Summary of Walt Whitman's Prayer of Columbus

1. Surrender and Acceptance

My terminus near,
The clouds already closing in upon me,
The voyage balk’d—the course disputed, lost,
I yield my ships to Thee.

The poem opens with a sense of surrender and acceptance in the face of adversity. The speaker acknowledges the end of their journey, represented by clouds symbolizing challenges, and willingly yields their ships—representing efforts and plans—to a higher power or fate. It beautifully expresses resilience and surrender in the midst of life's uncertainties.

2. Trust in a Higher Power

Steersman unseen! henceforth the helms are Thine;
Take Thou command—(what to my petty skill Thy navigation?)
My hands, my limbs grow nerveless;
My brain feels rack’d, bewilder’d; Let the old timbers part—I will not part!
I will cling fast to Thee, O God, though the waves buffet me;
Thee, Thee, at least, I know.

The speaker acknowledges their incapacity to navigate life's journey and surrenders control to the unseen "Steersman," likely interpreted as God. They express a willingness to let go of their limited abilities, trusting in the guidance and support of this higher power. Despite feeling overwhelmed, the speaker resolves to cling fast to God, conveying a profound sense of reliance and devotion.

3. Uncertainty and Self-Doubt

Is it the prophet’s thought I speak, or am I raving?
What do I know of life? what of myself?
I know not even my own work, past or present;
Dim, ever-shifting guesses of it spread before me,
Of newer, better worlds, their mighty parturition,
Mocking, perplexing me.

The poem delves into the speaker's sense of uncertainty and self-doubt. They question whether they speak the thoughts of a prophet or are merely raving, emphasizing their confusion and lack of understanding. The speaker expresses not knowing much about life or themselves, describing their perception of the world as a collection of vague and ever-changing guesses.

4. Profound Wonder and Awe

And these things I see suddenly—what mean they?
As if some miracle, some hand divine unseal’d my eyes,
Shadowy, vast shapes, smile through the air and sky,
And on the distant waves sail countless ships,
And anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me.

The poem concludes with a profound sense of wonder and awe. The speaker experiences a sudden revelation, as if divine hands unseal their eyes. They witness grand shapes smiling through the air and sky, countless ships sailing on distant waves, and hear anthems in new tongues. This section conveys a sense of encountering the extraordinary and transcendent, transforming the ordinary world into a realm of beauty and mystery.

In summary, "Prayer of Columbus" explores themes of surrender, trust in a higher power, self-doubt, and profound wonder, offering a contemplative reflection on life's journey and the mysteries it holds.

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