May 12, 2013

A dream came to a sailor bold

400 years after Christopher Columbus "sailed the ocean blue," a society of New Yorkers donated a statue of the explorer. It was finally installed and unveiled in Central Park on May 12, 1894. The aging Julia Ward Howe was invited to read a special poem written for the occasion, "The Mariner's Dream":

Where shall we find the golden key
That opes to peace and liberty?
The earth is full of grievous wars,
The soldier's tread her beauty mars,
The captive's chains are fast and locked,
The poor man by the rich man mocked.
The promise of the Christ we hear,
But who shall bring fulfillment near?

The poem predicts the founding of the United States as a land of "peace and liberty" and equality — and, certainly, of prosperity:

A dream came to a sailor bold,
A happy dream of good untold;
And a little bird sang: "Follow me
Westward, over the unknown sea.
A star shall lead thy chosen band,
And bring thy slender craft to land.
Beyond the waters thou shalt find
Regions of splendor unconfined,
Where giant rivers fruitful flow,
Where birds of tropic plumage glow,
Where the old treasures of thy race
Shall grow and multiply apace.
And ancient Rule renew its health
In a new glorious commonwealth."

The dreamer waking, bowed his head,
And on the wondrous errand sped.
With pleading rare he wrung the gold
From hands reluctant to unfold,
And loosing from old Europe's shore
Sailed westward, westward evermore.

Looking forward to a land "where sounded ne'er the Christian word," the poetic Columbus embarks on what he calls "Earth's noblest conquest." Though his crew is "distrustful," he vows to fulfill this vision, even if "all mankind" turns against him. This boldness, Howe notes, is now recognized as "millions of voices" sing in praise of Columbus.

Here gather we in Gotham town,
Of all our western world the crown,
While ladies fair and gallants gay
Unite to celebrate the day.
But while we list the high discourse,
And while the Paean has its course,
Let Faith re-consecrate this form,
Adventured once 'gainst sea and storm.

For 'twas this hand that held the key,
Unlocking Peace and Liberty.
When all we have and all we are
Hung on the guidance of a star,
And on the answer, dimly guessed
In one resolved, responsive breast.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the poem, which I'd never seen before.

    But I'm looking at it through the eyes of the Native Americans....

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