Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Thought of Columbus, A" (1892)
Author:
Stuckey-French, Ned
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Horace Traubel claimed that "A Thought of Columbus" (1892) was the last poem Walt Whitman wrote. He said Whitman gave him the pieced-together manuscript on 16 March 1892, just ten days before the poet's death. The poem was first published in Once a Week, 9 July 1892, and Traubel's description of its composition appeared in the same magazine a week later. "Thought" was then added to the tenth edition of Leaves of Grass (1897) as part of "Old Age Echoes."

In 1891 the United States was preparing to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of the "discovery." Whitman undoubtedly followed the news of the Quatercentennial, for during his final winter he worked on "Thought," his third poem about Columbus. In "Passage to India" (1871) he celebrated Columbus as one of history's great heroes. In "Prayer of Columbus" (1874), Whitman, having recently suffered a paralytic stroke, expressed his own despair through the voice of the old and broken Columbus of the final voyage. "Thought" resembles "Prayer" in that it also uses a dramatic monologue to establish unity between Whitman and Columbus. If "Thought" and "Prayer" are similar in form, they are very different in theme and tone. "Prayer" focuses on the defeated Columbus of the final voyage, but "Thought" presents a young Columbus, looking out at the Atlantic from Europe and pondering the possibility of sailing west to the Indies. "Thought," then, is about two men about to embark upon the unknown—a young explorer setting out for the New World and an old poet about to die.

Bibliography

Traubel, Horace. "Walt Whitman's Last Poem." Once a Week: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper 16 July 1892: 3.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems. Ed. Sculley Bradley, Harold W. Blodgett, Arthur Golden, and William White. 3 vols. New York: New York UP, 1980.


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