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The Columbiad: Book IX

Joel Barlow 1754 (Redding) – 1812 (Żarnowiec)



The Argument

Vision suspended. Night scene, as contemplated from the mount of vision. Columbus inquires the reason of the slow progress of science, and its frequent interruptions. Hesper answers, that all things in the physical as well as the moral and intellectual world are progressive in like manner. He traces their progress from the birth of the universe to the present state of the earth and its inhabitants; asserts the future advancement of society, till perpetual peace shall be established. Columbus proposes his doubts; alleges in support of them the successive rise and downfal of ancient nations; and infers future and periodical convulsions. Hesper, in answer, exhibits the great distinction between the ancient and modern state of the arts and of society. Crusades. Commerce. Hanseatic League. Copernicus. Kepler. Newton, Galileo. Herschel. Descartes. Bacon. Printing Press. Magnetic Needle. Geographical discoveries. Federal system in America. A similar system to be extended over the whole earth. Columbus desires a view of this.

But now had Hesper from the Hero's sight
Veil'd the vast world with sudden shades of night.
Earth, sea and heaven, where'er he turns his eye,
Arch out immense, like one surrounding sky
Lamp'd with reverberant fires. The starry train
Paint their fresh forms beneath the placid main;
Fair Cynthia here her face reflected laves,
Bright Venus gilds again her natal waves,
The Bear redoubling foams with fiery joles,
And two dire dragons twine two arctic poles.
Lights o'er the land, from cities lost in shade,
New constellations, new galaxies spread,
And each high pharos double flames provides,
One from its fires, one fainter from the tides.

Centred sublime in this bivaulted sphere,
On all sides void, unbounded, calm and clear,
Soft o'er the Pair a lambent lustre plays,
Their seat still cheering with concentred rays;
To converse grave the soothing shades invite.
And on his Guide Columbus fixt his sight:
Kind messenger of heaven, he thus began,
Why this progressive laboring search of man?
If men by slow degrees have power to reach
These opening truths that long dim ages teach,
If, school'd in woes and tortured on to thought,
Passion absorbing what experience taught,
Still thro the devious painful paths they wind,
And to sound wisdom lead at last the mind,
Why did not bounteous nature, at their birth,
Give all their science to these sons of earth,
Pour on their reasoning powers pellucid day,
Their arts, their interests clear as light display?
That error, madness and sectarian strife
Might find no place to havock human life.

To whom the guardian Power: To thee is given
To hold high converse and inquire of heaven,
To mark untraversed ages, and to trace
Whate'er improves and what impedes thy race.
Know then, progressive are the paths we go
In worlds above thee, as in thine below
Nature herself (whose grasp of time and place
Deals out duration and impalms all space)
Moves in progressive march; but where to tend,
What course to compass, how the march must end,
Her sons decide not; yet her works we greet
Imperfect in their parts, but in their whole complete.

When erst her hand the crust of Chaos thirl'd,
And forced from his black breast the bursting world,
High swell'd the huge existence crude and crass,
A formless dark impermeated mass;
No light nor heat nor cold nor moist nor dry,
But all concocting in their causes lie.
Millions of periods, such as these her spheres
Learn since to measure and to call their years,
She broods the mass; then into motion brings
And seeks and sorts the principles of things,
Pours in the attractive and repulsive force,
Whirls forth her globes in cosmogyral course,
By myriads and by millions, scaled sublime,
To scoop their skies, and curve the rounds of time.

She groups their systems, lots to each his place,
Strow'd thro immensity, and drown'd in space,
All yet unseen; till light at last begun,
And every system found a centred sun,
Call'd to his neighbor and exchanged from far
His infant gleams with every social star;
Rays thwarting rays and skies o'erarching skies
Robed their dim planets with commingling dyes,
Hung o'er each heaven their living lamps serene,
And tinged with blue the frore expanse between:
Then joyous Nature hail'd the golden morn,
Drank the young beam, beheld her empire born.

Lo the majestic movement! there they trace
Their blank infinitudes of time and space,
Vault with careering curves her central goal,
Pour forth her day and stud her evening stole,
Heedless of count; their numbers still unknown,
Unmeasured s
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Joel Barlow

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

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