The Pathfinders

By George Sterling

Who has heard an echo of clarions from lost frontiers?
Who has seen lances and pennons on the horizon of time?

From Nome to Ushuaia,
From Reykjavic to Auckland,
From Mindanao to Kerguelen,
The trails are blazed, the sea-roads are charted,
The tables of the Law are set up,
That feebler folk may follow,
Follow with the sound of gold in the counting-house,
With the voice of the preacher in the God-house.
The pathfinders have done their work,
They that saw strange eagles on strange skies,
They whose sunsets were on unfurrowed waters.

By the stars that led them-
Orion striding down the heavens at the ice-melting,
Arcturus low in the west at the first snow-fall-
By the light of those stars on sword or rifle,
And on wet car and anchor,
By their light in the oceans they sought vainly
And in the hidden tears of failure,
The work is done; all the roads lie open
To the feet of the wise and feeble.

The pathfinders were foolhardy and strong;
None could stay them.
The tribes that went eastward from Asia ,
Who set up their gods on Easter Island ,
Who notched the cliffs of Arizona ,
Who built the serpent-mound in Ohio ,
Who made wampum on the dunes of Montauk-
All those who had their labor in vain:
The tide out of the Northeast has gone over them;
The waves from Europe have trampled them under,
Being merciless to the tribe,
In mercy to the race.

Moctezuma is dethroned
And the trail is made the highroad.
Manhattan thunders forever
Where the red deer leapt to the twang of the bow-string.

They were captains of the horizon
And pilots of unborn nations-
They whose birth-gifts were continents.
It was not for beauty that they went outward,
Heeding not the foam-altars of the moon-haunted West,
The silver vastitudes,
The unwandering sierras of cloudland,
The surf on far sands,
The afterglow on mountains where they were to die.
It was not for fame that they followed mysterious rivers,
And were thirsty in vulture-hung deserts,
And had respite from their weariness
At beautiful islands abandoned by Time:
Their gold was the gold of earth
And not the gold of their sunsets,
Nor knew they the end of their wayfaring.

The pathfinders have their reward;
They that dreamed treasure and conquest
Have been paid in unimagined payment;
Even the gold of strange stars,
Even the foam of new oceans,
Even the snows of unknown mountains.
It was not conceived when the first prows of Sidon
Rose to the ground-swell of the Atlantic ,
Nor when the Vikings went south with the berg,
Nor when Vizcaino lifted the Point of Sea Wolves-
Shaggy with cypress.
It was not for such reward that they labored-

That the sword made a place for the plow,
The plow for the till,
The till for the pulpit,
The guerdon was greater than they knew
That sleep in the barrows of oblivion,
Distant from the stars of their childhood.

They have rest forever, the pathfinders-
They whose trails were the first furrows
And whose lives the first harvest.
The anchors are down in still waters,
And the sails furled in the harbors of Golconda.
The Seven Cities of Cibola have opened wide their gates,
Whose gold is the gold of eternity,
Cancelled not as in the fading of sunset
Nor in the farewell of the star of evening.
The pathfinders have peace forever,
Having found the ports of infinity.
Their bones rest in the dusk of cathedrals,
And are strewn in the villages of the prairie-dog.
The pine needles of the sierra thatch their graves.
Hudson sleeps below the northern lights
And Balboa near to the ocean he discovered.
Da Gama has weathered a stormier Cape
And Franklin won through to the Great Sea.
Frémont has gone from the Gabilan Hills
And Pizarro from the court of the Incas.
The footprints of Carson are vanished
No less than the smoke of DeSoto's camp-fire
And the foam-wake of Magellan.
The halberds of Coronado are rusted,
And the shadow of Boone long gone from the war-trail
            of the Iriquois.
The cairns have crumbled;
The keels of Drake are sunken
And the five great emeralds of Cortez.

Peace to the dust of the conquerors,
Envoys to mystery
From Newfoundland to Singapore,
From Peconics to Tasmania,
From the keys of Florida to the Alaskan tundras!
Peace to the noble Sacajawea
And to all who slept at the trail-ends,
From the blood of Marquette and Cartier
To the flown breath of Scott and Shackleton!
They that felt the arrows of obsidian
Have no more need of shield and helmet.
They that saw the smoke of strange altars on new heavens
Shall hear no more the conchs of the barbarian,
Nor the long trumpets of ivory,
Nor the throbbing of the war-drums.
Peace to all who lie famed or forgotten-
The last igloos built,
The last keel stranded.
Peace to the renowned few, to innumerable unknown,
To the tomb of bronze and the grave in the desert!
They are hushed who dared Leviathan
And the dragons of Hesperia.
The frontiers of wonder are dissolved,
The purple kingdoms of the old mirage.
Leif Ericsson sleeps, and the fire that was Columbus,
But Time has new Atlantics.
The stars that they followed still go over;
Their voices are on the wind from the Northeast,
And their flags in the sunset.

Unrest, unrest, to all of their lineage!
The roads of earth are traced on a map:
The gulf of the heavens is uncharted.
We gaze from the coasts of the world
Upon the sea that is shoreless.
The arc of ocean blends with the arc of sky
And man shapes for himself new keels,
Daring a sea without harbors,
Whose tides are the winds of the firmament,
Whose islands the peaks of Andes and Himalaya.
The same air that filled the sails of the Norse galleys
And lifted the dust of the ox-teams
Sings now in the struts of the airplane.
The soul's eagle arches for the sky-dome:
Who will die that its trails be blazed,
Once and forever?
Who will go forth without weapons
And be lost in the regions of sunset?
The altars of azure demand a sacrifice.

Unrest, unrest, to all who come hereafter!
Unrest to the new pathfinders!
There is no anchorage in the atom
Nor sky-line to the universe.
They shall forecast the storms of the electrons
And the typhoons of the nebulae.
They shall hunger for strange countries
And make far roads;
They shall die in lone deserts
And sink in dark oceans-
Still hungry for the horizons of the mind,
For the West of the soul,
For the seas and lands that go on forever and ever.

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