Published Works

Books by Whitman



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 3c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




AS I SAT ALONE BY BLUE ONTARIO'S SHORE.

1

1As I sat alone, by blue Ontario's shore,
As I mused of these mighty days, and of peace re-
turn, and the dead that return no more,
A Phantom, gigantic, superb, with stern visage, ac-
cost 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.)


2

3A 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.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 4c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



4A 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.

5Nothing 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.)


3

7Have 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.

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

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

10Produce great persons, the rest follows.




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 5c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



4

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

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

13Piety 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!

14I 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?

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

16O 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.

17Fear 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.




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 6c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



5

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

19The 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.

20America, 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.

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

22These 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.




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 7c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



6

23Land 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,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 8c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 9c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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.


7

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

25Others 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;


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 10c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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.

26Bravas 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

27I 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.

28To 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.

29Of 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?)




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 7c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



10

31Of 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.

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


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 12c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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

33Without 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

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

35With 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.)


12

37Are 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.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 13c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



38Who 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.

39Who 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?


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 14c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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

40What 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?


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 15c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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

41Rhymes 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.)

42He 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.

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


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 16c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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

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

45Give 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,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 17c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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

47I 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.

48Underneath 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

50Underneath 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.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 18c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



51Underneath 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.

52I 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.)

53Underneath 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

54O 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.


18

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


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 19c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



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.

56I 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.

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

58I 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

60I 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!



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 20c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



61I 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

62I 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.

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

64I 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.

67And 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.




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 21c] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



22

68O 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.

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

70You 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 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!


Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.