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Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic

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Author Topic: Tales of the Enchanted Islands of the Atlantic  (Read 3855 times)
Lisa Wolfe
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« Reply #120 on: January 27, 2009, 11:49:40 pm »

then it was carried south again, and was supposed all the time to change its place through enchantment, and when Emanuel of Portugal, in 1519, renounced all claim to it, he described it as "The Hidden Island." In 1570 a Portuguese expedition was sent which claimed actually to have touched the mysterious island, indeed to have found there the vast impression of a human foot--doubtless of the baptized giant Mildus--and also a cross nailed to a tree, and three stones laid in a triangle for cooking food. Departing hastily from the island, they left two sailors behind, but could never find the place again.

Again and again expeditions were sent out in search of St. Brandan's island, usually from the Canaries--one in 1604 by Acosta, one in 1721 by Dominguez; and several sketches of the island, as seen from a distance, were published in 1759 by a Franciscan priest in the Canary Islands, named Viere y Clarijo, including one made by himself on May 3, 1759, about 6 A.M., in presence of more than forty witnesses. All these sketches depict the island as having its chief length from north to south, and formed of two unequal hills, the highest of these being at the north, they having between them a depression covered with trees. The fact that this resembles the general form of Palma, one of the Canary Islands, has led to the belief that it may have been an ocean mirage, reproducing the image of that island, just as the legends themselves reproduce, here and there, the traditions of the "Arabian Nights."

In a map drawn by the Florentine physician, Toscanelli, which was sent by him to Columbus in 1474 to give his impression of the Asiatic coast,--lying, as he supposed, across the Atlantic,--there appears the island of St. Brandan. It is as large as all the Azores or Canary Islands or Cape de Verde Islands

p. 241

put together; its southern tip just touches the equator, and it lies about half-way between the Cape de Verde Islands and Zipangu or Japan, which was then believed to lie on the other side of the Atlantic. Mr. Winsor also tells us that the apparition of this island "sometimes came to sailors' eyes" as late as the last century (Winsor's "Columbus," 112).

He also gives a reproduction of Toscanelli's map now lost, as far as can be inferred from descriptions (Winsor, p. 110).

The following is Matthew Arnold's poem:--


    SAINT BRANDAN

Saint Brandan sails the northern main;
The brotherhoods of saints are glad.
He greets them once, he sails again;
So late!--such storms!--the Saint is mad!

He heard, across the howling seas,
Chime convent-bells on wintry nights;
He saw, on spray-swept Hebrides,
Twinkle the monastery lights;

But north, still north, Saint Brandan steer’d--
And now no bells, no convents more!
The hurtling Polar lights are near’d,
The sea without a human shore.

At last--(it was the Christmas-night;
Stars shone after a day of storm)--
He sees float past an iceberg white,
And on it--Christ!--a living form. p. 242

That furtive mien, that scowling eye,
Of hair that red and tufted fell--
It is--oh, where shall Brandan fly?--
The traitor Judas, out of hell!

Palsied with terror, Brandan sate;
The moon was bright, the iceberg near.
He hears a voice sigh humbly: "Wait!
By high permission I am here.

"One moment wait, thou holy man!
On earth my crime, my death, they knew;
My name is under all men's ban--
Ah, tell them of my respite, too!

"Tell them, one blessed Christmas-night--
(It was the first after I came,
Breathing self-murder, frenzy, spite,
To rue my guilt in endless flame)--

"I felt, as I in torment lay
'Mid the souls plagued by heavenly power,
An angel touch my arm and say:
Go hence, and cool thyself an hour!

"'Ah, whence this mercy, Lord?' I said;
The Leper recollect, said he,
Who ask’d the passers-by for aid,
In Joppa, and thy charity. p. 243

"Then I remember’d how I went,
In Joppa, through the public street,
One morn when the sirocco spent
Its storm of dust with burning heat;

"And in the street a leper sate,
Shivering with fever, naked, old;
Sand raked his sores from heel to pate,
The hot wind fever’d him five-fold.

"He gazed upon me as I pass’d,
And murmur’d: Help me, or I die!--
To the poor wretch my cloak I cast,
Saw him look eased, and hurried by.

"Oh, Brandan, think what grace divine,
What blessing must full goodness shower,
When fragment of it small, like mine,
Hath such inestimable power!

"Well-fed, well-clothed, well-friended, I
Did that chance act of good, that one!
Then went my way to kill and lie--
Forgot my good as soon as done.

"That germ of kindness, in the womb
Of mercy caught, did not expire;
Outlives my guilt, outlives my doom,
And friends me in this pit of fire. p. 244

"Once every year, when carols wake
On earth the Christmas-night's repose,
Arising from the sinner's lake,
I journey to these healing snows.

"I stanch with ice my burning breast,
With silence balm my whirling brain;
O Brandan! to this hour of rest
That Joppan leper's ease was pain."

Tears started to Saint Brandan's eyes;
He bow’d his head, he breathed a prayer--
Then look’d, and lo, the frosty skies!
The iceberg, and no Judas there!

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If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do. The smallest act of kindness can be the greatest thing in the world.
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