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The Columbiad: Book I

Joel Barlow 1754 (Redding) – 1812 (Żarnowiec)

The Argument

Natives of America appear in vision. Their manners and characters. Columbus demands the cause of the dissimilarity of men in different countries, Hesper replies, That the human body is composed of a due proportion of the elements suited to the place of its first formation; that these elements, differently proportioned, produce all the changes of health, sickness, growth and decay; and may likewise produce any other changes which occasion the diversity of men; that these elemental proportions are varied, not more by climate than temperature and other local circumstances; that the mind is likewise in a state of change, and will take its physical character from the body and from external objects: examples. Inquiry concerning the first peopling of America. View of Mexico. Its destruction by Cortez. View of Cusco and Quito, cities of Peru. Tradition of Capac and Oella, founders of the Peruvian empire. Columbus inquires into their real history. Hesper gives an account of their origin, and relates the stratagems they used in establishing that empire.

I sing the Mariner who first unfurl'd
An eastern banner o'er the western world,
And taught mankind where future empires lay
In these fair confines of descending day;
Who sway'd a moment, with vicarious power,
Iberia's sceptre on the new found shore,
Then saw the paths his virtuous steps had trod
Pursued by avarice and defiled with blood,
The tribes he foster'd with paternal toil
Snatch'd from his hand, and slaughter'd for their spoil.

Slaves, kings, adventurers, envious of his name,
Enjoy'd his labours and purloin'd his fame,
And gave the Viceroy, from his high seat hurl'd.
Chains for a crown, a prison for a world
Long overwhelm'd in woes, and sickening there,
He met the slow still march of black despair,
Sought the last refuge from his hopeless doom,
And wish'd from thankless men a peaceful tomb:
Till vision'd ages, opening on his eyes,
Cheer'd his sad soul, and bade new nations rise;
He saw the Atlantic heaven with light o'ercast,
And Freedom crown his glorious work at last.

Almighty Freedom! give my venturous song
The force, the charm that to thy voice belong;
Tis thine to shape my course, to light my way,
To nerve my country with the patriot lay,
To teach all men where all their interest lies,
How rulers may be just and nations wise:
Strong in thy strength I bend no suppliant knee,
Invoke no miracle, no Muse but thee.

Night held on old Castile her silent reign,
Her half orb'd moon declining to the main;
O'er Valladolid's regal turrets hazed
The drizzly fogs from dull Pisuerga raised;
Whose hovering sheets, along the welkin driven,
Thinn'd the pale stars, and shut the eye from heaven.
Cold-hearted Ferdinand his pillow prest,
Nor dream'd of those his mandates robb'd of rest,
Of him who gemm'd his crown, who stretch'd his reign
To realms that weigh'd the tenfold poise of Spain;
Who now beneath his tower indungeon'd lies,
Sweats the chill sod and breathes inclement skies.

His feverish pulse, slow laboring thro his frame,
Feeds with scant force its fast expiring flame;
A far dim watch-lamp's thrice reflected beam
Throws thro his grates a mist-encumber'd gleam,
Paints the dun vapors that the cell invade,
And fills with spectred forms the midnight shade;
When from a visionary short repose,
That nursed new cares and temper'd keener woes,
Columbus woke, and to the walls addrest
The deep felt sorrows bursting from his breast:

Here lies the purchase, here the wretched spoil
Of painful years and persevering toil.
For these damp caves, this hideous haunt of
pain,
I traced new regions o'er the chartless main,
Tamed all the dangers of untraversed waves,
Hung o'er their clefts, and topt their surging graves,
Saw traitorous seas o'er coral mountains sweep,
Red thunders rock the pole and scorch the deep,
Death rear his front in every varying form,
Gape from the shoals and ride the roaring storm,
My struggling bark her seamy planks disjoin,
Rake the rude rock and drink the copious brine.
Till the tired elements are lull'd at last,
And milder suns allay the billowing blast,
Lead on the trade winds with unvarying force,
And long and landless curve our constant course.

Our homeward heaven recoils; each night forlorn
Calls up new stars, and backward rolls the morn;
The boreal vault descends with Europe's shore,
And bright Calisto shuns the wave no more,
The Dragon dips his fiery-foaming jole,
The affrighted magnet flies the faithless pole;
Nature portends a general change of laws,
My daring deeds are deemed the guilty cause;
The des
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:58 min read
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Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow was an American poet, diplomat, and politician. more…

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