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AS I SAT ALONE BY BLUE ONTARIO'S SHORE.


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1  As I sat alone, by blue Ontario's shore,
As I mused of these mighty days, and of peace re-
         turn'd, and the dead that return no more,
A Phantom, gigantic, superb, with stern visage, ac-
         cost'd me;
Chant me a poem, it said, of the range of the high Soul
          of Poets,
And chant of the welcome bards that breathe but my
          native air—invoke those bards;
And chant me, before you go, the Song of the throes of
          Democracy .

2  (Democracy—the destined conqueror—yet treacher-
         ous lip-smiles everywhere,
And Death and infidelity at every step.)

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3  A nation announcing itself,
I myself make the only growth by which I can be ap-
         preciated,
I reject none, accept all, then reproduce all in my own
         forms.

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4  A breed whose proof is in time and deeds;
What we are, we are—nativity is answer enough to
         objections;
We wield ourselves as a weapon is wielded,
We are powerful and tremendous in ourselves,
We are executive in ourselves—We are sufficient in the
         variety of ourselves,
We are the most beautiful to ourselves, and in our-
         selves;
We stand self-pois'd, in the middle, branching thence
         over the world;
From Missouri, Nebraska, or Kansas, laughing attacks
         to scorn.

5  Nothing is sinful to us outside of ourselves,
Whatever appears, whatever does not appear, we are
         beautiful or sinful in ourselves only.
(O mother! O sisters dear!
If we are lost, no victor else has destroy'd us;
It is by ourselves we go down to eternal night.)

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7  Have you thought there could be but a single
         Supreme?
There can be any number of Supremes—One does not
         countervail another, any more than one eye-
         sight countervails another, or one life counter-
         vails another.

8  All is eligible to all,
All is for individuals—All is for you,
No condition is prohibited, not God's, or any.

9  All comes by the body—only health puts you rapport
         with the universe.

10  Produce great persons, the rest follows.

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11  America isolated I sing;
I say that works made here in the spirit of other lands,
         are so much poison to These States.

12  How dare these insects assume to write poems for
         America?
For our armies, and the offspring following the armies.

13  Piety and conformity to them that like!
Peace, obesity, allegiance, to them that like!
I am he who tauntingly compels men, women, nations,
Crying, Leap from your seats, and contend for your
         lives!

14  I am he who walks the States with a barbed tongue,
         questioning everyone I meet;
Who are you, that wanted only to be told what you
         knew before?
Who are you, that wanted only a book to join you in
         your nonsense?

15  With pangs and cries, as thine own, O bearer of
         many children!
This chant all wild, to a race of pride I give.)

16  O lands! would you be freer than all that has ever
         been before?
If you would be freer than all that has been before,
         come listen to me.

17  Fear grace—Fear delicatesse,
Fear the mellow sweet, the sucking of honey-juice;
Beware the advancing mortal ripening of nature,
Beware what precedes the decay of the ruggedness of
         states and men.

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18  Ages, precedents, chants, have long been accumu-
         lating undirected materials,
America brings builders, and brings its own styles.

19  The poets of Asia and Europe have done their work,
         and pass'd to other spheres,
One work forever remains, the work of surpassing all
         they have done.

20  America, curious toward foreign characters, stands
         by its own at all hazards,
Stands removed, spacious, composite, sound, initiates
         the true use of precedents,
Does not repel them, or the past, or what they have
         produced under their forms,
Takes the lesson with calmness, perceives the corpse
         slowly borne from the house,
Perceives that it waits a little while in the door—that
         it was fittest for its days,
That its life has descended to the stalwart and well-
         shaped heir who approaches,
And that he shall be fittest for his days.

21  Any period, one nation must lead,
One land must be the promise and reliance of the
         future.

22  These States are the amplest poem,
Here is not merely a nation, but a teeming nation of
         nations,
Here the doings of men correspond with the broad-
         cast doings of the day and night,
Here is what moves in magnificent masses, careless of
         particulars,
Here are the roughs, beards, friendliness, combative-
         ness, the Soul loves,
Here the flowing trains—here the crowds, equality,
         diversity, the Soul loves.

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23  Land of lands, and bards to corroborate!
Of them, standing among them, one lifts to the light
         his west-bred face,
To him the hereditary countenance bequeath'd, both
         mother's and father's,
His first parts substances, earth, water, animals, trees,
Built of the common stock, having room for far and
         near.
Used to dispense with other lands, incarnating this
         land,
Attracting it Body and Soul to himself, hanging on its
         neck with incomparable love,
Plunging his semitic muscle into its merits and
         demerits,
Making its cities, beginnings, events, diversities,
         wars, vocal in him,
Making its rivers, lakes, bays, embouchure in him,
Mississippi with yearly freshets and changing chutes—
         Columbia, Niagara, Hudson, spending them-
         selves lovingly in him,
If the Atlantic coast stretch, or the Pacific coast
         stretch, he stretching with them north or south,
Spanning between them east and west, and touching
         whatever is between them,
Growths growing from him to offset the growth of
         pine, cedar, hemlock, live-oak, locust, chestnut,
         hickory, cotton-wood, orange, magnolia,
Tangles as tangled in him as any cane-brake or
         swamp,
He likening sides and peaks of mountains, forests
         coated with northern transparent ice,
Off him pasturage sweet and natural as savanna, up-
         land, prairie,
Through him flights, whirls, screams, answering those
         of the fish-hawk, mocking-bird, night-heron,
         and eagle;
His spirit surrounding his country's spirit, unclosed
         to good and evil,

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Surrounding the essences of real things, old times
         and present times,
Surrounding just found shores, islands, tribes of red
         aborigines,
Weather-beaten vessels, landings, settlements, embryo
         stature and muscle,
The haughty defiance of the Year 1—war, peace, the
         formation of the Constitution,
The separate States, the simple, elastic scheme, the
         immigrants,
The Union, always swarming with blatherers, and
         always sure and impregnable,
The unsurvey'd interior, log-houses, clearings, wild
         animals, hunters, trappers;
Surrounding the multiform agriculture, mines, tem-
         perature, the gestation of new States,
Congress convening every Twelfth-month, the mem-
         bers duly coming up from the uttermost parts;
Surrounding the noble character of mechanics and
         farmers, especially the young men,
Responding their manners, speech, dress, friendships
         —the gait they have of persons who never
         knew how it felt to stand in the presence of
         superiors,
The freshness and candor of their physiognomy, the
         copiousness and decision of their phrenology,
The picturesque looseness of their carriage, their
         fierceness when wrong'd,
The fluency of their speech, their delight in music,
         their curiosity, good temper, and open-handed-
         ness—the whole composite make,
The prevailing ardor and enterprise, the large amat-
         iveness,
The perfect equality of the female with the male, the
         fluid movement of the population,
The superior marine, free commerce, fisheries, whal-
         ing, gold-digging,
Wharf-hemm'd cities, railroad and steamboat lines,
         intersecting all points,

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Factories, mercantile life, labor-saving machinery, the
         north-east, north-west, south-west,
Manhattan firemen, the Yankee swap, southern plan-
         tation life,
Slavery—the murderous, treacherous conspiracy to
         raise it upon the ruins of all the rest;
On and on to the grapple with it—Assassin! then
         your life or ours be the stake—and respite no
         more.

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24  (Lo! high toward heaven, this day,
Libertad! from the conqueress' field return'd,
I mark the new aureola around your head;
No more of soft astral, but dazzling and fierce,
With war's flames, and the lambent lightnings
         playing,
And your port immovable where you stand;
With still the inextinguishable glance, and the clench'd
         and lifted fist,
And your foot on the neck of the menacing one, the
         scorner, utterly crush'd beneath you;
The menacing, arrogant one, that strode and advanced
         with his senseless scorn, bearing the murderous
         knife;
Lo! the wide swelling one, the braggart, that would
         yesterday do so much!
To-day a carrion dead and damn'd, the despised of
         all the earth!
An offal rank, to the dunghill maggots spurn'd.)

8


25  Others take finish, but the Republic is ever con-
         structive, and ever keeps vista;
Others adorn the past—but you, O days of the pres-
         ent, I adorn you!
O days of the future, I believe in you! I isolate my-
         self for your sake;

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O America, because you build for mankind, I build
         for you!
O well-beloved stone-cutters! I lead them who plan
         with decision and science,
I lead the present with friendly hand toward the
         future.

26  Bravas to all semitic impulses sending strong child-
         ren to the next age!
But damn that which spends itself on flaunters and
         dalliers, with no thought of the stain, pains,
         dismay, feebleness, it is bequeathing.

9


27  I heard the voice arising, demanding bards;
By them, all native and grand—by them only can The
         States be fused into the compact organism of a
         nation.

28  To hold men together by paper and seal, or by com-
         pulsion, is no account,
That only holds men together which aggregates all in
         a living principle,, as the hold of the limbs of
         the body, or the fibres of plants.

29  Of all races and eras, These States, with veins full of
         poetical stuff, most need poets, and are to have
         the greatest, and use them the greatest;
Their Presidents shall not be their common referee
         so much as their poets shall.

30  (Soul of love, and tongue of fire!
Eye to pierce the deepest deeps, and sweep the
         world!
—Ah, mother! prolific and full in all besides—yet
         how long barren, barren?)

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31  Of mankind, the poet is the equable man,
Not in him, but off from him, things are grotesque,
         eccentric, fail of their full returns,
Nothing out of its place is good, nothing in its place
         is bad,
He bestows on every object or quality its fit propor-
         tion, neither more nor less,
He is the arbiter of the diverse, he is the key,
He is the equalizer of his age and land,
He supplies what wants supplying—he checks what
         wants checking,
In peace, out of him speaks the spirit of peace, large,
         rich, thrifty, building populous towns, encour-
         aging agriculture, arts, commerce, lighting the
         study of man, the Soul, health, immortality,
         government,
In war, he is the best backer of the war—he fetches
         artillery as good as the engineer's—he can
         make every word he speaks draw blood;
The years straying toward infidelity, he withholds by
         his steady faith,
He is no arguer, he is judgment—(Nature accepts him
         absolutely;)
He judges not as the judge judges, but as the sun
         falling round a helpless thing;
As he sees the farthest, he has the most faith,
His thoughts are the hymns of the praise of things,
In the dispute on God and eternity he is silent,
He sees eternity less like a play with a prologue and
         denouement,
He sees eternity in men and women—he does not see
         men and women as dreams or dots.

32  For the great Idea, the idea of perfect and free
         individuals,
For that idea, the bard walks in advance, leader of
         leaders,

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The attitude of him cheers up slaves, and horrifies
         foreign despots.

33  Without extinction is Liberty! Without retrograde
         is Equality!
They live in the feelings of young men, and the best
         women,
Not for nothing have the indomitable heads of the
         earth been always ready to fall for Liberty.

11


34  For the great Idea!
For that we live, my brethren—that is the mission of
         Poets.

35  With their poems of stern defiance, ever ready,
With songs of the rapid arming, and the march,
And the flag of peace quick-folded, and the song,
         instead, of the flag we know,
The flag of the youths and veterans—flaunting flag,
Warlike flag of the great Idea.

36  (Angry cloth I saw there leaping!
I stand again in the leaden rain, your flapping folds
         saluting;
I sing you over all, flying, beckoning through the fight
         —O the hard-contested fight!
O the cannons ope their rosy-flashing muzzles! the
         hurtled balls scream!
The battle-front forms amid the smoke—the volleys
         pour incessant from the line;
Hark! the ringing word, Charge! —now the tussle, and
         the furious maddening yells;
Now the corpses tumble curl'd upon the ground,
Cold, cold in death, for precious life of you,
Angry cloth I saw there leaping.)

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37  Are you he who would assume a place to teach here,
         or lead here, or be a poet here?
The place is august—the terms obdurate.

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38  Who would assume to teach here, may well prepare
         himself, body and mind,
He may well survey, ponder, arm, fortify, harden,
         make lithe, himself,
He shall surely be question'd beforehand by me with
         many and stern questions.

39  Who are you, indeed, who would talk or sing to
         America?
Have you studied out my land, its idioms and men?
Have you learn'd the physiology, phrenology, politics,
         geography, pride, freedom, friendship, of my
         land? its substratums and objects?
Have you consider'd the organic compact of the first
         day of the first year of the independence of
         The States, sign'd by the Commissioners, ratified
         by The States, and read by Washington at the
         head of the army?
Have you possess'd yourself of the Federal Constitu-
         tion?
Do you see who have left all feudal processes and
         poems behind them, and assumed the poems
         and processes of Democracy?
Are you faithful to things? Do you teach as the land
         and sea, the bodies of men, womanhood,
         amativenesss, angers, teach?
Have you sped through fleeting customs, popularities?
Can you hold your hand against all seductions, follies,
         whirls, fierce contentions? Are you very
         strong? Are you really of the whole people?
Are you not of some coterie? some school or mere
         religion?
Are you done with reviews and criticisms of life?
         animating now to life itself?
Have you vivified yourself from the maternity of These
         States?
Have you too the old, ever-fresh, forbearance and
         impartiality?

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Do you hold the like love for those hardening to
         maturity; for the last-born? little and big?
         and for the errant?

40  What is this you bring my America?
Is it uniform with my country?
Is it not something that has been better told or done
         before?
Have you not imported this, or the spirit of it, in
         some ship?
Is it a mere tale? a rhyme? a prettiness?
Has it not dangled long at the heels of the poets,
         politicians, literats, of enemies' lands?
Does it not assume that what is notoriously gone is
         still here?
Does it answer universal needs? Will it improve
         manners?
Can your performance face the open fields and the
         sea-side?
Will it absorb into me as I absorb food, air—to appear
         again in my strength, gait, face?
Have real employments contributed to it? original
         makers—not mere amanuenses?
Does it meet modern discoveries, calibers, facts, face
         to face?
What does it mean to me? to American persons, pro-
         gresses, cities? Chicago, Kanada, Arkansas?
         the planter, Yankee, Georgian, native, immi-
         grant, sailors, squatters, old States, new States?
Does it encompass all The States, and the unexcep-
         tional rights of all the men and women of the
         earth? (the genital impulse of These States;)
Does it see behind the apparent custodians, the
         real custodians, standing, menacing, silent—the
         mechanics, Manhattanese, western men, south-
         erners, significant alike in their apathy, and in
         the promptness of their love?

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Does it see what finally befalls, and has always finally
         befallen, each temporizer, patcher, outsider,
         partialist, alarmist, infidel, who has ever ask'd
         anything of America?
What mocking and scornful negligence?
The track strew'd with the dust of skeletons;
By the roadside others disdainfully toss'd.

13


41  Rhymes and rhymers pass away—poems distill'd
         from other poems pass away,
The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and
         leave ashes;
Admirers, importers, obedient persons, make but the
         soil of literature;
America justifies itself, give it time—no disguise can
         deceive it, or conceal from it—it is impassive
         enough,
Only toward the likes of itself will it advance to meet
         them,
If its poets appear, it will in due time advance to meet
         them—there is no fear of mistake,
(The proof of a poet shall be sternly deferr'd, till his
         country absorbs him as affectionately as he has
         absorb'd it.)

42  He masters whose spirit masters—he tastes sweetest
         who results sweetest in the long run;
The blood of the brawn beloved of time is uncon-
         straint;
In the need of poems, philosophy, politics, manners,
         engineering, an appropriate native grand-opera,
         shipcraft, any craft, he or she is greatest who
         contributes the greatest original practical ex-
         ample.

43  Already a nonchalant breed, silently emerging,
         appears on the streets,

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People's lips salute only doers, lovers, satisfiers,
         positive knowers;
There will shortly be no more priests—I say their
         work is done,
Death is without emergencies here, but life is per-
         petual emergencies here,
Are your body, days, manners, superb? after death
         you shall be superb;
Justice, health, self-esteem, clear the way with irre-
         sistible power;
How dare you place anything before a man?

14


44  Fall behind me, States!
A man before all—myself, typical, before all.

45  Give me the pay I have served for!
Give me to sing the songs of the great Idea! take all
         the rest;
I have loved the earth, sun, animals—I have despised
         riches,
I have given alms to every one that ask'd, stood up
         for the stupid and crazy, devoted my income
         and labor to others,
I have hated tyrants, argued not concerning God,
         had patience and indulgence toward the peo-
         ple, taken off my hat to nothing known or un-
         known,
I have gone freely with powerful uneducated persons,
         and with the young, and with the mothers of
         families,
I have read these leaves to myself in the open air—I
         have tried them by trees, stars, rivers,
I have dismiss'd whatever insulted my own Soul or
         defiled my Body,
I have claim'd nothing to myself which I have not
         carefully claim'd for others on the same terms,
I have sped to the camps, and comrades found and
         accepted from every State,

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I am willing to wait to be understood by the growth
         of the taste of myself,
I reject none, I permit all.

46  (Say, O mother! have I not to your thought been
         faithful?
Have I not, through life, kept that alone before me?)

15


47  I swear I begin to see the meaning of these things!
It is not the earth, it is not America, who is so great,
It is I who am great, or to be great—it is you up
         there, or any one,
It is to walk rapidly through civilizations, govern-
         ments, theories,
Through poems, pageants, shows, to individuals.

48  Underneath all, individuals!
I swear nothing is good to me now that ignores
         individuals!
The American compact is altogether with individuals,
The only government is that which makes minute of
         individuals,
The whole theory of the universe is directed to one
         single individual—namely, to You.

49  (Mother! with subtle sense—with the naked sword
         in your hand,
I saw you at last refuse to treat but directly with
         individuals.)

16


50  Underneath all, nativity,
I swear I will stand by my own nativity—pious or
         impious, so be it;
I swear I am charm'd with nothing except nativity,
Men, women, cities, nations, are only beautiful from
         nativity.

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51  Underneath all is the need of the expression of love
         for men and women,
I swear I have seen enough of mean and impotent
         modes of expressing love for men and women,
After this day I take my own modes of expressing
         love for men and women.

52  I swear I will have each quality of my race in
         myself,
(Talk as you like, he only suits These States whose
         manners favor the audacity and sublime turbu-
         lence of The States.)

53  Underneath the lessons of things, spirits, Nature,
         governments, ownerships, I swear I perceive
         other lessons,
Underneath all, to me is myself—to you, yourself,
         (the same monotonous old song.)

17


54  O I see now, flashing, that this America is only you
         and me,
Its power, weapons, testimony, are you and me,
Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, slavery, are you
         and me,
Its Congress is you and me—the officers, capitols,
         armies, ships, are you and me,
Its endless gestations of new States are you and me,
The war—that war so bloody and grim—the war I
         wish to forget—was you and me,
Natural and artificial are you and me,
Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you
         and me,
Past, present, future, are you and me.

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55  I swear I dare not shirk any part of myself,
Not any part of America, good or bad,

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Not the promulgation of Liberty—not to cheer up
         slaves and horrify foreign despots,
Not to build for that which builds for mankind,
Not to balance ranks, complexions, creeds, and the
         sexes,
Not to justify science, nor the march of equality,
Nor to feed the arrogant blood of the brawn beloved
         of time.

56  I swear I am for those that have never been
         master'd!
For men and women whose tempers have never been
         master'd,
For those whom laws, theories, conventions, can never
         master.

57  I swear I am for those who walk abreast with the
         whole earth!
Who inaugurate one, to inaugurate all.

58  I swear I will not be outfaced by irrational things!
I will penetrate what it is in them that is sarcastic
         upon me!
I will make cities and civilizations defer to me!
This is what I have learnt from America—it is the
         amount—and it I teach again.

59  (Democracy! while weapons were everywhere aim'd
         at your breast,
I saw you serenely give birth to children—saw in
         dreams your dilating form;
Saw you with spreading mantle covering the world.)

19


60  I will confront these shows of the day and night!
I will know if I am to be less than they!
I will see if I am not as majestic as they!
I will see if I am not as subtle and real as they!
I will see if I am to be less generous than they!

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61  I will see if I have no meaning, while the houses
         and ships have meaning!
I will see if the fishes and birds are to be enough for
         themselves, and I am not to be enough for
         myself.

20


62  I match my spirit against yours, you orbs, growths,
         mountains, brutes,
Copious as you are, I absorb you all in myself, and
         become the master myself.

63  America isolated, yet embodying all, what is it
         finally except myself?
These States—what are they except myself?

64  I know now why the earth is gross, tantalizing,
         wicked—it is for my sake,
I take you to be mine, you beautiful, terrible, rude
         forms.

65  (Mother! bend down, bend close to me your face!
I know not what these plots and deferments are for;
I know not fruition's success—but I know that through
         war and peace your work goes on, and must
         yet go on.)

21


66  ……Thus, by blue Ontario's shore,
While the winds fann'd me, and the waves came
         trooping toward me,
I sang with the Power's pulsations—and the charm of
         my theme was upon me,
Till the tissues that held me, parted their ties upon
         me.

67  And I saw the free Soul of poets;
The loftiest bards of past ages strode before me,
Strange, large men, long unwaked, undisclosed, were
         disclosed to me.

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68  O my rapt song, my charm—mock me not!
Not for the bards of the past—not to invoke them
         have I launch'd you forth,
Not to call even those lofty bards here by Ontario's
         shores,
Have I sung, so capricious and loud, my savage song.

69  But, O strong soul of Poets,
Bards for my own land, ere I go, I invoke.

70  You Bards grand as these days so grand!
Bards of the great Idea! Bards of the wondrous in-
         ventions!
Bards of the marching armies—a million soldiers
         waiting ever-ready,
Bards towering like hills—(no more these dots, these
         pigmies, these little piping straws, these gnats,
         that fill the hour, to pass for poets;)
Bards with songs as from burning coals, or the light-
         ning's fork'd stripes!
Ample Ohio's bards—bards for California! inland
         bards;
Bards of pride! Bards tallying the ocean's roar, and
         the swooping eagle's scream!
You, by my charm, I invoke!
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