On the Brow of the Hill

By James Stanley Gilbert

 

(The cemetery of Monkey Hill, or Mount Hopeby which latter name it is more euphoniously though less widely known—is situated about two miles to the southward of Colon, and overlooks a wide expanse of diversified tropical country. At its base lies the extensive plant of the Panama Canal Company, and, beyond, the straggling little city and broad Caribbean Sea. The spot was first used as a burial-place about the year 1853, shortly after the beginning of the work on the Panama Railroad.

 

Although of such recent origin, there is probably no more populous Necropolis in the New World; and while many of the tales that are told of it are considerably exaggerated, they all, unfortunately, have a foundation in fact.

 

Should Macaulay's Traveller in his lonely wanderings visit this tragic mount, visions, perhaps not so extensive, but certainly as melancholy as those which could appear to him on the ruins of London Bridge, would materially assist in his speculations upon the littleness of man and the barrenness of life.)

 

Beneath the sea the diving sun

Is searching for another day;

This weary one, its life work done,

Expires with yon swift-fading ray.

 

Low at my feet the drowsy town

Lies dully mute, awaiting sleep;

In gathering dusk the foothills frown,

And o'er the waves dark shadows creep.

 

Where once fierce toil the landscape blurred,

And greed's o'erweening passion dwelt,

Now only laggard steps are heard—

The pulse of life can scarce be felt.

 

The lights that pant with feeble breath

Anon will vanish in the gloom,

And in the very lair of Death

I muse upon an unknown tomb.

 

Around in graves thrice multiplied

The bones of countless thousands lie;

They found their wish here satisfied

Who sought a nod as Wealth passed by.

 

Success and Failure side by side

Enrich the dank and ocherous mold;

Conducted by the Pallid Guide,

Alike come here the faint and bold.

 

The envious and the kind of heart

On evil and on good intent

Out here perform one common part—

Their separate ways together blent.

 

The cunning scheme, the noble plan

That busy intellects evolved

Here find the worst and best of man—

Life's mazeful problem here is solved.

 

Yon rotting cross that marks the place

Of ended quest in stranger land

The cancelling months will soon efface,

Nor leave a vestige of it stand.

 

Yet hear the tale those ruins tell

Ere he who knows the story falls;

And tarrying on this hill of hell,

Obeys the last, most dread of calls.

 

The man whose dust commingles there

Belike with that of some low thief

Gave promise of a life as fair

As e'er succumbed to blighting grief.

 

He came in Fortune's crowded train

To wrest from her a fleeting smile;

Erelong he seemed his end to gain,

And reigned a favorite for a while.

 

Around him gather hosts of friends,

Whose praise and gifts are wondrous sweet;

Who watch that no harsh word offends,

And strew bright roses 'neath his feet.

 

Beloved by woman, sought by men,

His life is one continued joy;

He buys each pleasure o'er again,

Nor in the gold detects alloy.

 

What wonder that the reckless crew

His early teachings soon erase;

That their ideals his mind imbue—

His once keen moral sense debase!

 

On, on he travels down the road—

Laughs gaily in each sober face;

Just now he bears no heavy load—

Of coming care he sees no trace.

 

What use the story to prolong?

'Tis hackneyed—stale on every tongue:

The burden of each dismal song

That poets have for ages sung.

 

The smiles of Fortune are withdrawn—

Her fickle favors quickly end;

His satellites forget to fawn—

He seeks in vain one faithful friend.

 

In broken health, enfeebled mind,

To menials then for aid he flies;

And, lastly, failing that to find,

He hugs his misery—and dies.

 

A conscience-stricken one remains,

Who stealthily erects this cross,

Recording one of Hades' gains

And sadly marking Heaven's loss.

 

Bend low, thou gloomy, starless sky,

And in thy tears each hillock lave!

Sob on, thou mournful wind, and sigh

O'er stoneless tomb and nameless grave!

 

NOTE: James Stanley Gilbert and his friend and mentor Tracy Robinson were buried side-by-side at Mt. Hope—Monkey Hill. Their grave markers have been missing for many years and the exact location lost to history.