Sunday 4 December 2016

As I walked with my friend,

Columbus

Louis Simpson

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

In more ruminative and speculative times, in a certain kind of pub, it was occasionally the subject of idle musings whether we in Europe or indeed other parts of the world might have been better off without the discovery of America. Admittedly, Louis Simpson 's beautiful poem about Columbus, with its half-rhymes, para-rhymes and assonantal rhymes is on a higher plane of expression than those conversations usually were. Simpson was ideally placed to write about the topic having been born between the two cultures (in Kingston, Jamaica in 1923 of Russian and Scottish-African parents). And perhaps, apart from its inherent and even comical inconclusiveness, the reason why the conversation cannot be finished is because 'America' has in fact never been discovered. America, or The New World, is an imaginary idea that is yet to be realised. It is a country 'that cannot fail' or ultimately disappoint. As the poet says, 'there's no finding it'.

  • Go To

As I walked with my friend,

My singular Columbus,

Where the land comes to an end

And the path is perilous,

Where the wheel and tattered shoe

And bottle have been thrown,

And the sky is shining blue,

And the heart sinks like a stone,

I plucked his sleeve and said,

'I have come far to find

The springs of a broken bed,

The ocean and the wind.

I'd rather live in Greece,

Castile, or an English town

Than wander here like this

Where the dunes come tumbling down.

He answered me, 'Perhaps.

But Europe never guessed

America, their maps

Could not describe the West.

And though in Plato's glass

The stars were still and clear,

Yet nothing came to pass

And men died of despair.'

He said, 'If there is not

A way to China, one

City surpassing thought,

My ghost will still go on.

I'll spread the airy sail.'

He said, 'and point the spirit

To a country that cannot fail,

For there's no finding it.'

Straightaway we separated -

He, in his fading coat,

To the water's edge, where waited

An admiral's longboat.

A crew of able seamen

Sprang up at his command -

An angel or a demon -

And they rowed him from the land.

Sunday Independent

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment