The Day of Doom, a quintessentially Puritan poem of over 200 eight-line stanzas vividly describing Judgment Day and the torments awaiting sinners in Hell, was the first book of poetry printed in the American Colonies and the first American bestseller. Its author, Michael Wigglesworth, graduated from Harvard in 1651 and served the town of Malden, Mass., as minister and physician. The day of doom is the foundation of any collection of early American literature, yet it is also one of the legendary rarities of early American printing. Only one fragmentary copy survives of the first edition, printed in Cambridge, Mass., ca. 1662, and only four fragmentary copies of the second edition of 1666.
I will be posting this edifying New England poem here at ConnectHook soon.
I discovered it in this excellent anthology I purchased recently:
Now the Peruvians, in collected might,
With one wide stroke had wing’d the savage flight
But their bright Godhead, in his midday race,
With glooms unusual veil’d his radiant face,
Quench’d all his beams, tho cloudless, in affright,
As loth to view from heaven the finish’d fight.
A trembling twilight o’er the welkin moves,
Browns the dim void, and darkens deep the groves;
The waking stars, embolden’d at the sight,
Peep out and gem the anticipated night…
When pious Capac to the listening crowd
Raised high his wand and pour’d his voice aloud:
Ye chiefs and warriors of Peruvian race,
Some sore offence obscures my father’s face;
What moves the Numen to desert the plain,
Nor save his children, nor behold them slain?
Fly! speed your course, regain the guardian town,
Ere darkness shroud you in a deeper frown;
The faithful walls your squadrons shall defend,
While my sad steps the sacred dome ascend,
To learn the cause, and ward the woes we fear:
Haste, haste, my sons! I guard the flying rear…
excerpt from: The Columbiad, Book III by Joel Barlow
The clime where Quito since hath rear’d her fanes,
And now no more her barbarous rites maintains.
He saw these vales in richer blooms array’d,
And tribes more numerous haunt the woodland shade…
Yet softer fires his daring views control,
And mixt emotions fill his changing soul.
Shall genius rare, that might the world improve,
Bend to the milder voice of careless love,
That bounds his glories, and forbids to part
From bowers that woo’d his fluctuating heart?
Or shall the toils imperial heroes claim
Fire his brave bosom with a patriot flame,
Bid sceptres wait him on Peruvia’s shore,
And loved Oella meet his eyes no more?
Sudden his near approach the maid alarms;
He flew enraptured to her yielding arms,
And lost, dissolving in a softer flame,
His distant empire and the fire of fame.
At length, retiring thro the homeward field,
Their glowing souls to cooler converse yield;
O’er various scenes of blissful life they ran,
When thus the warrior to the maid began:
Long have we mark’d the inauspicious reign
That waits our sceptre in this rough domain;
A soil ungrateful and a wayward race,
Their game but scanty, and confined their space.
Where late my steps the southern war pursued,
The fertile plains grew boundless as I view’d;
More numerous nations trod the grassy wild,
And joyous nature more delightful smiled…
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.