Sunday, October 9, 2011


Columbus is not a hero anymore, except maybe in New York, where Italian Americans still have a Columbus Day parade - don't they?

 It was in the Oakland hills, California, in 1892, that Joaquin Miller -the Poet of the Sierras, the Byron of the West - composed the poem he is most famous for today, “Columbus,” in honor of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas.

It's the motion across the ocean, and not Columbus the man, celebrated in the poem.

Joaquin Miller's poem celebrates motion across the unknown, across oceans.  To dream impossible dreams, to explore, reach and yes, reach out...Move mountains.  Maybe we should not throw out Columbus with the  salt water?  Sail on, sail on, friends.

Columbus - Joaquin Miller 

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
  Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
  Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said: “Now must we pray,        5
  For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
  “Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”
“My men grow mutinous day by day;
  My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”        10
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
  Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.
“What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
  If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day,        15
  ‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”
They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
  Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
  Should I and all my men fall dead.        20
These very winds forget their way,
  For God from these dread seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say”—
  He said: “Sail on! sail on! and on!”
They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:        25
  “This mad sea shows his teeth to-night.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
  With lifted teeth, as if to bite!
Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
  What shall we do when hope is gone?”        30
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
  “Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”
Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
  And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck—        35
  A light! A light! A light! A light!
It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
  It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
  Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”