Prayer of Columbus: by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

Also Read


      Summary. Prayer of Columbus is a poem of sixty-six lines purported to be the soliloquy of Columbus as well as a prayer to God by him at the time when he was compelled to land near an island of the West Indies, Jamaica. There he was held up for the whole of the year 1503. He had to suffer a lot due to the animosity of the native people and revolt of his own crew.

      In the opening lines of Prayer of Columbus, he gives vent to his sorrow, a battered wrecked old man thrown on the savage shores far from his homeland. Then he prays to God that unless he surrendered himself unto God he would not have rest or mental peace. Unable to eat, drink or sleep he recalls how since the days of his early youth he was devoted to an ideal (of discovering a new route to India) and how he had full faith in God. He was willing to accept good or bad as the gift from God. His were the intentions, purports and aspirations but he left the results to God. This particular doctrine is the Nishkama Karma (Duty without undue attachment) theory of the Bhagavad Gita which the poet refers to in his long famous poem Passage to India. Columbus felt that his ardor, urge and unconquerable will was due to a message from the Heavens that whispered to him even in his sleep. He was therefore successful in rounding and tying the hemispheres together, uniting the unknown land, with the known. Though at that time Columbus had to face failure of his mission he had firm belief in the ultimate success of his mission through himself or others after him. He visualized a good future in the long years to come.

Dim ever-shifting guesses of it spread before me,
Of newer better worlds, their mighty parturition,
Mocking, perplexing me.

      The closing lines are truly prophetic:

And on the distant waves sail countless ships,
And Anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me.

       Critical Analysis. This monologue in praise of God cannot but make a powerful impact on every reader whether American, European or Asiatic in origin. It has a mystic and religious fervor despite the sorrowful note in the beginning and in the middle. But the optimistic vision of the future is highly soothing and ennobling. The pious and devotional ardor of Columbus, probably conceived by Whitman without historical and factual corroboration is something necessary in the context - the precarious situation that Columbus found himself in. His loyalty and devotion to God and staunch adherence to his duty is something worth emulating.

Previous Post Next Post