Post-Columbiad: Barlow’s High Bar

Joel B

I learned that Joel Barlow began as a chaplain to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and ended as a Liberal who supported the French Revolution and dreamed of global government. He was a personal friend of both Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine. Maybe some day I will read EVERY LINE of his Columbiad.

The Columbiad versifies about geological evidence contrary to the Christian creation story, describes the secular apocalypse that will come if Americans fail to emancipate their slaves, and ends with representatives of the major religions discarding the symbols of their faith to join into a one world-governing council, based in a crystal palace in Mesopotamia.

The British reviewer  cited above tries to label Barlow as having become an atheist in the later stages of his life. Reading from the last book of The Columbiad it seems doubtful to me. And yet the Aquila Report confirms this idea and holds Barlow up as America’s first acclaimed atheist in the public sphere.

Regardless of his beliefs and values, I still love Barlow’s poetry though I appear to be going against the current on that one. I love his use of lyrically obscure vocabulary. I love his broad range of pan-continental and environmental imagery. I love his lists of tributary rivers, empires, natural phenomena, kingdoms and historical personages. His poetry gets me very high.

But his global optimism and his sense of inevitable moral progress is so pronounced that it is depressing—to contrast his lofty humanist dream of the world’s future to yesterday’s news is too much of a disjuncture. Barlow thought America was destined to democratically guide the nations of the world into a global republic based on reason and moral restraint. What would he say today? How far off was his vision?

The end of this 9-volume poem has lots of gold to mine. His verse begs to be satirized, I know, but I still love it. Just because we have degenerated to the point that we lack appreciation for his work does not detract from its quality.

Poetically, Barlow set the bar quite high:

Thus Physic Science, with exploring eyes,
First o’er the nations bids her beauties rise,
Prepares the glorious way to pour abroad
Her Sister’s brighter beams, the purest light of God.
Then Moral Science leads the lively mind
Liberté
Thro broader fields and pleasures more refined;
Teaches the temper’d soul, at one vast view,
To glance o’er time and look existence thro,
See worlds and worlds, to being’s formless end,
With all their hosts on her prime power depend,
Seraphs and suns and systems, as they rise,
Live in her life and kindle from her eyes,
Her cloudless ken, her all-pervading soul
Illume, sublime and harmonize the whole;
Teaches the pride of man its breadth to bound
In one small point of this amazing round,
To shrink and rest where nature fixt its fate,
A line its space, a moment for its date;
Instructs the heart an ampler joy to taste,
And share its feelings with each human breast,
Expand its wish to grasp the total kind
Of sentient soul, of cogitative mind;
Till mutual love commands all strife to cease,
And earth join joyous in the songs of peace.

Thus heard Columbus, eager to behold
The famed Apocalypse its years unfold;
The soul stood speaking thro his gazing eyes,
And thus his voice: Oh let the visions rise!
Command, celestial Guide, from each far pole,
John’s vision’d morn to open on my soul,
And raise the scenes, by his reflected light,
Living and glorious to my longing sight.
Let heaven unfolding show the eternal throne,
And all the concave flame in one clear sun;
On clouds of fire, with angels at his side,
The Prince of Peace, the King of Salem ride,
With smiles of love to greet the bridal earth,
Call slumbering ages to a second birth,
With all his white-robed millions fill the train,
And here commence the interminable reign!

from: The Columbiad, Book IX by Joel Barlow

The Columbiad Survives

Le monde

The Columbiad, in its present form, is such as I shall probably leave it to its fate. Whether it be destined to survive its author, is a question that gives me no other concern than what arises from the most pure and ardent desire of doing good to my country. To my country therefore, with every sentiment of veneration and affection I dedicate my labors.

Joel Barlow from PREFACE 1809

My object is altogether of a moral and political nature I wish to encourage and strengthen in the rising generation, a sense of the importance of republican institutions; as being the great foundation of public and private happiness, the necessary aliment of future and permanent ameliorations in the condition of human nature.

This is the moment in America to give such a direction to poetry, painting and the other fine arts, that true and useful ideas of glory may be implanted in the minds of men here, to take place of the false and destructive ones that have degraded the species in other countries; impressions which have become so wrought into their most sacred institutions, that it is there thought impious to detect them and dangerous to root them out, tho acknowledged to be false. Woe be to the republican principle and to all the institutions it supports, when once the pernicious doctrine of the holiness of error shall creep into the creed of our schools and distort the intellect of our citizens!

Joel Barlow from PREFACE 1809

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.

Joel Barlow: The Columbiad  (1809)

Cutting Nutmeg

CT sigillum
Qui Transtulit Sustinet ! Motto of light!
‘Neath the folds of that banner we strike for the right;
Connecticut’s watchword oer hill and o’er plain,
The Hand that transplanted, that Hand will sustain.
S. S. Weld

There sat CONNECTICUT, a twit
blue nanny-state, and doomed to sit
on welfare-warrens of the damned
her social service on demand.
She withers on NEW ENGLAND‘s vine
a bygone has-been, and a sign
of democratic overkill
where her once-dear and verdant rill
now stagnant flows: polluted stream
a moribund New England dream.
The richest state with poorest heart:
the Northeast’s saddest story. Part
of history’s renowned revival,
now irrelevant. Survival
chains her children in dependence
keeping back the state’s ascendance.
Apostate Puritan, grown old—
for LIBERTY, no longer bold;
a slave to Man, where once God’s WORD
awakened greatness. Souls were stirred
in ENFIELD (of all strange places),
Christ beheld in radiant faces . . .
Edwards held their spellbound souls
like spiders over flaming coals,
in gratitude for Gospel grace
renewing thus both town and race.
But I digress. Connecticut
is what I came to speak about:
forgotten dull colonial matron
yoked in failure, plebe as patron
nostalgic for her Charter Oak
whose deadwood limbs went up in smoke
along with dark tobacco wrap
while the plantation took a nap.
Her social programs overgrowth
pose forest fire-risk. Under oath
her public servants signal virtue;
sign which really should alert you
to the democrat-machine’s
impending failure (ways and means).
Nutmeg-addled Tax-and-spenders,
dollar drunks on welfare benders
widen economic rifts;
force single moms toward double shifts
while Latin Kings hold court in prison
waiting out their royal season:
fiscally unsustainable—
yet totally explainable
(nutmeg is a drug for witches
spendthrift warlocks, bankrupt bitches).
Oh HARTFORD, city of the dead
which dies at five, then home to bed,
insurance once assured your rise;
but now your ghosts haunt sadder skies.
Your life displaced, outsourced, out-dated;
so, it seems, your fall was fated.
Meanwhile, close to New York City,
fairer fields are growing pretty
long on corporate commutes.
Data-driven growth computes
as data-drivers flood the roads
and enter by Manhattan-loads
from golden coasts’ Atlantic shores
and posh patrician golden doors
to bite the apple of our time:
a number-cruncher built on crime.
New England’s puritannic granny
(data-driven tyrant tranny)
seeks to harbor tropic isles
with blandly bureaucratic smiles.
Your poor dear heart cannot afford
to welcome every island lord
who looks to better his estate
and so decides to emigrate.
Displaced Jamaicans outta yard
compel the soft verse to get hard.
Boricua separatists, dispersed
show nationalities reversed
and dwell between two foreign lands
in Spanglish no one understands.
Such nutmeg gets the covens high
to soar the stormy Liberal sky.
It’s Yankee hubris: condescension
taxing plebes for such dissension.
Though you connect, there I would cut,
excising from New England’s gut
metastasizing social tumors:
clueless and obese consumers,
teenage moms, pajama-clad
whose nenes wait in vain for dad.
QUI TRANSTULIT SUSTINET—truth . . .
but that was was in our nation’s youth.
She’s gotten worse with passing years
confirming citizens’ worst fears;
showing her colors every vote
her monotone, a droning note
on which the blue-bloods hang their hue
when hope and change are overdue.
Her atheist zeal meets Yankee pride:
a most progressive broomstick ride;
oblivious to her Christian past,
an enemy of God at last.

 

Senryu and Haikai:
Basho-san, can you get me
another beer, please?

London’s Derrière

https://i1.wp.com/www.ngw.nl/heraldrywiki/images/c/c9/Connecticut.jpg

Ode to Connecticut

(although with the taxes one pays in this quaint New England state
the poem should be titled “Owed to CT”.
I don’t recall where I found this statal poem but it is very old)

Tune: Londonderry Air

Here in the vista of three hundred years we stand,

Our torches kindled by thy guiding light.

A Pilgrim host, we come to thee from every land,

With joyful hopes, well girded by thy might.

Connecticut, beloved State, all hail to thee;

Tower of might against a flaming sky,

The heav’ns resound with praise, ring out with victory.

God speed you on and all your glories sanctify.

Through summer heat and winter cold thy honor stands,

A bulwark gainst the mighty hosts of sin,

Till love shall spread to earth’s most distant island strands,

And Heaven’s righteous ways o’er evil win.

Connecticut, advancing through the changing years,

May knowledge guide thy sons and daughters fair,

And honor, truth and wisdom banish all our fears,

Connecticut, while we thy many glories share!

The years shall pass across thy mighty mountain walls,

Against the gold of every setting sun,

A newer host, well-born within thy ancient halls,

Shall bear thy standards of new glories won.

Connecticut, our fathers kept thy honor fair,

Thy reach of love they widened to the sea.

We shall keep faith, where they fought; we, too, shall dare,

Connecticut, for aye we pledge our hearts to thee.