Saturday, July 04, 2009

Berkeley on America

America or The Muse's Refuge
A Prophecy


The Muse, disgusted at an Age and Clime,
Barren of every glorious Theme,
In distant Lands now waits a better Time,
Producing subjects worthy Fame:

In happy Climes, where from the genial Sun
And virgin Earth such Scenes ensue,
The Force of Art by Nature seems outdone,
And fancied Beauties by the true:

There shall be sung another golden Age,
The rise of Empire and of Arts,
The Good and Great inspiring epic Rage,
The wisest Heads and noblest Hearts.

Not such as Europe breeds in her decay;
Such as she bred when fresh and young,
When heav'nly Flame did animate her Clay,
By future Poets shall be sung.

Westward the Course of Empire takes its Way;
The four first Acts already past,
A fifth shall close the Drama with the Day;
Time's noblest Offspring is the last.


It was this poem, by the way, that led to a city in California being named after the Irish philosopher (albeit under an Anglicized pronunciation). Berkeley went to great lengths to gather together the resources for building a college in Bermuda for Native Americans. He even went across the Atlantic for it, although he never got to Bermuda, and crucial funds were never handed over to him. Instead he spent some time in New England, where he enriched the libraries of some backwoods colleges there called Harvard and Yale. When he left he also turned his farm over to Yale so that the rent from it could help support the tuition of three students in Greek and Latin.

Berkeley's poem is in a sense less about America -- which in the early eighteenth century was still more a matter of promise and hope than any definite greatness -- and more about the light of education; it was education, the possibility of the establishment of America as a "Muse's refuge," that struck him as being so full of potential.

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