What connections does Wheatley seem to be making between George Washington and Columbia?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the strongest connections that Wheatley makes between Washington and Columbia is in suggesting that both are universal forces placed in a world of contingency.  Wheatley seeks to bring out the idealism she sees in both as the reason why they integrate so well together.  In connecting both of them on such a level, Wheatley is able to suggest that there is a universal design of which both are essential.

In the poem's opening stanza, Wheatley associates Columbia, or America, with this transcendent notion of the good.  The invocation that starts the poem is a call to the divine, a plea to divine in the form of a muse:  "Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light, Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write."  Her calls to the heavens is a call to save Columbia, herself.  "Columbia" comes to represent America.  This is seen in how Wheatley articulates the "glorious toils" that forms the basis of her writing.  In casting America as Columbia, Wheatley suggests that the fight for freedom is not a political or economic condition.  Rather, it is celestial in scope, something reflective of what it means to be human.  She asserts its divine calling later in the stanza:

While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,/ She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms. /See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan, /And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!/ See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light/ Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!

Wheatley makes the case that the fight for America's freedom is something universal, defining the very structure of being in the world.  It is a "cause" that causes "mother earth" to be alarmed as other nations are unaware of how to make sense of her struggle.  Columbia, the vision of universal totality, is lost in this condition of temporal struggle.

In casting America as a divine force through her use of Columbia, Wheatley is able to connect Washington to this struggle by casting him in the same divine glow.  Wheatley connects Washington to this vision in her suggestion that he is the only one capable of leading Columbia.  She suggests this because Washinton is "thee in first in pace and honors."  The need for Columbia's struggles to be aided with Washington's efforts is necessitated by his "grace and glory of thy martial band."  Washington's leaderships is how Wheatley sees "Columbia's arm prevails."  The connection made is in the transcendent condition of Columbia.  It requires the equally transcendent force of Washington. Both connect to one another.  They are both transformative visions in a world where individuals lack vision.

The ending of the poem confirms how Wheatley sees Columbia and Washington connecting to one another.  She demands that Washington "proceed" and do so "with virtue on thy side."  Wheatley then argues that as Washington will guide Columbia, America will reciprocate:  "Thy ev'ry action let the Goddess guide."  This is an affirmative connection between Washington and Columbia, leader and nation, suggesting that the efforts of one will be supported with the efforts of another.  It is vision in which two forces of the divine walk hand in hand. Washington's spiritual and military heroism is connected to the cause of Columbia's freedom, the latter necessitating the qualities in the former.

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