of Devil-may-care,
Who staked our lives on a bit of a scrawl;
Who diced each other for lot and share
Or ever we hoisted sail at all,
Or the brine blew through our hair.
At last with a hail for calm or gale,
The wind of adventure in our sail,
We piped up anchor and did our dare,
Steered for the Island there.

From Porto Bello to Isle of France,
And thence South East our chart read plain:
We followed the route of old Romance,
The plate-ship route of the Spanish Main,
The old wild route of Chance.
Black Beard sailed it and Jean Lafitte;
And Drake and Morgan, and many a fleet
Of pillage once that led the dance,
Spain's golden-galleon dance.

Moidores, guineas, and pieces-of-eight;
Doubloons round as the gibbous moon;
All the wealth that they sacked as freight
In the good old days' of the piccaroon,
We dreamed of soon and late:
And gems of the East, of which the least
Would grace a Khan's or a Caliph's feast,
And chest on chest of Spanish plate,
Great chests of Spanish plate.

The wind blew fair from Panama;
For a month the wind blew fair and free;
We steered our ship by the gold we saw
In the far-off script of a century,
Wherein men knew no law.
We held our course, for better or worse,
Now with a song and now with a curse,
According to the lots we'd draw,
Rum or the lots we'd draw.

We had not reckoned on destiny,
And him all seamen dread, they say,
That captain, old in infamy,
Who holds to Hell till the Judgment Day,
And takes of Earth his fee.
Oh, black and black is the South Sea track
Of the skeleton Captain, Yellow Jack,
Who sweeps with his boneyard crew the sea,
The hurricane-haunted sea.

. . . . . .

Six weeks we lay in the doldrums; dead;
Six weeks that rotted us with delay,
Till a gale sprang up and drove us ahead,
Out of our course, for a week and a day,
Till we deemed we were Dutchman-led.
When the gale was done, why, one by one,
The scurvy took us, every son,
And mutiny down in the hold was bred,
Mutiny then was bred.

At last on our bow we sighted shore,
A wild crag circled of cloud and sea;
Our pirate isle, where ceaselessly
The rock-fanged surf kept up its roar
Round a towering bluff and tree,
Where the chart was marked that the gold should be:
Cliffs that the seafowl clamored o'er,
With the dragging seaweed hoar.

A smudge of mist and a gleam that died,
And a muttering down below
And night was on us at a stride,
And, God! how it came to blow!
And a man went over the side:
Then fore and aft of our crazy craft
Corposants glimmered and Madness laughed,
And a voice from the Island wild replied,
A dæmon voice replied.

Three nights and days of the hurncane's rage.
What curse now held us off!
We never would win to an anchorage,
We thought, when, ho! with a scoff
The Island thundered, "Come take your wage!"
And, lo, that night by the thin moonlight
We found our ship in a bay or bight,
That seemed a part of another age,
A far-off pirate age.

Our ship a-leak and her pumps all jammed
We won to the Harbor of Yellow Jack;
And so it was that he took command
And hoisted his skeleton flag of black,
And our decks with dead men crammed.
But we we found the treasure ground
Where some went mad and some were drowned
For the gold, you see, was damned, was damned,
The gold you see was damned.

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