SELECTED AND EDITED
WILLIAM MICHAEL ROSSETTI.
Or si sa il nome, o per tristo o per buono,
E si sa pure al mondo ch’io ci sono.
JOHN CAMDEN HOTTEN, PICCADILLY.
That angels are human forms, or men, I have seen a thousand
times. I have also frequently told them that men in the Christian
world are in such gross ignorance respecting Angels and Spirits as to
suppose them to be minds without a form, or mere thoughts, of which
they have no other idea than as something ethereal possessing a vital
principle. To the first or ultimate heaven also correspond the forms
of man’s body, called its members, organs, and viscera. Thus the
corporeal part of man is that in which heaven ultimately closes, and
upon which, as on its base, it rests.
Yes, truly, it is a great thing for a nation that it get an articulate
voice—that it produce a man who will speak forth melodiously what
the heart of it means.
Les efforts de vos ennemis contre vous, leurs cris, leur rage impuis- sante, et leurs petits succès, ne doivent pas vous effrayer; ce ne sont
que des égratignures sur les épaules d’ ’Hercule.
OUR Portrait of Whitman is (as stated in the Prefatory Notice)
re-engraved from the excellent Portrait, after a daguerreotype,
given in the original "LEAVES OF GRASS," edition of 1855. We are
not aware that any other engraved likeness of Whitman is extant; and
have considered it on the whole more safe and satisfactory to take this
fine record of the poet in his earlier prime than to risk the chances of
engraving at first hand from a photograph of his present more matured
DEAR SCOTT;—Among various gifts which I have
received from you, tangible and intangible, was a copy of
the original quarto edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass,
which you presented to me soon after its first appearance
in 1855. At a time when few people on this side of the
Atlantic had looked into the book, and still fewer had
found in it anything save matter for ridicule, you had
appraised it, and seen that its value was real and great.
A true poet and a strong thinker like yourself was indeed
likely to see that. I read the book eagerly, and perceived
that its substantiality and power were still ahead of any
eulogium with which it might have been commended to
me—and, in fact, ahead of most attempts that could be
made at verbal definition of them.
Some years afterwards, getting to know our friend
Swinburne, I found with much satisfaction that he also
was an ardent (not of course a blind) admirer of Whitman.
Satisfaction, and a degree almost of surprise; for his
intense sense of poetic refinement of form in his own
works, and his exacting acuteness as a critic, might have
seemed likely to carry him away from Whitman in sym-
pathy at least, if not in actual latitude of perception.
Those who find the American poet "utterly formless,"
"intolerably rough and floundering," "destitute of the
A B C of art," and the like, might not unprofitably ponder
this very different estimate of him by the author of
Atalanta in Calydon.
May we hope that now, twelve years after the first
appearance of Leaves of Grass, the English reading public
may be prepared for a selection of Whitman’s poems, and
soon hereafter for a complete edition of them? I trust
this may prove to be the case. At any rate, it has been
a great gratification to me to be concerned in the experi-
ment; and this is enhanced by my being enabled to as-
sociate with it your name, as that of an early and well-
qualified appreciator of Whitman, and no less as that
of a dear friend.
W. M. ROSSETTI.
DURING the summer of 1867 I had the opportunity
(which I had often wished for) of expressing in
print my estimate and admiration of the works of the
American poet Walt Whitman.* Like a stone dropped
into a pond, an article of that sort may spread out its
concentric circles of consequences. One of these is the
invitation which I have received to edit a selection from
Whitman’s writings: virtually the first sample of his
work ever published in England, and offering the first
tolerably fair chance he has had of making his way with
English readers on his own showing. Hitherto, such
reader—except the small percentage of them to whom it
has happened to come across the poems in some one of
their American editions—have picked acquaintance with
them only through the medium of newspaper extracts
and criticisms, mostly short-sighted, sneering, and depre-
ciatory, and rather intercepting than forwarding the candid
* See The Chronicle for 6th July 1867, article Walt Whitman’s
construction which people mich be willing to put upon
the poems, alike in their beauties and their aberrations.
Some English critics, no doubt, have been more discern-
ing—as W. J. Fox, of old, in the Dispatch, the writer of
the notice in the Leader, and of late two on the Pall Mall
Gazette and the London Review;* but these have been the
exceptions among us, the great majority of the reviewers
presenting that happy and familiar critical combination—
scurrility and superciliousness.
As it was my lot to set down so recently several of the
considerations which seem to me most essential and most
obvious in regard to Whitman’s writings, I can scarcely
now recur to the subject without either repeating some-
thing of what I then said, or else leaving unstated some
points of principal importance. I shall therefore adopt
the simplest course—that of summarizing the critical re-
marks in my former article; after which, I shall leave
without further development (ample as is the amount of
development most of them would claim) the particular
topics there glanced at, and shall proceed to some other
phases of the subject.
Whitman republished in 1867 his complete poetical
works in one moderate-sized volume, consisting of the
whole Leaves of Grass, with a sort of supplement thereto
* Since this Prefatory Notice was written, another eulogistic
review of Whitman has appeared—that by Mr. Robert Buchanan,
in the Broadway.
named Songs before Parting,* and of the Drum Taps,
with its Sequel. It has been intimated that he does not exe
pect to write any more poems, unless it might be in expres-
sion of the religious side of man’s nature. However, one
poem on the last American harvest, sown and reaped by
those who had been soldiers in the great war, has already
appeared since the volume in question, and has been re-
published in England.
Whitman’s poems present no trace of rhyme, save in a
couple or so of chance instances. Parts of them, indeed,
may be regarded as a warp of prose amid the weft of
poetry, such as Shakespeare furnishes the precedent for in
drama. Still there is a very powerful and majestic
rhythmical sense throughout.
Lavish and persistent has been the abuse poured forth
upon Whitman by his own countrymen; the tricklings of
the British press give but a moderate idea of it. The
poet is known to repay scorn with scorn. Emerson can,
however, from the first be claimed as on Whitman’s side;
nor, it is understood after some enquiry, has the great
thinker since then retreated from this position in funda-
mentals, although his admiration may have entailed some
worry upon him, and reports of his recantation had been
rife. Of other writers on Whitman’s side, expressing
themselves with no measured enthusiasm, one may cite
* In a copy of the book revised by Whitman himself, which we have seen, this title is modified into Songs of Parting.
Mr. M. D. Conway; Mr. W. D. O’Connor, who wrote a
pamphlet named The Good Gret Poet; and Mr. John
Burroughs, author of Walt Whitman as Poet and
Person, published quite recently in New York. His
thorough-paced admirers declare Whitman to be beyond
rivalry the poet of the epoch; an estimate which, startling
as it will sound at the first, may nevertheless be upheld,
on the grounds that Whitman is beyond all his com-
petitors a man of the period, one of audacious personal
ascendant, incapable of all compromise, and an initiator in
the scheme and form of his works.
Certain faults are charged against him, and, as far as
they are true, shall frankly stand confessed—some of them
as very serious faults. Firstly, he speaks on occasion of
gross things in gross, crude, or plain terms. Secondly,
he uses some words absurd or ill-constructed, others which
produce a jarring effect in poetry, or indeed in any lofty
literature. Thirdly, he sins from time to time by being
obscure, fragmentary, and agglomerative—giving long
strings of successive and detached items, not, however,
devoid of a certain primitive effectiveness. Fourthly, his
self-assertion is boundless; yet not always to be under-
stood as strictly or merely personal to himself, but some-
times as vicarious, the poet speaking on behalf of all men,
and every man and woman. These and any other faults
appear most harshly on a cursory reading; Whitman is a
poet who bears and needs to be read as a whole, and then
the volume and torrent of his power carry the disfigure-
ments along with it, and away.
The subject-matter of Whitman’s poems, taken indi-
vidually, is absolutely miscellaneous: he touches upon
any and every subject. But he has prefixed to his last
edition an "Inscription" in the following terms, showing
that the key-words of the whole book are two—"One’s-
self" and "En Masse:"—
Small is the theme of the following chant, yet the greatest—namely,
ONE’S-SELF; that wondrous thing, a simple separate person.
That, for the use of the New World, I sing.
Man’s physiology complete, from top to toe, I sing. Not physiog-
nomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for the Muse: I say
the form complete is worthier far. The female equally with
the male I sing.
Nor cease at the theme of One’s-self. I speak the word of the
modern, the word EN MASSE.
My days I sing, and the lands—with interstice I knew of hapless
O friend, whoe’er you are, at last arriving hither to commence, I feel
through every leaf the pressure of your hand, which I return.
And thus upon our journey linked together let us go.
The book, then, taken as a whole, is the poem both of
Personality and of Democracy; and, it may be added, of
American nationalism. It is par excellence the modern
poem. It is distinguished also by this peculiarity—that
in it the most literal view of things is continually merging
into the most rhapsodic or passionately abstract. Pic-
turesqueness it has, but mostly of a somewhat patriarchal
kind, not deriving from the "word-painting" of the
littérateur; a certain echo of the old Hebrew poetry may
even be caught in it, extra-modern though it is. Another
most prominent and pervading quality of the book is the
exuberant physique of the author. The conceptions are
throughout those of a man in robust health, and might alter
much under different conditions.
Further, there is a strong tone of paradox in Whitman’s
writing. He is both a realist and an optimist in extreme
measure: he contemplates evil as in some sense not
existing, or, if existing, then as being of as much im-
portance as anything else. Not that he is a materialist;
on the contrary, he is a most strenuous assertor of the
soul, and, with the soul, of the body as its infallible asso-
ciate and vehicle in the present frame of things. Neither
does he drift into fatalism or indifferentism; the energy of
his temperament, and ever-fresh sympathy with national
and other developments, being an effectual bar to this.
The paradoxical element of the poems is such that one
may sometimes find them in conflict with what has pre-
ceded, and would not be much surprised if they said at
any moment the reverse of whatever they do say. This is
mainly due to the multiplicity of the aspects of things, and
to the immense width of relation in which Whitman stands
to all sorts and all aspects of them.
But the greatest of this poet’s distinctions is his absolute
and entire originality. He may be termed formless by
those who, not without much reason to show for them-
selves, are wedded to the established forms and ratified
refinements of poetic art; but it seems reasonable to
enlarge the canon till it includes so great and startling a
genius, rather than to draw it close and exclude him.
His work is practically certain to stand as archetypal for
many future poetic efforts—so great is his power as an
originator, so fervid his initiative. It forms incomparably
the largest performance of our period in poetry. Victor
Hugo’s Légende des Siècles alone might be named with
it for largeness, and even that with much less of a new
starting-point in conception and treatment. Whitman
breaks with all precedent. To what he himself perceives
and knows he has a personal relation of the intensest kind;
to anything in the way of prescription, no relation at all.
But he is saved from isolation by the depth of his Ameri-
canism; with the movement of his predominant nation he
is moved. His comprehension, energy, and tenderness, are
all extreme, and all inspired by actualities. And, as for
poetic genius, those who, without being ready to concede
that faculty to Whitman, confess his iconoclastic boldness
and his Titanic power of temperament, working in the
sphere of poetry, do in effect confess his genius as
Such, still further condensed, was the critical summary
which I gave of Whitman’s position among poets. It
remains to say something a little more precise of the
particular qualities of his works. And first, not to slur
over defects, I shall extract some sentences from a letter
which a friend, most highly entitled to form and express an
opinion on any poetic question—one, too, who abundantly
upholds the greatness of Whitman as a poet—has addres-
sed to me with regard to the criticism above condensed.
His observations, though severe on this individual point,
appear to me not other than correct. "I don’t think
that you quite put strength enough into your blame on
one side, while you make at least enough of minor faults
or eccentricities. To me it seems always that Whitman’s
great flaw is a fault of debility, not an excess of strength
—I mean his bluster. His own personal and national self-
reliance and arrogance, I need not tell you, I applaud,
and sympathize and rejoice in; but the blatant ebullience
of feeling and speech, at times, is feeble for so great a
poet of so great a people. He is in part certainly the poet
of democracy; but not wholly, because he tries so openly to
be, and asserts so violently that he is—always as if he was
fighting the cause out on a platform. This is the only thing
I really or greatly dislike or revolt from. On the whole"
(adds my correspondent) "my admiration and enjoyment
of his greatness grow keener and warmer every time I
think of him"—a feeling, I may be permitted to ob-
serve, which is fully shared by myself, and, I suppose,
by all who consent in any adequate measure to re-
cognise Whitman, and to yield themselves to his in-
To continue. Besides originality and daring, which
have been already insisted upon, width and intensity are
leading characteristics of his writings—width both
of subject-matter and of comprehension, intensity of
self-absorption into what the poet contemplates and
expresses. He scans and presents and enormous panorama,
unrolled before him as from a mountain-top; and yet
whatever most large or most minute or casual thing his
eye glances upon, that he enters into with a depth of
affection which identifies him with it for the time, be the
object what it may. There is a singular interchange
also of actuality and of ideal substratum and suggestion.
While he sees men, with even abnormal exactness and
sympathy, as men, he sees them also "as trees walking,"
and admits us to perceive that the whole show is in a
measure spectral and unsubstantial, and the mask of a
larger and profounder reality beneath it, of which it is
giving perpetual intimations and auguries. He is the poet
indeed of literality, but of passionate and significant
literality, full of indirections as well as directness, and of
readings between the lines. If he is the ’cutest of Yankees,
he is also as truly an enthusiast as any the most typical poet.
All his faculties and performance glow into a white
heat of brotherliness; and there is a poignancy both of
tenderness and of beauty about his finer works which
discriminates them quite as much as their modernness,
audacity, or any other exceptional point. If the reader
wishes to see the great and more intimate powers of
Whitman in their fullest expression, he may consult the
Nocturn for the Death of Lincoln; than which it would
be difficult to find anywhere a purer, more elevated,
more poetic, more ideally abstract, or at the same time
more pathetically personal, threnody—uniting the thrilling
chords of grief, of beauty, of triumph, and of final un-
fathomed satisfaction. With all his singularities, Whitman
is a master of words and of sounds: he has them at his
command—made for, and instinct with, his purpose—
messengers of unsurpassable sympathy and intelligence
between himself and his readers. The entire book may
be called the pæan of the natural man—not of the merely
physical, still less of the disjunctively intellectual or
spiritual man, but of him who, being a man first and fore-
most, is therein also a spirit and an intellect.
There is a singular and impressive intuition or revela-
tion of Swedenborg’s: that the whole of heaven is in the
form of one man, and the separate societies of heaven in
the forms of the several parts of man. In a large sense,
the general drift of Whitman’s writings, even down to the
passages which read as most bluntly physical, bear a
striking correspondence or analogy to this dogma. He
takes man, and every organism and faculty of man, as the
unit—the datum—from which all that we know, discern,
and speculate, of abstract and supersensual, as well as of
concrete and sensual, has to be computed. He knows of
nothing nobler than that unit man; but, knowing that, he
can use it for any multiple, and for any dynamical exten-
sion or recast.
Let us next obtain some idea of what this most remark-
able poet—the founder of American poetry rightly to be so
called, and the most sonorous poetic voice of the tangibi-
lities of actual and prospective democracy—is in his proper
life and person.
Walt Whitman (we infer that he was in fact baptized
Walter, like his father, but he always uses the name Walt)
was born at the farm-village of West Hills, Long Island,
in the State of New York, and about thirty miles distant
from the capital, on the 31st of May 1819. His father’s
family, English by origin, had already been settled in this
locality for five generations. His mother, named Louisa
van Velsor, was of Dutch extraction, and came from Cold
Spring, Queen’s Country, about three miles from West
Hills. "A fine-looking old lady" she has been termed in
her advanced age. A large family ensued from the mar-
riage. The father was a farmer, and afterwards a car-
penter and builder: both parents adhered in religion to
"the great Quaker iconoclast, Elias Hicks." Walt was
schooled at Brooklyn, a suburb of New York, and began
life at the age of thirteen, working as a printer, later on as a
country teacher, and then as a miscellaneous press-writer in
New York. From 1837 to 1848 he had, as Mr. Burroughs
too promiscuously expresses it, "sounded all experiences of
life, with all their passions, pleasures, and abandonments."
In 1849 he began travelling; and became at New Orleans a
newspaper editor, and at Brooklyn, two years afterwards,
a printer. He next followed his father’s business of car-
penter and builder. In 1862, after the breaking-out of
the great Civil War, in which his enthusiastic unionism
and also his anti-slavery feelings attached him inseparably
though not rancorously to the good cause of the North,
he undertook the nursing of the sick and wounded in the
field, writing also a correspondence in the New York
Times. I am informed that it was through Emerson’s
intervention that he obtained the sanction of President
Lincoln for this purpose of charity, with authority to
draw the ordinary army rations; Whitman stipulating at
the same time that he would not receive any remunera-
tion for his services. The first immediate occasion of his
going down to cam was on behalf of his brother, Lieu-
tenant-Colonel George W. Whitman, of the 51st New
York Veterans, who had been struck in the face by a
piece of shell at Fredericksburg. From the spring of
1863, this nursing, both in the field and more especially
in hospital at Washington, became his "one daily and
nightly occupation;" and the strongest testimony is borne
to his measureless self-devotion and kindliness in the
work, and to the unbounded fascination, a kind of magnetic
attraction and ascendency, which he exercised over the
patients, often with the happiest sanitary results. North-
erner or Southerner, the belligerents received the same
tending from him. It is said that by the end of the war
he had personally ministered to upwards of 100,000 sick
and wounded. In a Washington hospital he caught, in
the summer of 1864, the first illness he had ever known,
caused by poison absorbed into the system in attending
some of the worst causes of gangrene. It disabled him for
six months. He returned to the hospitals towards the
beginning of 1865, and obtained also a clerkship in the
Department of the Interior. It should be added that,
though he never actually joined the army as a combatant,
he made a point of putting down his name on the enrol-
ment-lists for the draft, to take his chance as it might
happen for serving the country in arms. The reward of
his devotedness came at the end of June 1856, in the
form of dismissal from his clerkship by the minister, Mr.
Harlan, who learned that Whitman was the author of the
Leaves of Grass: a book whose outspokenness, or (as
the official chief considered it) immorality, raised a holy
horror in the ministerial breast. The poet, however,
soon obtained another modest but creditable post in the
office of the Attorney-General. He still visits the
hospitals on Sundays, and often on other days as
The portrait of Mr. Whitman reproduced in the present
volume is taken from an engraving after a daguerreotype
given in the original Leaves of Grass. He is much above
the average size, and noticeably well-proportioned—a
model of physique and health, and, by natural con-
sequence, as fully and finely related to all physical facts
by his bodily constitution as to all mental and spiritual
facts by his mind and his consciousness. He is now, how-
ever, old-looking for his years, and might even (according
to the statement of one of his enthusiasts, Mr. O’Connor)
have passed for being beyond the age for the draft when
the war was going on. The same gentleman, in confuta-
tion of any inferences which might be drawn from the
Leaves of Grass by a Harlan or other Holy Willie, affirms
that "one more irreproachable in his relations to the other
sex lives not upon this earth"—an assertion which one
must take as one finds it, having neither confirmatory nor
traversing evidence at hand. Whitman has light blue
eyes, a florid complexion, a fleecy beard now grey, and a
quite peculiar sort of magnetism about him in relation to
those with whom he comes in contact. His ordinary
appearance is masculine and cheerful: he never shows
depression of spirits, and is sufficiently undemonstrative,
and even somewhat silent in company. He has always
been carried by predilection towards the society of the
common people; but is not the less for that open to
refined and artistic impressions—fond of operatic and
other good music, and discerning in works of art. As to
either praise or blame of what he writes, he is totally in-
different, not to say scornful—having in fact a very
decisive opinion of his own concerning its calibre and
destinies. Thoreau, a very congenial spirit, said of
Whitman "He is Democracy;" and again, "After all,
he suggests something a little more than human." Lincoln
broke out into the exclamation "Well, he looks like a
man!" Whitman responded to the instinctive apprecia-
tion of the President, considering him (it is said by Mr.
Burroughs) "by far the noblest and purest of the political
characters of the time;" and, if anything can cast, in the
eyes of posterity, an added halo of brightness round the
unsullied personal qualities and the great doings of Lincoln,
it will assuredly be the written monument reared to him
The best sketch that I know of Whitman as an acces-
sible human individual is that given by Mr. Conway.* I
borrow from it with the following few details. "Having occa-
sion to visit New York soon after the appearance of
Walt Whitman’s book, I was urged by some friends to
search him out. . . The day was excessively hot, the
thermometer at nearly 100º, and the sun blazed down
as only on sandy Long Island can the sun blaze. . . I
saw stretched upon his back, and gazing up straight at
the terrible sun, the man I was seeking. With his grey
clothing, his blue-grey shirt, his iron-grey hair, his swart
sunburnt face and bare neck, he lay upon the brown-and-
white grass—for the sun had burnt away its greenness—
and was so like the earth upon which he rested that he
seemed almost enough a part of it for one to pass by
without recognition. I approached him, gave my name
and reason for searching him out, and asked him if he did
not find the sun rather hot. ’Not at all too hot,’ was his
reply; and he confided to me that this was one of his
favourite places and attitudes for composing ’poems.’ He
then walked with me to his home, and took me along its
narrow ways to his room. A small room of about fifteen
feet square, with a single window looking out on the barren
solitudes of the island; a small cot, a wash-stand with a
little looking-glass hung over it from a tack in the wall, a
pine table with pen, ink, and paper, on it; an old line-
engraving representing Bacchus, hung on the wall, and
opposite a similar one of Silenus; these constituted the
visible environments of Walt Whitman. There was not,
apparently, a single book in the room. . . The books he
seemed to know and love best were the Bible, Homer,
and Shakespeare: these he owned, and probably had in
his pockets while we were talking. He had two studies
where he read; one was the top of an omnibus, and the
other a small mass of sand, then entirely uninhabited, far
out in the ocean, called Coney Island. . . The only dis-
tinguished contemporary he had ever met was the Rev.
Henry Ward Beecher, of Brooklyn, who had visited
him. . . He confessed to having no talent for industry,
and that his forte was ’loafing and writing poems:’ he
was poor, but had discovered that he could, on the whole,
live magnificently on bread and water. . . On no occasion
did he laugh, nor indeed did I ever see him smile."
The first trace of Whitman as a writer is in the pages
of the Democratic Review in or about 1841. Here he
wrote some prose tales and sketches—poor stuff mostly,
so far as I have seen of them, yet not to be wholly con-
founded with the commonplace. One of them is a tragic
school-incident, which may be surmised to have fallen
under his personal observation in his early experience as
a teacher. His first poem of any sort was named Blood
Money, in denunciation of the Fugitive Slave Law, which
severed him from the Democratic party. His first con-
siderable work was the Leaves of Grass. He began it
in 1853, and it underwent two or three complete re-
writings prior to its publication at Brooklyn in 1855, in a
quarto volume—peculiar-looking, but with something per-
ceptibly artistic about it. The type of that edition was
set up entirely by himself. He was moved to undertake
this formidable poetic work (as indicated in a private letter
of Whitman’s, from which Mr. Conway has given a sentence
or two) by his sense of the great materials which America
could offer for a really American poetry, and by his con-
tempt for the current work of his compatriots—"either
the poetry of an elegantly weak sentimentalism, at bottom
nothing but maudlin puerilities or more or less musical
verbiage, arising out of a life of depression and enervation
as their result; or else that class of poetry, plays, &c., of
which the foundation is feudalism, with its ideas of lords
and ladies, its imported standard of gentility, and the
manners of European high-life-below-stairs in every line
and verse." Thus incited to poetic self-expression,
Whitman (adds Mr. Conway) "wrote on a sheet of paper,
in large letters, these words ’Make the Work,’ and fixed
it above his table, where he could always see it whilst
writing. Thenceforth every cloud that flitted over him,
every distant sail, every face and form encountered, wrote
a line in his book."
The Leaves of Grass excited no sort of notice
until a letter from Emerson* appeared, expressing a
deep sense of its power and magnitude. He termed
it "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom
that America has yet contributed." The edition of
about a thousand copies sold off in less than a
year. Towards the end of 1856 a second edition in
16mo appeared, printed in New York, also of about a
* Mr. Burroughs (to whom I have recourse for most biographical
facts concerning Whitman) is careful to note, in order that no mis-
apprehension may arise on the subject, that, up to the time of his
publishing the Leaves of Grass, the author had not read either the
essays or the poems of Emerson.
thousand copies. Its chief feature was an additional poem
beginning "A Woman waits for me." It excited a con-
siderable storm. Another edition, of about four to five
thousand copies, duodecimo, came out at Boston in
1860-61, including a number of new pieces. The Drum
Taps, consequent upon the war, with their Sequel which
comprises the poem on Lincoln, followed in 1865; and in
1867, as I have already noted, a complete edition of all
the poems, including a supplement named Songs before
Parting. The first of all the Leaves of Grass, in point
of date, was the long and powerful composition, entitled,
Walt Whitman—perhaps the most typical and memo-
rable of all his productions, but shut out from the
present selection for reasons given further on. The final
edition shows numerous and considerable variations from
all its precursors; evidencing once again that Whitman is
by no means the rough-and-ready writer, panoplied in rude
art and egotistic self-sufficiency, that many people suppose
him to be. Even since this issue, the book has been
slightly revised by its author’s own hand, with a special
view to possible English circulation. The copy so revised
has reached me (through the liberal and friendly hands of
Mr. Conway) after my selection had already been decided
on; and the few departures from the last printed text
which might on comparison be found in the present volume
are due to my having had the advantage of following this
revise copy. In all other respects I have felt bound to
reproduce the last edition, without so much as considering
whether here and there I might personally prefer the
readings of the earlier issues.
The selection here offered to the English reader con-
tains a little less than half the entire bulk of Whitman’s
poetry. My choice has proceeded upon two simple rules:
first, to omit entirely every poem which could with any
tolerable fairness be deemed offensive to the feelings of
morals or propriety in this peculiarly nervous age; and,
second, to include every remaining poem which appeared
to me of conspicuous beauty or interest. I have also in-
serted the very remarkable prose preface which Whitman
printed in the original edition of Leaves of Grass, an
edition that has become a literary rarity. This preface
has not been reproduced in any later publication, although
its materials have to some extent been worked up into
poems of a subsequent date.* From this prose composition,
contrary to what has been my rule with any of the poems,
it has appeared to me permissible to omit two or three
short phrases which would have shocked ordinary readers,
and the retention of which, had I held it obligatory, would
have entailed the exclusion of the preface itself as a whole.
A few words must be added to the indecencies scattered
through Whitman’s writings. Indecencies or improprie-
ties—or, still better, deforming crudities—they may rightly
* Compare, for instance, the Preface, pp. 49, 50, with the poem
To a Foiled Revolter or Revoltress, p. 171.
be termed; to call them immoralities would be going too
far. Whitman finds himself, and other men and women,
to be a compound of soul and body; he finds that body
plays an extremely prominent and determining part in
whatever he and other mundane dwellers have cognizance
of; he perceives this to be the necessary condition of
things, and therefore, as he fully and openly accepts it,
the right condition; and he knows of no reason why what
is universally seen and known, necessary and right, should
not also be allowed and proclaimed in speech. That such
a view of the matter is entitled to a great deal of weight,
and at any rate to candid consideration and construction,
appears to me not to admit of a doubt; neither is it dubious
that the contrary view, the only view which a mealy-
mouthed British nineteenth century admits as endurable,
amounts to the condemnation of nearly every great or
eminent literary work of past time, whatever the century
it belongs to, the country it comes from, the department
of writing it illustrates, or the degree or sort of merit it
possesses. Tenth, second, or first century before Christ,
—first, eighth, fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, seventeenth,
or even eighteenth century A.D.—it is still the same: no
book whose subject-matter admits as possible of an impro-
priety according to current notions can be depended upon
to fail of containing such impropriety,—can, if those notions
are accepted as the canon, be placed with a sense of se-
curity in the hands of girls and youths, or read aloud to
women; and this holds good just as much of severely
moral or plainly descriptive as of avowedly playful, know-
ing, or licentious books. For my part, I am far from
thinking that earlier state of literature, and the public
feeling from which it sprang, the wrong ones—and our
present condition the only right one. Equally far there-
fore am I from indignantly condemning Whitman for
every startling allusion or expression which he has ad-
mitted into his book, and which I, from motives of policy,
have excluded from this selection; except, indeed, that I
think many of his tabooed passages are extremely raw and
ugly on the ground of poetic or literary art, whatever
aspect they may bear in morals. I have been rigid in
exclusion, because it appears to me highly desirable that
a fair verdict on Whitman should now be pronounced in
England on poetic grounds alone; and because it was
clearly impossible that the book, with its audacities of
topic and of expression included, should run the same
chance of justice, and of circulation through refined minds
and hands, which may possibly be accorded to it after the
rejection of all such peccant poems. As already intimated,
I have not in a single instance excised any parts of
poems: to do so would have been, I conceive, no less
wrongful towards the illustrious American than repug-
nant, and indeed unendurable, to myself, who aspire to no
Bowdlerian honours. The consequence is that the reader
loses in toto several important poems, and some extremely
fine ones—notably the one previously alluded to, of quite
exceptional value and excellence, entitled Walt Whit-
man. I sacrifice them grudgingly; and yet willingly, be-
cause I believe this to be the only thing to do with due
regard to the one reasonable object which a selection can
subserve—that of paving the way towards the issue and
unprejudiced reception of a complete edition of the poems
in England. For the benefit of misconstructionsists, let me
add in distinct terms that, in respect of morals and pro-
priety, I neither admire nor approve the incriminated
passages in Whitman’s poems, but on the contrary con-
sider that most of them would be much better away; and,
in respect of art, I doubt whether even one of them de-
serves to be retained in the exact phraseology it at present
exhibits. This, however, does not amount to saying that
Whitman is a vile man, or a corrupt or corrupting writer:
he is none of these.
The only division of his poems into selections, made by
Whitman himself, has been noted above: Leaves of
Grass, Songs before Parting, supplementary to the pre-
ceeding, and Drum Taps, with their Sequel. The peculiar
title, Leaves of Grass, has become almost inseparable
from the name of Whitman; it seems to express with
some aptness the simplicity, universality, and spontaneity,
of the poems to which it is applied. Songs before
Parting may indicate that these compositions close
Whitman’s poetic roll. Drum Taps are, of course,
songs of the Civil War, and their Sequel is mainly on
the same theme: the chief person in this last section being
the one on the death of Lincoln. These titles all apply to
fully arranged series of compositions. The present volume
is not in the same sense a fully arranged series, but a
selection; and the relation of the poems inter se appears
to me to depend on altered conditions, which, however
narrowed they are, it may be as well frankly to recognize
in practice. I have therefore redistributed the poems (a
latitude of action which I trust the author may not object
to), bringing together those whose subject-matter seems to
warrant it, however far separated they may possibly be in
the original volume. At the same time, I have retained
some characteristic terms used by Whitman himself, and
have named my sections respectively—
1. Chants Democratic (poems of democracy).
2. Drum Taps (war songs).
3. Walt Whitman (personal poems).
4. Leaves of Grass (unclassified poems).
5. Songs of Parting (missives).
The first thee designations explain themselves. The
fourth, Leaves of Grass, is not so specially applicable
to the particular poems of that selection here as I should
have liked it to be; but I could not consent to drop
this typical name. The Songs of Parting, my fifth section,
are compositions in which the poet expresses his own
sentiment regarding his works, in which he forecasts their
future, or consigns them to the reader’s consideration.
It deserves mention that, in the copy of Whitman’s last
American edition revised by his own hand as previously
noticed, the series termed Songs of Parting has been
recast, and made to consist of poems of the same character
as those included in my section No. 5.
Comparatively few of Whitman’s poems have been en-
dowed by himself with titles so properly called. Most of
them are merely headed with the opening words of the
poems themselves—as "I was looking a long while;" "To
get betimes in Boston Town;" "When lilacs last in the
door-yard bloomed;" and so on. It seems to me that in a
selection such a lengthy and circuitous method of identi-
fying the poems is not desirable: I should wish them to
be remembered by brief, repeatable, and significant titles.
I have therefore supplied titles of my own to such pieces
as bear none in the original edition: wherever a real title
appears in that edition, I have retained it.
With these remarks I commend to the English reader
the ensuing selection from a writer whom I sincerely be-
lieve to be, whatever his faults, of the order of great
poets, and by no means of pretty good ones. I would
urge the reader not to ask himself, and not to return any
answer to the questions, whether or not this poet is like
other poets—whether or not the particular application of
rules of art which is found to hold good in the works
of those others, and to constitute a part of their excellence,
can be traced also in Whitman. Let the questions rather
be—Is he powerful? Is he American? Is he new? Is
he rousing? Does he feel and make me feel? I enter-
tain no doubt as to the response which in due course of
time will be returned to these questions and such as
these, in America, in England, and elsewhere—or to the
further question, "Is Whitman then indeed a true and a
great poet?" Lincoln’s verdict bespeaks the ultimate
decision upon him, in his books as in his habit as he lives—
"Well, he looks like a man."
Walt Whitman occupies at the present moment aCome, I will make this continent indissoluble.*
unique position on the globe, and one which, even in
past time, can have been occupied by only an infinitesi-
mally small number of men. He is the one man who enter-
tains and professes respecting himself the grave conviction
that he is the actual and prospective founder of a new
poetic literature, and a great one—a literature proportional
to the material vastness and the unmeasured destinies of
America: he believes that the Columbus of the continent
or the Washington of the States was not more truly than
himself in the future a founder and upbuilder of this
America. Surely a sublime conviction, and expressed
more than once in magnificent words—none more so than
the lines beginning
Were the idea untrue, it would still be a glorious dream,
which a man of genius might be content to live in and
die for: but is it untrue? Is it not, on the contrary,
true, if not absolutely, yet with a most genuine and sub-
stantial approximation? I believe it is thus true. I
believe that Whitman is one of the huge, as yet mainly
unrecognised, forces of our time; privileged to evoke, in
a country hitherto still asking for its poet, a fresh, athletic,
and American poetry, and predestined to be traced up to
by generation after generation of believing and ardent—
let us hope not servile—disciples.
"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world."
Shelley, who knew what he was talking about when poetry
was the subject, has said it, and with a profundity of
truth. Whitman seems in a peculiar degree marked out
for "legislation" of the kind referred to. His voice will
one day be potential or magisterial wherever the English
language is spoken—that is to say, in the four corners of
the earth; and, in his own American hemisphere, the
uttermost avatars of democracy will confess him not more
their announcer than their inspirer.
W. M. ROSSETTI
LEAVES OF GRASS.
AMERICA does not repel the past, or what it has
produced under its forms, or amid other politics,
or the idea of castes, or the old religions; accepts the
lesson with calmness; is not so impatient as has been
supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and man-
ners and literature while the life which served its require-
ments has passed into the new life of the new forms;
perceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating
and sleeping rooms of the house; perceives that it waits
a little while in the door, that it was fittest for its days,
that its action has descended to the stalwart and well-
shaped heir who approaches, and that he shall be fittest
for his days.
The Americans, of all nations at any time upon the
earth, have probably the fullest poetical Nature. The
United States themselves are essentially the greatest
poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest
and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their
ampler largeness and stir. Here at last is something
in the doings of man that corresponds with the broad-
cast doings of the day and night. Here is not merely
a nation but a teeming nation of nations. Here is
action untied from strings necessarily blind to particu-
lars and details magnificently moving in vast masses.
Here is the hospitality which for ever indicates heroes.
Here are the roughs and beards and space and rug-
gedness and nonchalance that the soul loves. Here
the performance, disdaining the trivial, unapproached in
the tremendous audacity of its crowds and groupings
and the push of its perspective, spreads with crampless
and flowing breadth, and showers its prolific and splendid
extravagance. One sees it must indeed own the riches
of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt
while corn grows from the ground, or the orchards drop
apples, or the bays contain fish, or men beget children.
Other states indicate themselves in their deputies: but
the genius of the United States is not best or most
in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or
authors or colleges or churches or parlours, nor even
in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the
common people. Their manners, speech, dress, friendships,
—the freshness and candour of their physiognomy—the
picturesque looseness of their carriage—their deathless
attachment to freedom—their aversion to anything inde-
corous or soft or mean—the practical acknowledgment
of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other
states—the fierceness of their roused resentment—their
curiosity and welcome of novelty—their self-esteem and
wonderful sympathy—their susceptibility to a slight—the
air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to
stand in the presence of superiors—the fluency of their
speech—their delight in music, the sure symptom of
manly tenderness and native elegance of soul—their good
temper and open-handedness—the terrible significance of
their elections, the President’s taking off his hat to them
not they to him—these too are unrhymed poetry. It awaits
the gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it.
The largeness of nature or the nation were monstrous
without a corresponding largeness and generosity of the
spirit of the citizen. Not nature, nor swarming states,
nor streets and steamships, nor prosperous business, nor
farms nor capital nor learning, may suffice for the ideal
of man, nor suffice the poet. No reminiscences may suf-
fice either. A live nation can always cut a deep mark,
and can have the best authority the cheapest—namely
from its own soul. This is the sum of the profitable
uses of individuals or states, and of present action and
grandeur and of the subjects of poets.—As if it were
necessary to trot back generation after generation to the
eastern records! As if the beauty and sacredness of the
demonstrable must fall behind that of the mythical! As
if men do not make their mark out of any times! As if
the opening of the western continent by discovery, and
what has transpired since in North and South America,
were less than the small theatre of the antique, or the
aimless sleep-walking of the middle ages! The pride of
the United States leaves the wealth and finesse of the
cities, and all returns of commerce and agriculture, and
all the magnitude of geography or shows of exterior
victory, to enjoy the breed of full-sized men, or one full-
sized man unconquerable and simple.
The American poets are to enclose old and new; for
America is the race of races. Of them a bard is to be
commensurate with a people. To him the other conti-
nents arrive as contributions: he gives them reception
for their sake and his own sake. His spirit responds to
his country’s spirit: he incarnates its geography and
natural life and rivers and lakes. Mississippi with
annual freshets and changing chutes, Missouri and
Columbia and Ohio and Saint Lawrence with the Falls
and beautiful masculine Hudson, do not embouchure
where they spend themselves more than they embou-
chure into him. The blue breadth over the inland sea
of Virginia and Maryland, and the sea off Massachusetts
and Maine, and over Manhattan Bay and over Champlain
and Erie, and over Ontario and Huron and Michigan and
Superior, and over the Texan and Mexican and Floridian
and Cuban seas, and over the seas off California and
Oregon, is not tallied by the blue breadth of the waters
below more than the breadth of above and below is tallied
by him. When the long Atlantic coast stretches longer,
and the Pacific coast stretches longer, he easily stretches
with them north or south. He spans between them also
from east to west, and reflects what is between them. On
him rise solid growths that offset the growths of pine and
cedar and hemlock and live-oak and locust and chestnut
and cypress and hickory and limetree and cottonwood
and tulip-tree and cactus and wild-vine and tamarind and
persimmon, and tangles as tangled as any cane-brake or
swamp, and forests coated with transparent ice and icicles,
hanging from the boughs and crackling in the wind, and
sides and peaks of mountains, and pasturage sweet and
free as savannah or upland or prairie,—with flights and
songs and screams that answer those of the wild-pigeon
and high-hold and orchard-oriole and coot and surf-duck
and redshouldered-hawk and fish-hawk and white-ibis
and Indian-hen and cat-owl and water-pheasant and
qua-bird and pied-sheldrake and blackbird and mocking-
bird and buzzard and condor and night-heron and eagle.
To him the hereditary countenance descends, both mother’s
and father’s. To him enter the essences of the real things
and past and present events—of the enormous diversity
of temperature and agriculture and mines—the tribes of
red aborigines—the weather-beaten vessels entering new
ports, or making landings on rocky coasts—the first settle-
ments north or south—the rapid stature and muscle—the
haughty defiance of ’76, and the war and peace and
formation of the constitution—the union always sur-
rounded by blatherers, and always calm and impreg-
nable—the perpetual coming of immigrants—the wharf-
hemmed cities and superior marine—the unsurveyed
interior—the loghouses and clearings and wild animals
and hunters and trappers—the free commerce—the
fisheries and whaling and gold-digging—the endless
gestation of new states—the convening of Congress every
December, the members duly coming up from all climates
and the uttermost parts—the noble character of the young
mechanics and of all free American workmen and work-
women—the general ardour and friendliness and enter-
prise—the perfect equality of the female with the male—
the large amativeness—the fluid movement of the popu-
lation—the factories and mercantile life and labour-saving
machinery—the Yankee swap—the New York firemen and
the target excursion—the southern plantation life—the
character of the northeast and of the northwest and
southwest—slavery and the tremulous spreading of
hands to protect it, and the stern opposition to it
which shall never cease till it ceases, or the speaking
of tongues and the moving of lips cease. For such the
expression of the American poet is to be transcendent
and new. It is to be indirect, and not direct or
descriptive or epic. Its quality goes through these to
much more. Let the age and wars of other nations be
chanted, and their eras and characters be illustrated,
and that finish the verse. Not so the great psalm of
the republic. Here the theme is creative, and has
vista. Here comes one among the well-beloved stone-
cutters, and plans with decision and science, and sees
the solid and beautiful forms of the future where there
are now no solid forms.
Of all nations, the United States, with veins full of
poetical stuff, most need poets, and will doubtless have the
greatest, and use them the greatest. Their Presidents
shall not be their common referee so much as their poets
shall. Of all mankind, the great poet is the equable man.
Not in him, but off from him, things are grotesque or
eccentric, or fail of their sanity. Nothing out of its place
is good, and nothing in its place is bad. He bestows on
every object or quality its fit proportions, neither more
nor less. He is the arbiter of the diverse, and he is
the key. He is the equalizer of his age and land: he
supplies what wants supplying, and checks what wants
checking. If peace is the routine, out of him speaks the
spirit of peace, large, rich, thrifty, building vast and
populous cities, encouraging agriculture and the arts and
commerce—lighting the study of man, the soul, immor-
tality—federal, state or municipal government, mar-
riage, health, free-trade, intertravel by land and sea—
nothing too close, nothing too far off,—the stars not
too far off. In war, he is the most deadly force of the
war. Who recruits him recruits horse and foot: he
fetches parks of artillery, the best that engineer ever
knew. If the time becomes slothful and heavy, he knows
how to arouse it: he can make every word he speaks
draw blood. Whatever stagnates in the flat of custom or
obedience or legislation, he never stagnates. Obedience
does not master him, he masters it. High up out of
reach, he stands turning a concentrated light; he turns
the pivot with his finger; he baffles the swiftest runners
as he stands, and easily overtakes and envelops them.
The time straying toward infidelity and confections
and persiflage he withholds by his steady faith; he
spreads out his dishes; he offers the sweet firm-fibred
meat that grows men and women. His brain is the
ultimate brain. He is no arguer, he is judgment. He
judges not as the judge judges, but as the sun falling
around 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 talk on the soul and eternity and God,
off of his equal plane, 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. Faith is the antiseptic of
the soul,—it pervades the common people and preserves
them: they never give up believing and expecting
and trusting. There is that indescribable freshness and
unconsciousness about an illiterate person that humbles
and mocks the power of the noblest expressive genius.
The poet sees for a certainty how one not a great artist
may be just as sacred and perfect as the greatest artist.
The power to destroy or remould is freely used by
him, but never the power of attack. What is past is past.
If he does not expose superior models, and prove himself
by every step he takes, he is not what is wanted. The
presence of the greatest poet conquers; not parleying
or struggling or any prepared attempts. Now he has
passed that way, see! after him! there is not left any
vestige of despair or misanthropy or cunning or exclu-
siveness, or the ignominy of a nativity or colour, or
delusion of hell or the necessity of hell; and no man
thenceforward shall be degraded for ignorance or weak-
ness or sin.
The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality.
If he breathes into any thing that was before thought
small, it dilates with the grandeur and life of the
universe. He is a seer—he is individual—he is complete
in himself: the others are as good as he; only he sees
it, and they do not. He is not one of the chorus—he
does not stop for any regulation—he is the President
of regulation. What the eyesight does to the rest he
does to the rest. Who knows the curious mystery of the
eyesight? The other senses corroborate themselves, but
this is removed from any proof but its own, and foreruns
the identities of the spiritual world. A single glance of it
mocks all the investigations of man, and all the instruments
and books of the earth, and all reasoning. What is mar-
vellous? what is unlikely? what is impossible or baseless
or vague? after you have once just opened the space of
a peachpit, and given audience to far and near and to the
sunset, and had all things enter with electric swiftness,
softly and duly, without confusion or jostling or jam.
The land and sea, the animals, fishes, and birds, the
sky of heaven and the orbs, the forests, mountains, and
rivers, are not small themes: but folks expect of the poet
to indicate more than the beauty and dignity which
always attach to dumb real objects,—they expect him
to indicate the path between reality and their souls.
Men and women perceive the beauty well enough—pro-
bably as well as he. The passionate tenacity of hunters,
woodmen, early risers, cultivators of gardens and orchards
and fields, the love of healthy women for the manly form,
seafaring persons, drivers of horses, the passion for light
and the open air, all is an old varied sign of the unfailing
perception of beauty, and of a residence of the poetic, in
outdoor people. They can never be assisted by poets
to perceive: some may, but they never can. The poetic
quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity, or
abstract addresses to things, nor in melancholy complaints
or good precepts, but is the life of these and much else,
and is in the soul. The profit of rhyme is that it drops
seeds of a sweeter and more luxuriant rhyme; and, of
uniformity, that it conveys itself into its own roots in the
ground out of sight. The rhyme and uniformity of perfect
poems show the free growth of metrical laws, and bud
from them as unerringly and loosely as lilacs or roses on a
bush, and take shapes as compact as the shapes of chest-
nuts and oranges and melons and pears, and shed the
perfume impalpable to form. The fluency and ornaments
of the finest poems or music or orations or recitations
are not independent, but dependent. All beauty comes
from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. If the great-
nesses are in conjunction in a man or woman, it is
enough—the fact will prevail through the universe:
but the gaggery and gilt of a million years will not pre-
vail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or
fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth
and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to
every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants,
argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence
towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known
or unknown or to any man or number of men, go
freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the
young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves
in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church
or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own
soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and
have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the
silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes
of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your
body. The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded
work. He shall know that the ground is always ready
ploughed and manured: others may not know it, but
he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His
trust shall master the trust of everything he touches,
and shall master all attachment.
The known universe has one complete lover, and that
is the greatest poet. He consumes an eternal passion,
and is indifferent which chance happens, and which
possible contingency of fortune or misfortune, and per-
suades daily and hourly his delicious pay. What balks
or breaks others is fuel for his burning progress to
contact and amorous joy. Other proportions of the
reception of pleasure dwindle to nothing to his pro-
portions. All expected from heaven or from the highest
he is rapport with in the sight of the daybreak, or
a scene of the winter woods, or the presence of children
playing, or with his arm round the neck of a man or
woman. His love, above all love, has leisure and
expanse—he leaves room ahead of himself. He is no
irresolute or suspicious lover—he is sure—he scorns
intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills
are not for nothing. Nothing can jar him: suffering
and darkness cannot—death and fear cannot. To him
complaint and jealousy and envy are corpses buried and
rotten in the earth—he saw them buried. The sea is not
surer of the shore, or the shore of the sea, than he is of
the fruition of his love, and of all perfection and beauty.
The fruition of beauty is no chance of hit or
miss—it is inevitable as life—it is exact and plumb
as gravitation. From the eyesight proceeds another
eyesight, and from the hearing proceeds another
hearing, and from the voice proceeds another voice,
eternally curious of the harmony of things with man.
To these respond perfections, not only in the committees
that were supposed to stand for the rest, but in the
rest themselves just the same. These understand the
law of perfection in masses and floods—that its finish
is to each for itself and onward from itself—that it is
profuse and impartial—that there is not a minute of the
light or dark, nor an acre of the earth or sea, without
it—nor any direction of the sky, nor any trade or
employment, nor any turn of events. This is the reason
that about the proper expression of beauty there is pre-
cision and balance,—one part does not need to be thrust
above another. The best singer is not the one who has
the most lithe and powerful organ: the pleasure of
poems is not in them that take the handsomest measure
and similes and sound.
Without effort, and without exposing in the least
how it is done, the greatest poet brings the spirit of
any or all events and passions and scenes and persons,
some more and some less, to bear on your individual
character, as you hear or read. To do this well is to
compete with the laws that pursue and follow time.
What is the purpose must surely be there, and the
clue of it must be there; and the faintest indication is
the indication of the best, and then becomes the clearest
indication. Past and present and future are not disjoined
but joined. The greatest poet forms the consistence of
what is to be from what has been and is. He drags
the dead out of their coffins, and stands them again
on their feet: he says to the past, Rise and walk
before me that I may realize you. He learns the
lesson—he places himself where the future becomes
present. The greatest poet does not only dazzle his
rays over character and scenes and passions,—he
finally ascends and finishes all: he exhibits the pin-
nacles that no man can tell what they are for or
what is beyond—he glows a moment on the extremest
verge. He is most wonderful in his last half-hidden
smile or frown: by that flash of the moment of
parting the one that sees it shall be encouraged or
terrified afterward for many years. The greatest poet
does not moralize or make applications of morals,—he
knows the soul. The soul has that measureless pride
which consists in never acknowledging any lessons but
its own. But it has sympathy as measureless as its
pride, and the one balances the other, and neither can
stretch too far while it stretches in company with the
other. The inmost secrets of art sleep with the twain.
The greatest poet has lain close betwixt both, and they
are vital in his style and thoughts.
The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine
of the light of letters, is simplicity. Nothing is better
than simplicity,—nothing can make up for excess or for
the lack of definiteness. To carry on the heave of impulse,
and pierce intellectual depths, and give all subjects their
articulations, are powers neither common nor very un-
common. But to speak in literature with the perfect
rectitude and insousiance of the movements of animals,
and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of trees in
the woods and grass by the roadside, is the flawless
triumph of art. If you have looked on him who has
achieved it, you have looked on one of the masters of
the artists of all nations and times. You shall not con-
template the flight of the grey-gull over the bay, or the
mettlesome action of the blood horse, or the tall leaning
of sunflowers on their stalk, or the appearance of the sun
journeying through heaven, or the appearance of the
moon afterward, with any more satisfaction than you
shall contemplate him. The greatest poet has less a
marked style, and is more the channel of thoughts and
things without increase or diminution, and is the free
channel of himself. He swears to his art,—I will not be
meddlesome, I will not have in my writing any elegance
or effect or originality to hang in the way between me
and the rest like curtains. I will have nothing hang in
the way, not the richest curtains. What I tell I tell for
precisely what it is. Let who may exalt or startle or
fascinate or sooth, I will have purposes as health or
heat or snow has, and be as regardless of observation.
What I experience or pourtray shall go from my com-
position without a shred of my composition. You shall
stand by my side, and look in the mirror with me.
The old red blood and stainless gentility of great poets
will be proved by their unconstraint. A heroic person
walks at his ease through and out of that custom or
precedent or authority that suits him not. Of the traits
of the brotherhood of writers, savans, musicians, inventors,
and artists, nothing is finer than silent defiance advancing
from new free forms. In the need of poems, philosophy,
politics, mechanism, science, behaviour, the craft of art,
an appropriate native grand opera, shipcraft or any craft,
he is greatest forever and forever who contributes the
greatest original practical example. The cleanest ex-
pression is that which finds no sphere worthy of itself,
and makes one.
The messages of great poets to each man and woman
are,—Come to us on equal terms, only then can you
understand us. We are no better than you; what we
enclose you enclose, what we enjoy you may enjoy.
Did you suppose there could be only one Supreme? We
affirm there can be unnumbered Supremes, and that one
does not countervail another any more than one eyesight
countervails another—and that men can be good or grand
only of the consciousness of their supremacy within them.
What do you think is the grandeur of storms and dis-
memberments, and the deadliest battles and wrecks, and
the wildest fury of the elements, and the power of the
sea, and the motion of nature, and of the throes of human
desires, and dignity and hate and love? It is that
something in the soul which says,—Rage on, whirl on, I
tread master here and everywhere; master of the spasms
of the sky and of the shatter of the sea, master of nature
and passion and death, and of all terror and all pain.
The American bards shall be marked for generosity
and affection and for encouraging competitors: they
shall be kosmos—without monopoly or secrecy—glad to
pass any thing to any one—hungry for equals night
and day. They shall not be careful of riches and
privilege,—they shall be riches and privilege: they shall
perceive who the most affluent man is. The most afflu-
ent man is he that confronts all the shows he sees by
equivalents out of the stronger wealth of himself. The
American bard shall delineate no class of persons, nor one
or two out of the strata of interests, nor love most nor
truth most, nor the soul most nor the body most; and
not be for the eastern states more than the western, or
the northern states more than the southern.
Exact science and its practical movements are no checks
on the greatest poet, but always his encouragement
and support. The outset and remembrance are there—
there the arms that lifted him first and brace him best—
there he returns after all his goings and comings. The
sailor and traveller, the anatomist, chemist, astronomer,
geologist, phrenologist, spiritualist, mathematician, his-
torian, and lexicographer, are not poets; but they are the
lawgivers of poets, and their construction underlies the
structure of every perfect poem. No matter what rises or
is uttered, they sent the seed of the conception of it: of
them and by them stand the visible proofs of souls.
If there shall be love and content between the father and
the son, and if the greatness of the son is the exuding of
the greatness of the father, there shall be love between
the poet and the man of demonstrable science. In the
beauty of poems are the tuft and final applause of science.
Great is the faith of the flush of knowledge, and of the
investigation of the depths of qualities and things. Cleav-
ing and circling here swells the soul of the poet: yet is
president of itself always. The depths are fathomless and
therefore calm. The innocence and nakedness are re-
sumed—they are neither modest nor immodest. The
whole theory of the special and supernatural, and all that
was twined with it or educed out of it, departs as a
dream. What has ever happened, what happens, and
whatever may or shall happen, the vital laws enclose
all: they are sufficient for any case and for all
cases—none to be hurried or retarded—any miracle of
affairs or persons inadmissible in the vast clear scheme
where every motion, and every spear of grass, and the
frames and spirits of men and women, and all that con-
cerns them, are unspeakably perfect miracles, all referring
to all, and each distinct and in its place. It is also not
consistent with the reality of the soul to admit that there
is anything in the known universe more divine than men
Men and women, and the earth and all upon it, are
simply to be taken as they are, and the investigation of
their past and present and future shall be unintermitted,
and shall be done with perfect candour. Upon this basis
philosophy speculates, ever looking toward the poet, ever
regarding the eternal tendencies of all toward happiness,
never inconsistent with what is clear to the senses and to
the soul. For the eternal tendencies of all toward happi-
ness make the only point of sane philosophy. Whatever
comprehends less than that—whatever is less than the
laws of light and of astronomical motion—or less than
the laws that follow the thief, the liar, the glutton, and
the drunkard, through this life, and doubtless after-
ward—or less than vast stretches of time, or the slow
formation of density, or the patient upheaving of strata—
is of no account. Whatever would put God in a poem or
system of philosophy as contending against some being or
influence is also of no account. Sanity and ensemble
characterize the great master:—spoilt in one principle,
all is spoilt. The great master has nothing to do with
miracles. He sees health for himself in being one of
the mass—he sees the hiatus in singular eminence. To
the perfect shape comes common ground. To be under
the general law is great, for that is to correspond with it.
The master knows that he is unspeakably great, and that
all are unspeakably great—that nothing for instance is
greater than to conceive children, and bring them up
well—that to be is just as great as to perceive or tell.
In the make of the great masters the idea of political
liberty is indispensible. Liberty takes the adherence
of heroes wherever men and women exist; but never
takes any adherence or welcome from the rest more than
from poets. They are the voice and exposition of liberty.
They out of ages are worthy the grand idea,—to
them it is confided, and they must sustain it. Nothing
has precedence of it, and nothing can warp or degrade it.
The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves, and
horrify despots. The turn of their necks, the sound of
their feet, the motions of their wrists, are full of hazard
to the one and hope to the other. Come nigh them
awhile, and, though they neither speak nor advise, you
shall learn the faithful American lesson. Liberty is
poorly served by men whose good intent is quelled from
one failure or two failures or any number of failures,
or from the casual indifference or ingratitude of the
people, or from the sharp show of the tushes of power,
or the bringing to bear soldiers and cannon or any penal
statutes. Liberty relies upon itself, invites no one,
promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive
and composed, and knows no discouragement. The
battle rages with many a loud alarm and frequent
advance and retreat—the enemy triumphs—the prison,
the handcuffs, the iron necklace and anklet, the scaffold,
garrote, and lead-balls, do their work—the cause is
asleep—the strong throats are choked with their own
blood—the young men drop their eyelashes toward the
ground when they pass each other . . . . and is liberty
gone out of that place? No, never. When liberty goes,
it is not the first to go, nor the second or third to
go: it waits for all the rest to go—it is the last.
When the memories of the old martyrs are faded utterly
away—when the large names of patriots are laughed at
in the public halls from the lips of the orators—when
the boys are no more christened after the same, but
christened after tyrants and traitors instead—when the
laws of the free are grudgingly permitted, and laws for
informers and blood-money are sweet to the taste of the
people—when I and you walk abroad upon the earth, stung
with compassion at the sight of numberless brothers
answering our equal friendship, and calling no man
master—and when we are elated with noble joy at the
sight of slaves—when the soul retires in the cool com-
munion of the night, and surveys its experience, and has
much ecstasy over the word and deed that put back a
helpless innocent person into the gripe of the gripers
or into any cruel inferiority—when those in all parts
of these states who could easier realize the true Ameri-
can character, but do not yet*—when the swarms of
cringers, suckers, doughfaces, lice of politics, planners
of sly involutions for their own preferment to city offices
or state legislatures or the judiciary or Congress or the
Presidency, obtain a response of love and natural defer-
ence from the people, whether they get the offices or
no—when it is better to be a bound booby and rogue
in office at a high salary than the poorest free mechanic
or farmer, with his hat unmoved from his head, and
firm eyes, and a candid and generous heart—and when
servility by town or state or the federal government,
or any oppression on a large scale or small scale, can be
tried on without its own punishment following duly
after in exact proportion, against the smallest chance of
escape—or rather when all life and all the souls of men
and women are discharged from any part of the earth—
* This clause is obviously imperfect in some respect: it is here
reproduced verbatim from the American edition.
then only shall the instinct of liberty be discharged from
that part of the earth.
As the attributes of the poets of the kosmos concentre
in the real body and soul and in the pleasure of things,
they possess the superiority of genuineness over all
fiction and romance. As they emit themselves, facts
are showered over with light—the daylight is lit with
more volatile light—also the deep between the setting
and rising sun goes deeper many-fold. Each precise
object or condition or combination or process exhibits a
beauty: the multiplication-table its—old age its—the
carpenter’s trade its—the grand opera its: the huge-
hulled clean-shaped New York clipper at sea under steam
or full sail gleams with unmatched beauty—the American
circles and large harmonies of government gleam with
theirs, and the commonest definite intentions and actions
with theirs. The poets of the kosmos advance through
all interpositions and coverings and turmoils and strata-
gems to first principles. They are of use—they dissolve
poverty from its need and riches from its conceit. You
large proprietor, they say, shall not realize or perceive
more than any one else. The owner of the library is
not he who holds a legal title to it, having bought and
paid for it. Any one and every one is owner of the
library who can read the same through all the varieties
of tongues and subjects and styles, and in whom they enter
with ease, and take residence and force toward paternity
and maternity, and make supple and powerful and rich
and large. These American states, strong and healthy
and accomplished, shall receive no pleasure from viola-
tions of natural models, and must not permit them. In
paintings or mouldings or carvings in mineral or wood,
or in the illustrations of books or newspapers, or in any
comic or tragic prints, or in the patterns of woven stuffs,
or anything to beautify rooms or furniture or costumes,
or to put upon cornices or monuments or on the prows or
sterns of ships, or to put anywhere before the human eye
indoors or out, that which distorts honest shapes, or which
creates unearthly beings or places or contingencies, is a
nuisance and revolt. Of the human form especially, it is
so great it must never be made ridiculous. Of ornaments
to a work, nothing outré can be allowed; but those
ornaments can be allowed that conform to the perfect facts
of the open air, and that flow out of the nature of the
work, and come irrepressibly from it, and are necessary to
the completion of the work. Most works are most beau-
tiful without ornament. Exaggerations will be rev-
enged in human physiology. Clean and vigorous chil-
dren are conceived only in those communities where the
models of natural forms are public every day . Great
genius and the people of these states must never be
demeaned to romances. As soon as histories are properly
told, there is no more need of romances.
The great poets are also to be known by the absence in
them of tricks, and by the justification of perfect personal
candour. Then folks echo a new cheap joy and a divine
voice leaping from their brains: How beautiful is can-
dour! All faults may be forgiven of him who has perfect
candour. Henceforth let no man of us lie, for we have
seen that openness wins the inner and outer world, and
that there is no single exception, and that never since
our earth gathered itself in a mass has deceit or subter-
fuge or prevarication attracted its smallest particle or the
faintest tinge of a shade—and that through the enveloping
wealth and rank of a state or the whole republic of states
a sneak or sly person shall be discovered and despised
—and that the soul has never been once fooled and
never can be fooled—and thrift without the loving
nod of the soul is only a fœtid puff—and there never
grew up in any of the continents of the globe, nor upon
any planet or satellite or star, nor upon the asteroids, nor
in any part of ethereal space, nor in the midst of density,
nor under the fluid wet of the sea, nor in that condition
which precedes the birth of babes, nor at any time during
the changes of life, nor in that condition that follows what
we term death, nor in any stretch of abeyance or action
afterward of vitality, nor in any process of formation or re-
formation anywhere, a being whose instinct hated the truth.
Extreme caution or prudence, the soundest organic
health, large hope and comparison and fondness for
women and children, large alimentiveness and destructive-
ness and causality, with a perfect sense of the oneness of
nature, and the propriety of the same spirit applied
to human affairs—these are called up of the float of
the brain of the world to be parts of the greatest poet
from his birth. Caution seldom goes far enough. It
has been thought that the prudent citizen was the
citizen who applied himself to solid gains, and did well
for himself and his family, and completed a lawful life
without debt or crime. The greatest poet sees and
admits these economies as he sees the economies of food
and sleep, but has higher notions of prudence than to
think he gives much when he gives a few slight attentions
at the latch of the gate. The premises of the prudence
of life are not the hospitality of it, or the ripeness and
harvest of it. Beyond the independence of a little sum
laid aside for burial-money, and of a few clapboards
around and shingles overhead on a lot of American soil
owned, and the easy dollars that supply the year’s plain
clothing and meals, the melancholy prudence of the
abandonment of such a great being as a man is to the
toss and pallor of years of moneymaking, with all their
scorching days and icy nights, and all their stifling deceits
and underhanded dodgings, or infinitesimals of parlours,
or shameless stuffing while others starve,—and all the
loss of the bloom and odour of the earth, and of the
flowers and atmosphere, and of the sea, and of the true
taste of the women and men you pass or have to do with
in youth or middle age, and the issuing sickness and
desperate revolt at the close of a life without elevation
or naïveté, and the ghastly chatter of a death without
serenity or majesty,—is the great fraud upon modern
civilization and forethought; blotching the surface and
system which civilization undeniably drafts, and moisten-
ing with tears the immense features it spreads and spreads
with such velocity before the reached kisses of the
soul. Still the right explanation remains to be made
about prudence. The prudence of the mere wealth and
respectability of the most esteemed life appears too faint
for the eye to observe at all when little and large alike
drop quietly aside at the thought of the prudence suitable
for immortality. What is wisdom that fills the thinness
of a year or seventy or eighty years, to wisdom spaced
out by ages, and coming back at a certain time with strong
reinforcements and rich presents and the clear faces of
wedding-guests as far as you can look in every direction
running gaily toward you? Only the soul is of
itself—all else has reference to what ensues. All that
a person does or thinks is of consequence. Not a move
can a man or woman make that affects him or her in
a day or a month, or any part of the direct lifetime or
the hour of death, but the same affects him or her
onward afterward through the indirect lifetime. The
indirect is always as great and real as the direct. The
spirit receives from the body just as much as it gives
to the body. Not one name of word or deed—
not of the putrid veins of gluttons or rum-drinkers—
not peculation or cunning or betrayal or murder—no
serpentine poison of those that seduce women—not the
foolish yielding of women—not of the attainment of gain
by discreditable means—not any nastiness of appetite—
not any harshness of officers to men, or judges to prisoners,
or fathers to sons, or sons to fathers, or of husbands to
wives, or bosses to their boys—not of greedy looks
or malignant wishes—nor any of the wiles practised by people upon themselves—ever is or ever can be stamped on the
programme, but it is duly realized and returned, and that
returned in further performances, and they returned again.
Nor can the push of charity or personal force ever be any-
thing else than the profoundest reason, whether it bring
arguments to hand or no. No specification is necessary—to
add or subtract or divide is in vain. Little or big, learned
or unlearned, white or black, legal or illegal, sick or well,
from the first inspiration down the windpipe to the last
expiration out of it, all that a male or female does that is
vigorous and benevolent and clean is so much sure profit
to him or her in the unshakable order of the universe
and through the whole scope of it forever. If the savage
or felon is wise, it is well—if the greatest poet or
savant is wise, it is simply the same—if the President
or chief justice is wise, it is the same—if the young
mechanic or farmer is wise, it is no more or less.
The interest will come round—all will come round.
All the best actions of war and peace—all help given
to relatives and strangers, and the poor and old and
sorrowful, and young children and widows and the sick,
and to all shunned persons—all furtherance of fugitives
and of the escape of slaves—all the self-denial that stood
steady and aloof on wrecks, and saw others take the seats
of the boats—all offering of substance or life for the good
old cause, or for a friend’s sake or opinion’s sake—all
pains of enthusiasts scoffed at by their neighbours—all
the vast sweet love and precious suffering of mothers—
all honest men baffled in strifes recorded or unrecorded—
all the grandeur and good of the few ancient nations
whose fragments of annals we inherit—and all the good
of the hundreds of far mightier and more ancient nations
unknown to us by name or date or location—all that
was ever manfully begun, whether it succeeded or no—
all that has at any time been well suggested out of
the divine heart of man, or by the divinity of his
mouth, or by the shaping of his great hands—and
all that is well thought or done this day on any part of
the surface of the globe, or on any of the wander-
ing stars or fixed stars by those there as we are here
—or that is henceforth to be well thought or done
by you, whoever you are, or by any one—these singly
and wholly inured at their time, and inure now, and will
inure always, to the identities from which they sprung
or shall spring. Did you guess any of them lived
only its moment? The world does not so exist—no
parts, palpable or impalpable, so exist—no result exists
now without being from its long antecedent result,
and that from its antecedent, and so backward without
the farthest mentionable spot coming a bit nearer the
beginning than any other spot. . . . . Whatever satisfies
the soul is truth. The prudence of the greatest poet
answers at last the craving and glut of the soul, is not
contemptuous of less ways of prudence if they conform to
its ways, puts off nothing, permits no let-up for its own
case or any case, has no particular Sabbath or judgment-
day, divides not the living from the dead or the righteous
from the unrighteous, is satisfied with the present, matches
every thought or act by its correlative, knows no pos-
sible forgiveness or deputed atonement—knows that the
young man who composedly perilled his life and lost it
has done exceeding well for himself, while the man who
has not perilled his life, and retains it to old age in riches
and ease, has perhaps achieved nothing for himself worth
mentioning—and that only that person has no great
prudence to learn who has learnt to prefer real long-lived
things, and favours body and soul the same, and perceives
the indirect assuredly following the direct, and what evil
or good he does leaping onward and waiting to meet him
again—and who in his spirit in any emergency whatever
neither hurries or avoids death.
The direct trial of him who would be the greatest poet
is to-day. If he does not flood himself with the imme-
diate age as with vast oceanic tides—and if he does not
attract his own land body and soul to himself, and hang
on its neck with incomparable love—and if he be not
himself the age transfigured—and if to him is not
opened the eternity which gives similitude to all periods
and locations and processes and animate and inanimate
forms, and which is the bond of time, and rises up from
its inconceivable vagueness and infiniteness in the swim-
ming shape of to-day, and is held by the ductile anchors
of life, and makes the present spot the passage from what
was to what shall be, and commits itself to the representa-
tion of this wave of an hour, and this one of the sixty
beautiful children of the wave—let him merge in the
general run and wait his development. . . . . . Still, the
final test of poems or any character or work remains.
The prescient poet projects himself centuries ahead, and
judges performer or performance after the changes of
time. Does it live through them? Does it still hold on
untired? Will the same style, and the direction of genius
to similar points, be satisfactory now? Has no new dis-
covery in science, or arrival at superior planes of thought
and judgment and behaviour, fixed him or his so that either
can be looked down upon? Have the marches of tens and
hundreds and thousands of years made willing detours to
the right hand and the left hand for his sake? Is he
beloved long and long after he is buried? Does the young
man think often of him? and the young woman think
often of him? and do the middle-aged andthe old think
A great poem is for ages and ages, in common, and for
all degrees and complexions, and all departments and
sects, and for a woman as much as a man, and a man as
much as a woman. A great poem is no finish to a man
or woman, but rather a beginning. Has any one fancied
he could sit at last under some due authority, and rest
satisfied with explanations, and realize and be content and
full? To no such terminus does the greatest poet bring
—he brings neither cessation or sheltered fatness and
ease. The touch of him tells in action. Whom he takes
he takes with firm sure grasp into live regions previously
unattained. Thenceforward is no rest: they see the
space and ineffable sheen that turn the old spots and
lights into dead vacuums. The companion of him beholds
the birth and progress of stars, and learns one of the
meanings. Now there shall be a man cohered out of
tumult and chaos. The elder encourages the younger,
and shows him how: they two shall launch off fear-
lessly together till the new world fits an orbit for itself,
and looks unabashed on the lesser orbits of the stars, and
sweeps through the ceaseless rings, and shall never be
There will soon be no more priests. Their work is
done. They may wait awhile—perhaps a generation
or two,—dropping off by degrees. A superior breed
shall take their place—the gangs of kosmos and prophets
en masse shall take their place. A new order shall
arise; and they shall be the priests of man, and every
man shall be his own priest. The churches built under
their umbrage shall be the churches of men and women.
Through the divinity of themselves shall the kosmos and
the new breed of poets be interpreters of men and women
and of all events and things. They shall find their inspi-
ration in real objects to-day, symptoms of the past and
future. They shall not deign to defend immortality,
or God, or the perfection of things, or liberty, or the
exquisite beauty and reality of the soul. They shall
arise in America, and be responded to from the remainder
of the earth.
The English language befriends the grand American
expression—it is brawny enough, and limber and full
enough. On the tough stock of a race who, through all
change of circumstance, was never without the idea of
political liberty, which is the animus of all liberty, it has
attracted the terms of daintier and gayer and subtler and
more elegant tongues. It is the powerful language of
resistance—it is the dialect of common sense. It is
the speech of the proud and melancholy races, and of
all who aspire. It is the chosen tongue to express growth,
faith, self-esteem, freedom, justice, equality, friendliness,
amplitude, prudence, decision, and courage. It is the
medium that shall well nigh express the inexpressible.
No great literature, nor any like style of behaviour or
oratory or social intercourse or household arrangements
or public institutions, or the treatment by bosses of
employed people, nor executive detail, or detail of the
army or navy, nor spirit of legislation, or courts or police,
or tuition or architecture, or songs or amusements, or the
costumes of young men, can long elude the jealous and
passionate instinct of American standards. Whether or
no the sign appears from the mouths of the people, it
throbs a live interrogation in every freeman’s and free-
woman’s heart after that which passes by, or this built to
remain. Is it uniform with my country? Are its dis-
posals without ignominious distinctions? Is it for the
evergrowing communes of brothers and lovers, large,
well-united, proud beyond the old models, generous
beyond all models? Is it something grown fresh out of
the fields, or drawn from the sea, for use to me, to-day,
here? I know that what answers for me, an American,
must answer for any individual or nation that serves for a
part of my materials. Does this answer? or is it without
reference to universal needs? or sprung of the needs of
the less developed society of special ranks? or old needs
of pleasure overlaid by modern science and forms? Does
this acknowledge liberty with audible and absolute ac-
knowledgement, and set slavery at nought for life and
death? Will it help breed one good shaped man, and
a woman to be his perfect and independent mate?
Does it improve manners? Is it for the nursing of
the young of the republic? Does it solve readily with
the sweet milk of the breasts of the mother of many chil-
dren? Has it too the old ever-fresh forbearance and
impartiality? Does it look with the same love on the last
born and on those hardening toward stature, and on the
errant, and on those who disdain all strength of assault
outside of their own?
The poems distilled from other poems will probably
pass away. The coward will surely pass away. The
expectation of the vital and great can only be satisfied by
the demeanour of the vital and great. The swarms of the
polished, deprecating, and reflectors, and the polite, float off
and leave no remembrance. America prepares with com-
posure and goodwill for the visitors that have sent word.
It is not intellect that is to be their warrant and welcome.
The talented, the artist, the ingenious, the editor, the
statesman, the erudite—they are not unappreciated
—they fall in their place and do their work. The
soul of the nation also does its work. No disguise can
pass on it—no disguise can conceal from it. It
rejects none, it permits all. Only toward as good as
itself and toward the like of itself will it advance half-
way. An individual is as superb as a nation when he has
the qualities which make a superb nation. The soul of
the largest and wealthiest and proudest nation may well
go half-way to meet that of its poets. The signs are
effectual. There is no fear of mistake. If the one is true,
the other is true. The proof of a poet is that his country
absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.
STARTING from fish-shape Paumanok,* where I was
Well-begotten, and raised by a perfect mother;
After roaming many lands—lover of populous pavements;
Dweller in Mannahatta,† city of ships, my city—or on
Or a soldier camped, or carrying my knapsack and gun—
or a miner in California;
Or rude in my home in Dakotah’s woods, my diet meat,
my drink from the spring;
Or withdrawn to muse and meditate in some deep recess,
Far from the clank of crowds, intervals passing, rapt and
Aware of the fresh free giver, the flowing Missouri—aware
of mighty Niagara;
* Paumanok is the native name of Long Island, State of New
York. It presents a fish-like shape on the map.
† Mannahatta, or Manahattan, is (as many readers will know)
Aware of the buffalo herds, grazing the plains—the hirsute
and strong-breasted bull;
Of earth, rocks, fifth-month flowers, experienced—stars,
rain, snow, my amaze;
Having studied the mocking-bird’s tones, and the mountain
And heard at dusk the unrivalled one, the hermit thrush,
from the swamp-cedars,
Solitary, singing in the West, I strike up for a New
Victory, union, faith, identity, time,
Yourself, the present and future lands, the indissoluble
compacts, riches, mystery,
Eternal progress, the kosmos, and the modern reports.
This, then, is life;
Here is what has come to the surface after so many throes
How curious! how real!
Underfoot the divine soil—overhead the sun.
See, revolving, the globe;
The ancestor-continents, away, grouped together;
The present and future continents, north and south, with
the isthmus between.
See, vast trackless spaces;
As in a dream, they change, they swiftly fill;
Countless masses debouch upon them;
They are now covered with the foremost people, arts,
See, projected through time,
For me an audience interminable.
With firm and regular step they wend—they never stop,
Successions of men, Americanos, a hundred millions;
One generation playing its part, and passing on,
Another generation playing its part, and passing on in its
With faces turned sideways or backward towards me, to
With eyes retrospective towards me.
Americanos! conquerors! marches humanitarian;
Foremost! century marches! Libertad! masses!
For you a programme of chants.
Chants of the prairies;
Chants of the long-running Mississippi, and down to the
Chants of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and
Chants going forth from the centre, from Kansas, and
Shooting in pulses of fire, ceaseless, to vivify all.
In the Year 80 of the States,*
My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this
soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here, from parents the same,
and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-six years old, in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
(Retiring back a while, sufficed at what they are, but
I harbour, for good or bad—I permit to speak, at every
Nature now without check, with original energy.
Take my leaves, America! take them South, and take
Make welcome for them everywhere, for they are your
Surround them, East and West! for they would surround
And you precedents! connect lovingly with them, for
they connect lovingly with you.
I conned old times;
I sat studying at the feet of the great masters:
Now, if eligible, O that the great masters might return
and study me!
In the name of these States, shall I scorn the antique?
Why these are the children of the antique, to justify it.
Dead poets, philosophs, priests,
Martyrs, artists, inventors, governments long since,
Language-shapers on other shores,
Nations once powerful, now reduced, withdrawn, or
I dare not proceed till I respectfully credit what you have
left, wafted hither:
I have perused it—own it is admirable, (moving awhile
Think nothing can ever be greater—nothing can ever
deserve more than it deserves;
Regarding it all intently a long while, then dismissing it,
I stand in my place, with my own day, here.
Here lands female and male;
Here the heirship and heiress-ship of the world—here the
flame of materials;
Here spirituality, the translatress, the openly-avowed,
The ever-tending, the finale of visible forms;
The satisfier, after due long-waiting, now advancing,
Yes, here comes my mistress, the Soul.
Forever and forever—longer than soil is brown and solid
—longer than water ebbs and flows.
I will make the poems of materials, for I think they are
to be the most spiritual poems;
And I will make the poems of my body and of mor-
For I think I shall then supply myself with the poems of
my soul, and of immortality.
I will make a song for these States, that no one State may
under any circumstances be subjected to another
And I will make a song that there shall be comity by day
and by night between all the States, and between
any two of them;
And I will make a song for the ears of the President, full
of weapons with menacing points,
And behind the weapons countless dissatisfied faces:
And a song make I, of the One formed out of all;
The fanged and glittering one whose head is over all;
Resolute, warlike one, including and over all;
However high the head of any else, that head is over all.
I will acknowledge contemporary lands;
I will trail the whole geography of the globe, and salute
courteously every city large and small;
And employments! I will put in my poems, that with you
is heroism, upon land and sea—And I will report
all heroism from an American point of view;
And sexual organs and acts! do you concentrate in me—
for I am determined to tell you with courageous
clear voice, to prove you illustrious.
I will sing the song of companionship;
I will show what alone must finally compact These;
I believe These are to found their own ideal of manly love,
indicating it in me;
I will therefore let flame from me the burning fires that
were threatening to consume me;
I will lift what has too long kept down those smouldering
I will give them complete abandonment;
I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love;
For who but I should understand love, with all its sorrow
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?
I am the credulous man of qualities, ages, races;
I advance from the people en masse in their own spirit;
Here is what sings unrestricted faith.
Omnes! Omnes! let others ignore what they may;
I make the poem of evil also—I commemorate that part
I am myself just as much evil as good, and my nation is
—And I say there is in fact no evil,
Or if there is, I say it is just as important to you, to the
land, or to me, as anything else.
I too, following many, and followed by many, inaugurate
a Religion—I too go to the wars;
It may be I am destined to utter the loudest cries thereof,
the winner’s pealing shouts;
Who knows? they may rise from me yet, and soar above
Each is not for its own sake;
I say the whole earth, and all the stars in the sky, are for
I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough
None has ever yet adored or worshiped half enough;
None has begun to think how divine he himself is, and
how certain the future is.
I say that the real and permanent grandeur of these
States must be their religion;
Otherwise there is no real and permanent grandeur;
Nor character, nor life worthy the name, without religion;
Nor land, nor man or woman, without religion.
What are you doing, young man?
Are you so earnest—so given up to literature, science, art,
These ostensible realities, politics, points?
Your ambition or business, whatever it may be?
It is well—Against such I say not a word—I am their
But behold! such swiftly subside—burnt up for religion’s
For not all matter is fuel to heat, impalpable flame, the
essential life of the earth,
Any more than such are to religion.
What do you seek, so pensive and silent?
What do you need, Camerado?
Dear son! do you think it is love?
Listen, dear son—listen, America, daughter or son!
It is a painful thing to love a man or woman to excess—
and yet it satisfies—it is great;
But there is something else very great—it makes the whole
It, magnificent, beyond materials, with continuous hands,
sweeps and provides for all.
Know you! to drop in the earth the germs of a greater
The following chants, each for its kind, I sing.
For you, to share with me, two greatnesses—and a third
one, rising inclusive and more resplendent,
The greatness of Love and Democracy—and the greatness
Mélange mine own! the unseen and the seen;
Mysterious ocean where the streams empty;
Prophetic spirit of materials shifting and flickering around
Living beings, identities, now doubtless near us, in the air
that we know not of;
Contact daily and hourly that will not release me;
These selecting—these, in hints, demanded of me.
Not he with a daily kiss onward from childhood kissing
Has winded and twisted around me that which holds me
Any more than I am held to the heavens, to the spiritual
After what they have done to me, suggesting themes.
O such themes! Equalities!
O amazement of things! O divine average!
O warblings under the sun—ushered, as now, or at noon,
O strain, musical, flowing through ages—now reaching
I take to your reckless and composite chords—I add to
them, and cheerfully pass them forward.
As I have walked in Alabama my morning walk,
I have seen where the she-bird, the mocking-bird, sat on
her nest in the briers, hatching her brood.
I have seen the he-bird also;
I have paused to hear him, near at hand, inflating his
throat, and joyfully singing.
And while I paused, it came to me that what he really
sang for was not there only,
Nor for his mate nor himself only, nor all sent back by
But subtle, clandestine, away beyond,
A charge transmitted, and gift occult, for those being
Near at hand to you a throat is now inflating itself and
For the brood beyond us and of us,
For those who belong here, and those to come,
I, exultant, to be ready for them, will now shake out carols
stronger and haughtier than have ever yet been
heard upon earth.
I will make the songs of passion, to give them their way,
And your songs, outlawed offenders—for I scan you with
kindred eyes, and carry you with me the same as
I will make the true poem of riches,—
To earn for the body and the mind whatever adheres, and
goes forward, and is not dropped by death.
I will effuse egotism, and show it underlying all—and I
will be the bard of personality;
And I will show of male and female that either is but the
equal of the other;
And I will show that there is no imperfection in the pre-
sent—and can be none in the future;
And I will show that, whatever happens to anybody, it
may be turned to beautiful results—and I will
show that nothing can happen more beautiful than
And I will thread a thread through my poems that time
and events are compact,
And that all the things of the universe are perfect miracles,
each as profound as any.
I will not make poems with reference to parts;
But I will make leaves, poems, poemets, songs, says,
thoughts, with reference to ensemble:
And I will not sing with reference to a day, but with
reference to all days;
And I will not make a poem, nor the least part of a poem,
but has reference to the soul;
Because, having looked at the objects of the universe, I find
there is no one, nor any particle of one, but has
reference to the soul.
Was somebody asking to see the Soul?
See! your own shape and countenance—persons, sub-
stances, beasts, the trees, the running rivers, the
rocks and sands.
All hold spiritual joys, and afterwards loosen them:
How can the real body ever die, and be buried?
Of your real body, and any man’s or woman’s real body,
Item for item, it will elude the hands of the corpse-
cleaners, and pass to fitting spheres,
Carrying what has accrued to it from the moment of birth
to the moment of death.
Not the types set up by the printer return their impres-
sion, the meaning, the main concern,
Any more than a man’s substance and life, or a woman’s
substance and life, return in the body and the
Indifferently before death and after death.
Behold! the body includes and is the meaning, the main
concern—and includes and is the soul;
Whoever you are! how superb and how divine is your
body, or any part of it.
Whoever you are! to you endless announcements.
Daughter of the lands, did you wait for your poet?
Did you wait for one with a flowing mouth and indicative
Toward the male of the States, and toward the female
of the States,
Live words—words to the lands.
O the lands! interlinked, food-yielding lands!
Land of coal and iron! Land of gold! Lands of cotton,
Land of wheat, beef, pork! Land of wool and hemp!
Land of the apple and the grape!
Land of the pastoral plains, the grass-fields of the world!
Land of those sweet-aired interminable plateaus!
Land of the herd, the garden, the healthy house of
Lands where the northwest Columbia winds, and where
the southwest Colorado winds!
Land of the eastern Chesapeake! Land of the Delaware!
Land of Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan!
Land of the Old Thirteen! Massachusetts land! Land
of Vermont and Connecticut!
Land of the ocean shores! Land of sierras and peaks!
Land of boatmen and sailors! Fishermen’s land!
Inextricable lands! the clutched together! the passionate
The side by side! the elder and younger brothers! the
The great women’s land! the feminine! the experienced
sisters and the inexperienced sisters!
Far-breathed land! Arctic-braced! Mexican-breezed! the
diverse! the compact!
The Pennsylvanian! the Virginian! the double Caro-
O all and each well-loved by me! my intrepid nations!
O I at any rate include you all with perfect love!
I cannot be discharged from you—not from one, any
sooner than another!
O Death! O!— for all that, I am yet of you unseen, this
hour, with irrepressible love,
Walking New England, a friend, a traveller,
Splashing my bare feet in the edge of the summer ripples,
on Paumanok’s sands,
Crossing the prairies—dwelling again in Chicago—dwell-
ing in every town,
Observing shows, births, improvements, structures, arts,
Listening to the orators and the oratresses in public halls,
Of and through the States, as during life*—each man and
woman my neighbour,
The Louisianian, the Georgian, as near to me, and I as
near to him and her,
The Mississippian and Arkansian yet with me—and I yet
with any of them;
Yet upon the plains west of the spinal river—yet in my
house of adobie,
Yet returning eastward—yet in the Sea-Side State, or in
*The poet here contemplates himself as yet living spiritually and
in his poems after the death of the body, still a friend and brother
to all present and future American lands and persons.
Yet Canadian cheerily braving the winter—the snow and
ice welcome to me, or mounting the Northern
Pacific, to Sitka, to Aliaska;
Yet a true son either of Maine, or of the Granite State,*
or of the Narragansett Bay State, or of the Empire
Yet sailing to other shores to annex the same—yet wel-
coming every new brother;
Hereby applying these leaves to the new ones, from the
hour they unite with the old ones;
Coming among the new ones myself, to be their companion
and equal—coming personally to you now;
Enjoining you to acts, characters, spectacles, with me.
With me, with firm holding—yet haste, haste on.
For your life, adhere to me;
Of all the men of the earth, I only can unloose you and
I may have to be persuaded many times before I consent
to give myself to you—but what of that?
Must not Nature be persuaded many times?
No dainty dolce affettuoso I;
Bearded, sunburnt, gray-necked, forbidding, I have
To be wrestled with as I pass, for the solid prizes of the
For such I afford whoever can persevere to win them.
On my way a moment I pause;
Here for you! and here for America!
Still the Present I raise aloft—still the Future of the
States I harbinge, glad and sublime;
And for the Past, I pronounce what the air holds of the
The red aborigines!
Leaving natural breaths, sounds of rain and winds, calls as
of birds and animals in the woods, syllabled to us
Okonee, Koosa, Ottawa, Monongahela, Sauk, Natchez,
Chattahoochee, Kaqueta, Oronoco,
Wabash, Miami, Saginaw, Chippewa, Oshkosh, Walla-
Leaving such to the States, they melt, they depart,
charging the water and the land with names.
O expanding and swift! O henceforth,
Elements, breeds, adjustments, turbulent, quick, and
A world primal again—vistas of glory, incessant and
A new race, dominating previous ones, and grander far,
with new contests,
New politics, new literatures and religions, new inventions
These my voice announcing—I will sleep no more, but
You oceans that have been calm within me! how I feel
you, fathomless, stirring, preparing unprecedented
waves and storms.
See! steamers steaming through my poems!
See in my poems immigrants continually coming and
See in arriere, the wigwam, the trail, the hunter’s hut, the
flat-boat, the maize-leaf, the claim, the rude fence,
and the backwoods village;
See, on the one side the Western Sea, and on the other
the Eastern Sea, how they advance and retreat upon
my poems, as upon their own shores;
See pastures and forests in my poems—See, animals wild
and tame—See, beyond the Kanzas, countless herds
of buffalo, feeding on short curly grass;
See, in my poems, cities, solid, vast, inland, with paved
streets, with iron and stone edifices, ceaseless
vehicles, and commerce;
See the many-cylindered steam printing-press—See the
electric telegraph, stretching across the Continent,
from the Western Sea to Manhattan;
See, through Atlantica’s depths, pulses American, Europe
reaching—pulses of Europe, duly returned;
See the strong and quick locomotive, as it departs, panting,
blowing the steam-whistle;
See ploughmen, ploughing farms—See miners, digging
mines—See the numberless factories;
See mechanics, busy at their benches, with tools—See,
from among them, superior judges, philosophs,
Presidents, emerge, dressed in working dresses;
See, lounging through the shops and fields of the States
me, well-beloved, close-held by day and night;
Hear the loud echoes of my songs there! Read the hints
come at last.
O Camerado close!
O you and me at last—and us two only.
O a word to clear one’s path ahead endlessly!
O something ecstatic and undemonstrable! O music wild!
O now I triumph—and you shall also;
O hand in hand—O wholesome pleasure—O one more
desirer and lover!
O to haste, firm holding—to haste, haste on, with me.
Always our old feuillage!
Always Florida’s green peninsula! Always the priceless
delta of Louisiana! Always the cotton-fields of
Alabama and Texas!
Always California’s golden hills and hollows—and the
silver mountains of New Mexico! Always soft-
Always the vast slope drained by the Southern Sea—
inseparable with the slopes drained by the Eastern
and Western seas!
The area the eighty-third year of these States*—the three
and a half millions of square miles;
The eighteen thousand miles of sea-coast and bay-coast
on the main—the thirty thousand miles of river
The seven millions of distinct families, and the same
number of dwellings—Always these, and more,
branching forth into numberless branches;
Always the free range and diversity! Always the conti-
nent of Democracy!
Always the prairies, pastures, forests, vast cities, travellers,
Canada, the snows;
Always these compact lands—lands tied at the hips with
the belt stringing the huge oval lakes;
Always the West, with strong native persons—the
increasing density there—the habitans, friendly,
threatening, ironical, scorning invaders;
All sights, South, North, East—all deeds, promiscuously
done at all times,
All characters, movements, growths—a few noticed,
Through Mannahatta’s streets I walking, these things
On interior rivers, by night, in the glare of pine knots,
steamboats wooding up;
Sunlight by day on the valley of the Susquehanna, and on
the valleys of the Potomac and Rappahannock, and
the valleys of the Roanoke and Delaware;
In their northerly wilds beasts of prey haunting the
Adirondacks, the hills—or lapping the Saginaw
waters to drink;
In a lonesome inlet, a sheldrake, lost from the flock,
sitting on the water rocking silently;
In farmers’ barns, oxen in the stable, their harvest labour
done—they rest standing—they are too tired;
Afar on arctic ice, the she-walrus lying drowsily, while
her cubs play around;
The hawk sailing where men have not yet sailed—the
farthest polar sea, ripply, crystalline, open, beyond
White drift spooning ahead, where the ship in the tempest
On solid land, what is done in cities, as the bells strike
In primitive woods, the sounds there also sounding—the
howl of the wolf, the scream of the panther, and
the hoarse bellow of the elk;
In winter beneath the hard blue ice of Moosehead Lake,
in summer visible through the clear waters, the
great trout swimming;
In lower latitudes, in warmer air, in the Carolinas, the
large black buzzard floating slowly, high beyond
the tree tops,
Below, the red cedar, festooned with tylandria—the pines
and cypresses, growing out of the white sand that
spreads far and flat;
Rude boats descending the big Pedee—climbing plants,
parasites with colored flowers and berries, enve-
loping huge trees,
The waving drapery on the live oak, trailing long and
low, noiselessly waved by the wind;
The camp of Georgia wagoners, just after dark—the
supper-fires, and the cooking and eating by whites
Thirty or forty great wagons—the mules, cattle, horses,
feeding from troughs,
The shadows, gleams, up under the leaves of the old
sycamore-trees—the flames—also the black smoke
from the pitch-pine, curling and rising;
Southern fishermen fishing—the sounds and inlets of
North Carolina’s coast—the shad-fishery and the
herring-fishery—the large sweep-seines—the wind-
lasses on shore worked by horses—the clearing,
curing, and packing-houses;
Deep in the forest, in piney woods, turpentine dropping
from the incisions in the trees—There are the
There are the negroes at work, in good health—the
ground in all directions is covered with pine
—In Tennessee and Kentucky, slaves busy in the coalings,
at the forge, by the furnace-blaze, or at the corn-
In Virginia, the planter’s son returning after a long
absence, joyfully welcomed and kissed by the aged
On rivers, boatmen safely moored at night-fall, in their
boats, under shelter of high banks,
Some of the younger men dance to the sound of the banjo
or fiddle—others sit on the gunwale, smoking and
Late in the afternoon, the mocking-bird, the American
mimic, singing in the Great Dismal Swamp—there
are the greenish waters, the resinous odour, the
plenteous moss, the cypress-tree, and the juniper-tree.
—Northward, young men of Mannahatta—the target
company from an excursion returning home at
evening, the musket-muzzles all bear bunches of
flowers presented by women;
Children at play—or on his father’s lap a young boy fallen
asleep, (how his lips move! how he smiles in his
The scout riding on horseback over the plains west of the
Mississippi—he ascends a knoll and sweeps his eye
California life—the miner, bearded, dressed in his rude
costume—the stanch California friendship—the
sweet air—the graves one, in passing, meets, soli-
tary, just aside the horse-path;
Down in Texas, the cotton-field, the negro-cabins—drivers
driving mules or oxen before rude carts—cotton-
bales piled on banks and wharves.
Encircling all, vast-darting up and wide, the American
Soul, with equal hemispheres—one Love, one Dila-
tion or Pride.
—In arriere, the peace-talk with the Iroquois, the
aborigines—the calumet, the pipe of good-will,
arbitration, and endorsement,
The sachem blowing the smoke first toward the sun and
then toward the earth,with painted faces
The drama of the scalp-dance enacted
and guttural exclamations,
The setting out of the war-party—the long and stealthy
The single-file—the swinging hatchets—the surprise and
slaughter of enemies.
—All the acts, scenes, ways, persons, attitudes of these
States—reminiscences, all institutions,
All these States, compact—Every square mile of these
States without excepting a particle—you also—me
Me pleased, rambling in lanes and country fields, Pauma-
Me, observing the spiral flight of two little yellow butter-
flies shuffling between each other, ascending high
in the air;
The darting swallow, the destroyer of insects—the fall-
traveler southward, but returning northward early
in the spring;
The country boy at the close of the day, driving the herd
of cows and shouting to them as they loiter to
browse by the road-side
The city wharf—Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charles-
ton, New Orleans, San Francisco,
The departing ships, when the sailors heave at the
Evening—me in my room—the setting sun,
The setting summer sun shining in my open window,
showing the swarm of flies, suspended, balancing
in the air in the centre of the room, darting
athwart, up and down, casting swift shadows in
specks on the opposite wall, where the shine
The athletic American matron speaking in public to crowds
Males, females, immigrants, combinations—the copiousness
—the individuality of the States, each for itself—
Factories, machinery, the mechanical forces—the windlass,
lever, pulley—All certainties,
The certainty of space, increase, freedom, futurity;
In space, the sporades, the scattered islands, the stars—on
the firm earth, the lands, my lands!
O lands! O all so dear to me—what you are, (whatever
it is), I become a part of that, whatever it is.
Southward there, I screaming, with wings slow flapping,
with the myriads of gulls wintering along the
coasts of Florida—or in Louisiana, with pelicans
Otherways, there, atwixt the banks of the Arkansaw, the
Rio Grande, the Nueces, the Brazos, the Tom-
bigbee, the Red River, the Saskatchawan or the
Osage, I with the spring waters laughing and
skipping and running;
Northward, on the sands, on some shallow bay of Pau-
manok, I, with parties of snowy herons wading in
the wet to seek worms and aquatic plants;
Retreating, triumphantly twittering, the king-bird, from
piercing the crow with its bill, for amusement—
And I triumphantly twittering;
The migrating flock of wild geese alighting in autumn to
refresh themselves—the body of the flock feed—
the sentinels outside move around with erect heads
watching, and are from time to time relieved by
other sentinels—and I feeding and taking turns
with the rest;
In Canadian forests, the moose, large as an ox, cornered
by hunters, rising desperately on his hind-feet, and
plunging with his fore-feet, the hoofs as sharp as
knives—And I, plunging at the hunters, cornered
In the Mannahatta, streets, piers, shipping, store-houses,
and the countless workmen working in the shops,
And I too of the Mannahatta, singing thereof—and no
less in myself than the whole of the Mannahatta in
Singing the song of These, my ever-united lands—my
body no more inevitably united part to part, and
made one identity, any more than my lands are
inevitably united, and made ONE IDENTITY;
Nativities, climates, the grass of the great pastoral plains,
Cities, labours, death, animals, products, war, good and evil—
These affording, in all their particulars, endless feuillage to
me and to America, how can I do less than pass the
clue of the union of them, to afford the like to
Whoever you are! how can I but offer you divine leaves,
that you also be eligible as I am?
How can I but, as here, chanting, invite you for yourself
to collect bouquets of the incomparable feuillage of
I WAS looking a long while for the history of the past
for myself, and for these chants—and now I have
It is not in those paged fables in the libraries, (them I
neither accept nor reject;)
It is no more in the legends than in all else;
It is in the present—it is this earth to-day;
It is in Democracy—in this America—the Old World also;
It is the life of one man or one woman to-day, the average
man of to-day;
It is languages, social customs, literatures, arts;
It is the broad show of artificial things, ships, machinery,
politics, creeds, modern improvements, and the
interchange of nations,
All for the average man of to-day.
YEARS OF THE UNPERFORMED.
YEARS of the unperformed! your horizon rises—I
see it part away for more august dramas;
I see not America only—I see not only Liberty’s nation,
but other nations embattling;
I see tremendous entrances and exits—I see new combi-
nations—I see the solidarity of races;
I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the
Have the old forces played their parts? are the acts suit-
able to them closed?
I see Freedom, completely armed, and victorious, and very
haughty, with Law by her side, both issuing forth
against the idea of caste;
—What historic denouements are these we so rapidly ap-
I see men marching and countermarching by swift millions!
I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies
I see the landmarks of European kings removed;
I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, all
others give way;
Never were such sharp questions asked as this day;
Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more
like a God.
Lo, how he urges and urges, leaving the masses no rest;
His daring foot is on land and sea everywhere—he colonizes
the Pacific, the archipelagoes;
With the steam-ship, the electric telegraph, the newspaper,
the wholesale engines of war,
With these, and the world-spreading factories, he inter-
links all geography, all lands;
—What whispers are these, O lands, running ahead of
you, passing under the seas?
Are all nations communing? is there going to be but one
heart to the globe?
Is humanity forming en masse?—for lo! tyrants tremble,
crowns grow dim;
The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general
No one knows what will happen next—such portents fill
the days and nights.
Years prophetical! the space ahead as I walk, as I vainly
try to pierce it, is full of phantoms;
Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes
This incredible rush and heat—this strange ecstatic fever
of dreams, O years!
Your dreams, O years, how they penetrate through me!
(I know not whether I sleep or wake!)
The performed America and Europe grow dim, retiring in
shadow behind me,
The unperformed, more gigantic than ever, advance, ad-
vance upon me.
OF these years I sing,
How they pass through convulsed pains, as through
How America illustrates birth, gigantic youth, the pro-
mise, the sure fulfilment, despite of people—Illus-
trates evil as well as good;
How many hold despairingly yet to the models departed,
caste, myths, obedience, compulsion, and to infi-
How few see the arrived models, the athletes, the States
—or see freedom or spirituality—or hold any faith
But I see the athletes—and I see the results glorious and
inevitable—and they again leading to other results;
How the great cities appear—How the Democratic masses,
turbulent, willful, as I love them,
How the whirl, the contest, the wrestle of evil with good,
the sounding and resounding, keep on and on;
How society waits unformed, and is between things ended
and things begun;
How America is the continent of glories, and of the triumph
of freedom, and of the Democracies, and of the
fruits of society, and of all that is begun;
And how the States are complete in themselves—And how
all triumphs and glories are complete in themselves,
to lead onward,
And how these of mine, and of the States, will in their
turn be convulsed, and serve other parturitions and
And how all people, sights, combinations, the Democratic
masses, too, serve—and how every fact serves,
And how now, or at any time, each serves the exquisite
transition of Death.
COME closer to me;
Push close, my lovers, and take the best I possess;
Yield closer and closer, and give me the best you posses.
This is unfinished business with me—How is it with you?
(I was chilled with the cold types, cylinder, wet paper
Male and Female!
I pass so poorly with paper and types, I must pass with the
contact of bodies and souls.
I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking the
touch of me—I know that it is good for you to
This is the poem of occupations;
In the labour of engines and trades, and the labour of
fields, I find the developments,
And find the eternal meanings.
Workmen and Workwomen!
Were all educations, practical and ornamental, well dis-
played out of me, what would it amount to?
Were I as the head teacher, charitable proprietor, wise
statesman, what would it amount to?
Were I to you as the boss employing and paying you,
would that satisfy you?
The learned, virtuous, benevolent, and the usual terms;
A man like me, and never the usual terms.
Neither a servant nor a master am I;
I take no sooner a large price than a small price—I will
have my own, whoever enjoys me;
I will be even with you, and you shall be even with me.
If you stand at work in a shop, I stand as nigh as the
nighest in the same shop;
If you bestow gifts on your brother or dearest friend, I
demand as good as your brother or dearest friend;
If your lover, husband, wife, is welcome by day or night,
I must be personally as welcome;
If you become degraded, criminal, ill, then I become so
for your sake;
If you remember your foolish and outlawed deeds, do you
think I cannot remember my own foolish and out-
If you carouse at the table, I carouse at the opposite side
of the table;
If you meet some stranger in the streets, and love him or
her—why I often meet strangers in the street, and
Why, what have you thought of yourself?
Is it you then that thought of yourself less?
Is it you that thought the President greater than you?
Or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser
Because you are greasy or pimpled, or that you was once
drunk, or a theif,
Or diseased, or rheumatic, or a prostitute, or are so now;
Or from frivolity or impotence, or that you are no scholar,
and never saw your name in print,
Do you give in that you are any less immortal?
Souls of men and women! it is not you I call unseen, un-
heard, untouchable and untouching;
It is not you I go argue pro and con about, and to settle
whether you are alive or no;
I own publicly who you are, if nobody else owns.
Grown, half-grown, and babe, of this country and every
country, indoors and outdoors, one just as much as
the other, I see,
And all else behind or through them.
The wife—and she is not one jot less than the husband;
The daughter—and she is just as good as the son;
The mother—and she is every bit as much as the father.
Offspring of ignorant and poor, boys apprenticed to trades,
Young fellows working on farms, and old fellows working
Sailor-men, merchant-men, coasters, immigrants,
All these I see—but nigher and farther the same I see;
None shall escape me, and none shall wish to escape me.
I bring what you much need, yet always have,
Not money, amours, dress, eating, but as good;
I send no agent or medium, offer no representative of
value, but offer the value itself.
There is something that comes home to one now and per-
It is not what is printed, preached, discussed—it eludes
discussion and print;
It is not to be put in a book—it is not in this book;
It is for you, whoever you are—it is no farther from you
than your hearing and sight are from you;
It is hinted by nearest, commonest, readiest—it is ever
provoked by them.
You may read in many languages, yet read nothing about
You may read the President’s Message, and read nothing
about it there;
Nothing in the reports from the State department or
Treasury department, or in the daily papers or the
Or in the census or revenue returns, prices current, or any
accounts of stock.
The sun and stars that float in the open air;
The apple-shaped earth, and we upon it—surely the drift
of them is something grand!
I do not know what it is, except that it is grand, and that
it is happiness,
And that the enclosing purport of us here is not a specula-
tion, or bon-mot, or reconnoissance,
And that it is not something which by luck may turn out
well for us, and without luck must be a failure for
And not something which may yet be retracted in a cer-
The light and shade, the curious sense of body and identity,
the greed that with perfect complaisance devours
all things, the endless pride and out-stretching of
man, unspeakable joys and sorrows,
The wonder every one sees in every one else he sees, and
the wonders that fill each minute of time forever,
What have you reckoned them for, camerado?
Have you reckoned them for a trade, or farm-work? or
for the profits of a store?
Or to achieve yourself a position? or to fill a gentleman’s
leisure, or a lady’s leisure?
Have you reckoned the landscape took substance and form
that it might be painted in a picture?
Or men and women that they might be written of, and
Or the attraction of gravity, and the great laws and har-
monious combinations, and the fluids of the air, as
subjects for the savans?
Or the brown land and the blue sea for maps and charts?
Or the stars to be put in constellations and named fancy
Or that the growth of seeds is for agricultural tables, or
Old institutions—these arts, libraries, legends, collections,
and the practice handed along in manufactures—
will we rate them so high?
Will we rate our cash and business high?—I have no
I rate them as high as the highest—then a child born of
a woman and man I rate beyond all rate.
We thought our Union grand, and our Constitution
I do not say they are not grand and good, for they are;
I am this day just as much in love with them as you,
Then I am in love with you, and with all my fellows upon
We consider bibles and religious divine—I do not say
they are not divine;
I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out
of you still;
It is not they who give the life—it is you who give the
Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees from
the earth, than they are shed out of you.
When the psalm sings instead of the singer;
When the script preaches, instead of the preacher;
When the pulpit descends and goes, instead of the carver
that carved the supporting desk;
When I can touch the body of books, by night or by day,
and when they touch my body back again;
When a university course convinces, like a slumbering
woman and child convince;
When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the night-
When warrantee deeds loafe in chairs opposite, and are
my friendly companions;
I intend to reach them my hand, and make as much of
them as I do of men and women like you.
The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, who-
ever you are;
The President is there in the White House for you—it is
not you who are here for him;
The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you—not you
here for them;
The Congress convenes every twelfth-month for you;
Laws, courts, the forming of States, the charters of cities,
the going and coming of commerce and mails, are
all for you.
List close, my scholars dear!
All doctrines, all politics and civilizations, exsurge from
All sculpture and monuments, and anything inscribed
anywhere, are tallied in you;
The gist of histories and statistics, as far back as the
records reach, is in you this hour, and myths and
tales the same;
If you were not breathing and walking here, where would
they all be?
The most renowned poems would be ashes, orations and
plays would be vacuums.
All architecture is what you do to it when you look
Did you think it was in the white or grey stone? or the
lines of the arches and cornices?
All music is what awakes from you, when you are re-
minded by the instruments;
It is not the violins and the cornets—it is not the oboe
nor the beating drums, nor the score or the bary-
tone singer singing his sweet romanza—nor that of
the men’s chorus, nor that of the women’s chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.
Will the whole come back then?
Can each see signs of the best by a look in the looking-
glass? is there nothing greater or more?
Does all sit there with you, with the mystic, unseen soul?
Strange and hard that paradox true I give;
Objects gross and the unseen Soul are one.
House-building, measuring, sawing the boards;
Blacksmithing, glass-blowing, nail-making, coopering, tin-
Ship-joining, dock-building, fish-curing, ferrying, flagging
of side-walks by flaggers,
The pump, the pile-driver, the great derrick, the coal-
kiln and brick-kiln,
Coal-mines, and all that is down there,—the lamps in the
darkness, echoes, songs, what meditations, what vast
native thoughts looking through smutched faces,
Iron-works, forge-fires in the mountains, or by the river-
banks—men around feeling the melt with huge
crowbars—lumps of ore, the due combining of ore,
limestone, coal—the blast-furnace and the puddling-
furnace, the loup-lump at the bottom of the melt at
last—the rolling-mill, the stumpy bars of pig-iron,
the strong, clean-shaped T-rail for railroads;
Oil-works, silk-works, white-lead-works, the sugar-house,
steam-saws, the great mills and factories;
Stone-cutting, shapely trimmings for façades, or window
or door lintels—the mallet, the tooth-chisel, the
jib to protect the thumb,
Oakum, the oakum-chisel, the caulking-iron—the kettle
of boiling vault-cement, and the fire under the
The cotton-bale, the stevedore’s hook, the saw and buck
of the sawyer, the mould of the moulder, the
working-knife of the butcher, the ice-saw, and all
the work with ice,
The implements for daguerreotyping—the tools of the
rigger, grappler, sail-maker, block-maker,
Goods of gutta-percha, papier-mâché, colours, brushes,
brush-making, glazier’s implements,
The veneer and glue-pot, the confectioner’s ornaments,
the decanter and glasses, the shears and flat-iron,
The awl and knee-strap, the pint measure and quart
measure, the counter and stool, the writing-pen
of quill or metal—the making of all sorts of edged
The brewery, brewing, the malt, the vats, every thing that
is done by brewers, also by wine-makers, also
twisting, distilling, sign-painting, lime-burning,
Stave-machines, planing-machines, reaping-machines,
ploughing-machines, thrashing-machines, steam
The cart of the carman, the omnibus, the ponderous
Pyrotechny, letting off coloured fire-works at night, fancy
figures and jets,
Beef on the butcher’s stall, the slaughter-house of the
butcher, the butcher in his killing-clothes,
The pens of live pork, the killing-hammer, the hog-hook,
the scalder’s tub, gutting, the cutter’s cleaver, the
packer’s maul, and the plenteous winter-work of
Flour-works, grinding of wheat, rye, maize, rice—the
barrels and the half and quarter barrels, the loaded
barges, the high piles on wharves and levees,
The men, and the work of the men, on railroads, coasters,
The daily routine of your own or any man’s life—the
shop, yard, store, or factory;
These shows all near you by day and night—workmen!
whoever you are, your daily life!
In that and them the heft of the heaviest—in them far
more than you estimated, and far less also;
In them realities for you and me—in them poems for you
In them, not yourself—you and your soul enclose all
things, regardless of estimation;
In them the development good—in them, all themes and
I do not affirm what you see beyond is futile—I do not
advise you to stop;
I do not say leadings you thought great are not great;
But I say that none lead to greater than these lead to.
Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last,
In things best known to you finding the best, or as good
as the best,
In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest,
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place
—not for another hour, but this hour;
Man in the first you see or touch—always in friend,
brother, nighest neighbor—Woman in mother,
The popular tastes and employments taking precedence in
poems or any where,
You workwomen and workmen of these States having your
own divine and strong life,
And all else giving place to men and women like you.
WEAPON, shapely, naked, wan,
Head from the mother’s bowels drawn!
Wooded flesh and metal bone! limb only one, and lip only
Gray-blue leaf by red-heat grown! helve produced from a
little seed sown!
Resting the grass amid and upon,
To be leaned, and to lean on.
Strong shapes, and attributes of strong shapes—masculine
trades, sights and sounds;
Long varied train of an emblem, dabs of music;
Fingers of the organist skipping staccato over the keys of
the great organ.
Welcome are all earth’s lands, each for its kind;
Welcome are lands of pine and oak;
Welcome are lands of the lemon and fig;
Welcome are lands of gold;
Welcome are lands of wheat and maize—welcome those of
Welcome are lands of sugar and rice;
Welcome the cotton-lands—welcome those of the white
potato and sweet potato;
Welcome are mountains, flats, sands, forests, prairies;
Welcome the rich borders of rivers, table-lands, openings;
Welcome the measureless grazing-lands—welcome the
teeming soil of orchards, flax, honey, hemp;
Welcome just as much the other more hard-faced lands;
Lands rich as lands of gold, or wheat and fruit lands;
Lands of mines, lands of the manly and rugged ores;
Lands of coal, copper, lead, tin, zinc;
LANDS OF IRON! lands of the make of the axe!
The log at the wood-pile, the axe supported by it;
The sylvan hut, the vine over the doorway, the space
cleared for a garden,
The irregular tapping of rain down on the leaves, after
the storm is lulled,
The wailing and moaning at intervals, the thought of the
The thought of ships struck in the storm, and put on their
beam-ends, and the cutting away of masts;
The sentiment of the huge timbers of old-fashioned houses
The remembered print or narrative, the voyage at a ven-
ture of men, families, goods,
The disembarkation, the founding of a new city,
The voyage of those who sought a New England and found
it—the outset anywhere,
The settlements of the Arkansas, Colorado, Ottawa,
The slow progress, the scant fare, the axe, rifle, saddle-
The beauty of all adventurous and daring persons,
The beauty of wood-boys and wood-men, with their clear
The beauty of independence, departure, actions that rely
The American contempt for statutes and ceremonies, the
boundless impatience of restraint,
The loose drift of character, the inkling through random
types, the solidification;
The butcher in the slaughter-house, the hands aboard
schooners and sloops, the raftsman, the pioneer,
Lumbermen in their winter camp, day-break in the woods,
stripes of snow on the limbs of trees, the occasional
The glad clear sound of one’s own voice, the merry song,
the natural life of the woods, the strong day’s work,
The blazing fire at night, the sweet taste of supper, the
talk, the bed of hemlock boughs, and the bear-
—The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places,
laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, according
as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes of the
men, their curved limbs,
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in pins,
holding on by posts and braces,
The hooked arm over the plate, the other arm wielding
The floor-men forcing the planks close, to be nailed,
Their postures bringing their weapons downward on the
The echoes resounding through the vacant building;
The huge store-house carried up in the city, well under
The six framing men, two in the middle, and two at each
end, carefully bearing on their shoulders a heavy
stick for a cross-beam,
The crowded line of masons with trowels in their right
hands, rapidly laying the long side-wall, two hun-
dred feet from front to rear,
The flexible rise and fall of backs, the continual click of
the trowels striking the bricks,
The bricks, one after another, each laid so workmanlike
in its place, and set with a knock of the trowel-
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar-boards,
and the steady replenishing by the hod-men;
—Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row of
The swing of their axes on the square-hewed log, shaping
it toward the shape of a mast,
The brisk short crackle of the steel driven slantingly into
The butter-coloured chips flying off in great flakes and
The limber motion of brawny young arms and hips in
The constructor of wharves, bridges, piers, bulk-heads,
floats, stays against the sea;
—The city fireman—the fire that suddenly bursts forth in
the close-packed square,
The arriving engines, the hoarse shouts, the nimble step-
ping and daring,
The strong command through the fire-trumpets, the falling
in line, the rise and fall of the arms forcing the water,
The slender, spasmic, blue-white jets—the bringing to
bear of the hooks and ladders, and their execution,
The crash and cut-away of connecting wood-work, or
through floors, if the fire smoulders under them,
The crowd with their lit faces, watching—the glare and
—The forger at his forge-furnace, and the user of iron
The maker of the axe large and small, and the welder and
The chooser breathing his breath on the cold steel, and
trying the edge with his thumb,
The one who clean-shapes the handle and sets it firmly in
The shadowy processions of the portraits of the past users
The primal patient mechanics, the architects and engi-
The far-off Assyrian edifice and Mizra edifice,
The Roman lictors preceding the consuls,
The antique European warrior with his axe in combat,
The uplifted arm, the clatter of blows on the helmeted
The death-howl, the limpsy tumbling body, the rush of
friend and foe thither,
The siege of revolted lieges determined for liberty,
The summons to surrender, the battering at castle-gates,
the truce and parley;
The sack of an old city in its time,
The bursting-in of mercenaries and bigots tumultuously
Roar, flames, blood, drunkenness, madness,
Goods freely rifled from houses and temples, screams of
women in the gripe of brigands,
Craft and thievery of camp-followers, men running, old
The hell of war, the cruelties of creeds,
The list of all executive deeds and words, just or unjust,
The power of personality, just or unjust.
Muscle and pluck forever!
What invigorates life invigorates death,
And the dead advance as much as the living advance,
And the future is no more uncertain than the present,
And the roughness of the earth and of man encloses as
much as the delicatesse of the earth and of man,
And nothing endures but personal qualities.
What do you think endures?
Do you think a great city endures?
Or a teeming manufacturing state? or a prepared consti-
tution? or the best built steamships?
Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chef-d’œuvres of en-
gineering, forts, armaments?
Away! these are not to be cherished for themselves;
They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musicians play
The show passes, all does well enough of course,
All does very well till one flash of defiance.
A great city is that which has the greatest man or
If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the
The place where the great city stands is not the place of
stretched wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new comers, or the
anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings, or shops
selling goods from the rest of the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools—nor the
place where money is plentiest,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.
Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators
Where the city stands that is beloved by these, and loves
them in return and understands them;
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common
words and deeds;
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place;
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws;
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases;
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending
audacity of elected persons;
Where fierce men and women pour forth, as the sea to the
whistle of death pours its sweeping and unripped
Where outside authority enters always after the precedence
of inside authority;
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal—and
President, Mayor, Governor, and what not, are
agents for pay;
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and
to depend on themselves;
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs;
Where speculations on the Soul are encouraged;
Where women walk in public processions in the streets,
the same as the men;
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the
same as the men;
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands;
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands;
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands;
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,—
There the great city stands.
How beggarly appear arguments, before a defiant deed!
How the floridness of the materials of cities shrivels before
a man’s or woman’s look!
All waits, or goes by default, till a strong being appears;
A strong being is the proof of the race, and of the ability
of the universe;
When he or she appears, materials are overawed,
The dispute on the Soul stops,
The old customs and phrases are confronted, turned back,
or laid away.
What is your money-making now? What can it do now?
What is your respectability now?
What are your theology, tuition, society, traditions, statute-
Where are your jibes of being now?
Where are your cavils about the Soul now?
Was that your best? Were those your vast and solid?
Riches, opinions, politics, institutions, to part obediently
from the path of one man or woman!
The centuries, and all authority, to be trod under the
foot-soles of one man or woman!
A sterile landscape covers the ore—there is as good as the
best, for all the forbidding appearance;
There is the mine, there are the miners;
The forge-furnace is there, the melt is accomplished; the
hammersmen are at hand with their tongs and
What always served and always serves is at hand.
Than this nothing has better served—it has served all:
Served the fluent-tongued and subtle-sensed Greek, and
long ere the Greek:
Served in building the buildings that last longer than any;
Served the Hebrew, the Persian, the most ancient Hin-
Served the mound-raiser on the Mississippi—served those
whose relics remain in Central America;
Served Albic temples in woods or on plains, with unhewn
pillars, and the druids;
Served the artificial clefts, vast, high, silent, on the snow-
covered hills of Scandinavia;
Served those who, time out of mind, made on the granite
walls rough sketches of the sun, moon, stars, ships,
Served the paths of the irruptions of the Goths—served
the pastoral tribes and nomads;
Served the long long distant Kelt—served the hardy
pirates of the Baltic;
Served, before any of those, the venerable and harmless
men of Ethiopia;
Served the making of helms for the galleys of pleasure,
and the making of those for war;
Served all great works on land and all great works on the
For the mediæval ages, and before the mediæval ages;
Served not the living only, then as now, but served the
I see the European headsman;
He stands masked, clothed in red, with huge legs, and
strong naked arms,
And leans on a ponderous axe.
Whom have you slaughtered lately, European headsman?
Whose is that blood upon you, so wet and sticky?
I see the clear sunsets of the martyrs;
I see from the scaffolds the descending ghosts,
Ghosts of dead lords, uncrowned ladies, impeached
ministers, rejected kings,
Rivals, traitors, poisoners, disgraced chieftains and the
I see those who in any land have died for the good cause;
The seed is spare, nevertheless the crop shall never run
(Mind you, O foreign kings, O priests, the crop shall never
I see the blood washed entirely away from the axe;
Both blade and helve are clean;
They spirt no more the blood of European nobles—they
clasp no more the necks of queens.
I see the headsman withdraw and become useless;
I see the scaffold untrodden and mouldy—I see no longer
any axe upon it;
I see the mighty and friendly emblem of the power of my
own race—the newest, largest race.
America! I do not vaunt my love for you;
I have what I have.
The axe leaps!
The solid forest gives fluid utterances;
They tumble forth, they rise and form,
Hut, tent, landing, survey,
Flai plough, pick, crowbar, spade,
Shingle, rail, prop, wainscot, lamb, lath, panel, gable,
Citadel, ceiling, saloon, academy, organ, exhibition house,
Cornice, trellis, pilaster, balcony, window, shutter, turret,
Hoe, rake, pitch-fork, pencil, wagon, staff, saw, jack-plane,
mallet, wedge, rounce,
Chair, tub, hoop, table, wicket, vane, sash, floor,
Work-box, chest, stringed instrument, boat, frame, and
Capitols of States, and capitol of the nation of States,
Long stately rows in avenues, hospitals for orphans, or
for the poor or sick,
Manhattan steamboats and clippers, taking the measure of
The shapes arise!
Shapes of the using of axes anyhow, and the users, and
all that neighbours them,
Cutters down of wood, and haulers of it to the Penobscot
Dwellers in cabins among the Californian mountains, or by
the little lakes, or on the Columbia,
Dwellers south on the banks of the Gila or Rio Grande
—friendly gatherings, the characters and fun,
Dwellers up north in Minnesota and by the Yellowstone
river—dwellers on coasts and off coasts,
Seal-fishers, whalers, arctic seamen breaking passages
through the ice.
The shapes arise!
Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets;
Shapes of the two-threaded tracks of railroads;
Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frameworks, girders,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake craft, river
The shapes arise!
Ship-yards and dry-docks along the Eastern and Western
Seas, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars, the hack-
matack-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of scaffolds,
the workmen busy outside and inside,
The tools lying around, the great auger and little auger,
the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge, and bead-plane.
The shapes arise!
The shape measured, sawed, jacked, joined, stained,
The coffin-shape for the dead to lie within in his shroud;
The shape got out in posts, in the bedstead posts, in the
posts of the bride’s bed;
The shape of the little trough, the shape of the rockers
beneath, the shape of the babe’s cradle;
The shape of the floor-planks, the floor-planks for dancers’
The shape of the planks of the family home, the home of
the friendly parents and children,
The shape of the roof of the home of the happy young
man and woman, the roof over the well-married
young man and woman,
The roof over the supper joyously cooked by the chaste
wife, and joyously eaten by the chaste husband,
content after his day’s work.
The shapes arise!
The shape of the prisoner’s place in the court-room, and
of him or her seated in the place;
The shape of the liquor-bar leaned against by the young
rum-drinker and the old rum-drinker;
The shape of the shamed and angry stairs trod by sneak-
The shape of the sly settee, and the adulterous unwhole-
The shape of the gambling-board with its devilish win-
nings and losings;
The shape of the step-ladder for the convicted and sen-
tenced murderer, the murderer with haggard face
and pinioned arms,
The sheriff at hand with his deputies, the silent and
white-lipped crowd, the sickening dangling of the
The shapes arise!
Shapes of doors giving many exits and entrances;
The door passing the dissevered friend, flushed and in
The door that admits good news and bad news;
The door whence the son left home, confident and puffed
The door he entered again from a long and scandalous
absence, diseased, broken down, without innocence,
Her shape arises,
She less guarded than ever, yet more guarded than ever;
The gross and soiled she moves among do not make her
gross and soiled;
She knows the thoughts as she passes—nothing is con-
cealed from her;
She is none the less considerate or friendly therefor;
She is the best beloved—it is without exception—she has
no reason to fear and she does not fear;
Oaths, quarrels, hiccupped songs, smutty expressions, are
idle to her as she passes;
She is silent—she is possessed of herself—they do not
She receives them as the laws of nature receive them—
she is strong,
She too is a law of nature—there is no law stronger than
The main shapes arise!
Shapes of Democracy, total result of centuries;
Shapes, ever projecting other shapes;
Shapes of a hundred Free States, begetting another
Shapes of turbulent manly cities;
Shapes of the women fit for these States;
Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the whole earth,
Shapes bracing the earth, and braced with the whole
With my fathers and mothers, and the accumu-
lations of past ages:
With all which, had it not been, I would not now be here,
as I am;
With Egypt, India, Phœnicia, Greece and Rome;
With the Kelt, the Scandinavian, the Alb, and the Saxon;
With antique maritime ventures,—with laws, artizanship,
wars, and journeys;
With the poet, the skald, the saga, the myth, and the oracle;
With the sale of slaves—with enthusiasts—with the trou-
badour, the crusader, and the monk;
With those old continents whence we have come to this
With the fading kingdoms and kings over there;
With the fading religions and priests;
With the small shores we look back to from our own large
and present shores;
With countless years drawing themselves onward, and
arrived at these years;
You and Me arrived—America arrived, and making this
This year! sending itself ahead countless years to come.
O but it is not the years—it is I—it is You;
We touch all laws, and tally all antecedents;
We are the skald, the oracle, the monk and the knight—
we easily include them, and more;
We stand amid time, beginningless and endless—we stand
amid evil and good;
All swings around us—there is as much darkness as
The very sun swings itself and its system of planets
Its sun, and its again, all swing around us.
As for me, (torn, stormy, even as I, amid these vehement
I have the idea of all, and am all, and believe in all;
I believe materialism is true, and spiritualism is true—I
reject no part.
Have I forgotten any part?
Come to me, whoever and whatever, till I give you re-
I respect Assyria, China, Teutonia, and the Hebrews;
I adopt each theory, myth, god, and demi-god;
I see that the old accounts, bibles, genealogies, are true,
I assert that all past days were what they should have
And that they could no-how have been better than they
And that to-day is what it should be, and that America
And that to-day and America could no-how be better
than they are.
In the name of these States, and in your and my name,
And in the name of these States, and in your and my
name, the Present time.
I know that the past was great, and the future will be
And I know that both curiously conjoint in the present
For the sake of him I typify—for the common average
man’s sake—your sake, if you are he;
And that where I am, or you are, this present day, there
is the centre of all days, all races,
And there is the meaning, to us, of all that has ever come
of races and days, or ever will come.
O TAKE my hand, Walt Whitman!
Such gliding wonders! such sights and sounds!
Such joined unended links, each hooked to the next!
Each answering all—each sharing the earth with all.
What widens within you, Walt Whitman?
What waves and soils exuding?
What climes? what persons and cities are here?
Who are the infants? some playing, some slumbering?
Who are the girls? who are the married women?
Who are the three old men going slowly with their arms
about each others’ necks?
What rivers are these? what forests and fruits are these?
What are the mountains called that rise so high in the
What myriads of dwellings are they, filled with dwellers?
Within me latitude widens, longitude lengthens;
Asia, Africa, Europe, are to the east—America is provided
for in the west;
Banding the bulge of the earth winds the hot equator,
Curiously north and south turn the axis-ends,
Within me is the longest day—the sun wheels in slanting
rings—it does not set for months.
Stretched in due time within me the midnight sun just
rises above the horizon, and sinks again;
Within me zones, seas, cataracts, plants, volcanoes, groups,
Malaysia, Polynesia, and the great West Indian islands.
What do you hear Walt Whitman?
I hear the workman singing, and the farmer’s wife sing-
I hear in the distance the sounds of children, and of
animals early in the day;
I hear the quick rifle-cracks from the riflemen of East Ten-
nessee and Kentucky, hunting on hills;
I hear emulous shouts of Australians, pursuing the wild
I hear the Spanish dance, with castanets, in the chestnut
shade, to the rebeck and guitar;
I hear continual echoes from the Thames;
I hear fierce French liberty songs;
I hear of the Italian boat-sculler the musical recitative of
I hear the Virginian plantation chorus of negroes, of a
harvest night, in the glare of pine knots;
I hear the strong barytone of the ’long-shore-men of
I hear the stevedores unlading the cargoes, and singing;
I hear the screams of the water-fowl of solitary north-
I hear the rustling patterning of locusts, as they strike the
grain and grass with the showers of their terrible
I hear the Coptic refrain, toward sundown, pensively
falling on the breast of the black venerable vast
mother, the Nile;
I hear the bugles of raft-tenders on the streams of Canada;
I hear the chirp of the Mexican muleteer, and the bells of
I hear the Arab muezzin, calling from the top of the
I hear the Christian priests at the altars of their churches
—I hear the responsive base and soprano;
I hear the wail of utter despair of the white-haired Irish
grand-parents, when they learn the death of their
I hear the cry of the Cossack, and the sailor’s voice, putting
to sea at Okotsk;
I hear the wheeze of the slave-coffle, as the slaves march
on—as the husky gangs pass on by twos and
threes, fastened together with wrist-chains and
I hear the entreaties of women tied up for punishment—
I hear the sibilant whisk of thongs through the air;
I hear the Hebrew reading his records and psalms;
I hear the rhythmic myths of the Greeks, and the strong
legends of the Romans;
I hear the tale of the divine life and bloody death of the
beautiful God, the Christ;
I hear the Hindoo teaching his favorite pupil the loves,
wars, adages, transmitted safely to this day from
poets who wrote three thousand years ago.
What do you see, Walt Whitman?
Who are they you salute, and that one after another salute
I see a great round wonder rolling through the air:
I see diminute farms, hamlets, ruins, grave-yards, jails,
factories, palaces, hovels, huts of barbarians, tents
of nomads, upon the surface;
I see the shaded part on one side, where the sleepers are
sleeping—and the sun-lit part on the other side,
I see the curious silent change of the light and shade,
I see distant lands, as real and near to the inhabitants of
them as my land is to me.
I see plenteous waters;
I see mountain-peaks—I see the sierras of Andes and
Alleghanies, where they range;
I see plainly the Himilayas, Chian Shahs, Altays, Ghauts;
I see the Rocky Mountains, and the Peak of Winds;
I see the Styrian Alps, and the Karnac Alps;
I see the Pyrenees, Balks, Carpathians—and to the north
the Dofrafields, and off at sea Mount Hecla;
I see Vesuvius and Etna—I see the Anahuacs;
I see the Mountains of the Moon, and the Snow Mountains,
and the Red Mountains of Madagascar;
I see the Vermont hills, and the long string of Cordilleras;
I see the vast deserts of Western America;
I see the Lybian, Arabian, and Asiatic deserts;
I see huge dreadful Arctic and Antarctic icebergs;
I see the superior oceans and the inferior ones—the At-
lantic and Pacific, the sea of Mexico, the Brazilian
sea, and the sea of Peru,
The Japan waters, those of Hindostan, the China sea, and
the Gulf of Guinea,
The spread of the Baltic, Caspian, Bothnia, the British
shores, and the bay of Biscay,
The clear-sunned Mediterranean, and from one to another
of its islands,
The inland fresh-tasted seas of North America,
The White Sea, and the sea around Greenland.
I behold the mariners of the world;
Some are in storms—some in the night, with the watch on
Some drifting helplessly—some with contagious diseases.
I behold the sail and steam ships of the world, some in
clusters in port, some on their voyages;
Some double the Cape of Storms—some Cape Verde,—
others Cape Guardafui, Bon, or Bajadore;
Others Dondra Head—others pass the Straits of Sunda—
others Cape Lopatka—others Behring’s Straits;
Others Cape Horn—others sail the Gulf of Mexico, or along
Cuba or Hayti—others Hudson’s Bay or Baffin’s
Others pass the straits of Dover—others enter the Wash—
others the Firth of Solway—others round Cape
Clear—others the Land’s End;
Others traverse the Zuyder Zee, or the Scheld;
Others add to the exits and entrances at Sandy Hook;
Others to the comers and goers at Gibraltar, or the Dar-
Others sternly push their way through the northern
Others descend or ascend the Obi or the Lena:
Others the Niger or the Congo—others the Indus, the
Burampooter and Cambodia:
Others wait at the wharves of Manhattan, steamed up,
ready to start;
Wait, swift and swarthy, in the ports of Australia;
Wait at Liverpool, Glasgow, Dublin, Marseilles, Lisbon,
Naples, Hamburg, Bremen, Bordeaux, the Hague,
Wait at Valparaiso, Rio Janeiro, Panama;
Wait at their moorings at Boston, Philadelphia, Balti-
more, Charleston, New Orleans, Galveston, San
I see the tracks of the rail-roads of the earth;
I see them welding State to State, city to city, through
I see them in Great Britain, I see them in Europe;
I see them in Asia and in Africa.
I see the electric telegraphs of the earth;
I see the filaments of the news of the wars, deaths, losses,
gains, passions, of my race.
I see the long river-stripes of the earth;
I see where the Mississippi flows—I see where the Columbia
I see the Great River, and the Falls of Niagara;
I see the Amazon and the Paraguay;
I see the four great rivers of China, the Amour, the
Yellow River, the Yiang-tse, and the Pearl;
I see where the Seine flows, and where the Loire, the
Rhone, and the Guadalquiver flow;
I see the windings of the Volga, the Dnieper, the Oder;
I see the Tuscan going down the Arno, and the Venetian
along the Po;
I see the Greek seaman sailing out of Egina bay.
I see the site of the old empire of Assyria, and that of
Persia, and that of India;
I see the falling of the Ganges over the high rim of
I see the place of the idea of the Deity incarnated by
avatars in human forms;
I see the spots of the successions of priests on the earth—
oracles, sacrificers, brahmins, sabians, lamas, monks,
I see where druids walked the groves of Mona—I see the
mistletoe and vervain;
I see the temples of the deaths of the bodies of Gods—I
see the old signifiers.
I see Christ once more eating the bread of his last supper,
in the midst of youths and old persons:
I see where the strong divine young man, the Hercules,
toiled faithfully and long, and then died;
I see the place of the innocent rich life and hapless fate of
the beautiful nocturnal son, the full-limbed Bac-
I see Kneph, blooming, drest in blue, with the crown of
feathers on his head;
I see Hermes, unsuspected, dying, well-beloved, saying to
the people, Do not weep for me,
This is not my true country, I have lived banished from
my true country—I now go back there,
I return to the celestial sphere, where every one goes in his
I see the battle-fields of the earth—grass grows upon them,
and blossoms and corn;
I see the tracks of ancient and modern expeditions.
I see the nameless masonries, venerable messages of the
unknown events, heroes, records, of the earth.
I see the places of the sagas;
I see pine-trees and fir-trees torn by northern blasts;
I see granite boulders and cliffs—I see green meadows
I see the burial-cairns of Scandinavian warriors;
I see them raised high with stones, by the marge of rest-
less oceans, that the dead men’s spirits, when they
wearied of their quiet graves, might rise up through
the mounds and gaze on the tossing billows, and
be refreshed by storms, immensity, liberty, action.
I see the steppes of Asia;
I see the tumuli of Mongolia—I see the tents of Kalmucks
I see the nomadic tribes, with herds of oxen and cows;
I see the table-lands notched with ravines—I see the
jungles and deserts;
I see the camel, the wild steed, the bustard, the fat-tailed
sheep, the antelope, and the burrowing wolf.
I see the highlands of Abyssinia;
I see flocks of goats feeding, and see the fig-tree, tama-
And see fields of teff-wheat and places of verdure
I see the Brazilian vaquero;
I see the Bolivian ascending Mount Sorata;
I see the Wacho crossing the plains—I see the incom-
parable rider of horses with his lasso on his arm;
I see over the pampas the pursuit of wild cattle for their
I see little and large sea-dots, some inhabited, some unin-
I see two boats with nets, lying off the shore of Pauma-
nok, quite still;
I see ten fishermen waiting—they discover now a thick
school of mossbonkers—they drop the joined sein-
ends in the water,
The boats separated—they diverge and row off, each on its
rounding course to the beach, enclosing the moss-
The net is drawn in by a windlass by those who stop
Some of the fishermen lounge in their boats—others stand
negligently ankle-deep in the water, poised on
The boats are partly drawn up—the water slaps against
On the sand, in heaps and winrows, well out from the
water, lie the green-backed spotted mossbonkers.
I see the despondent red man in the west, lingering about
the banks of Moingo, and about Lake Pepin;
He has heard the quail and beheld the honey-bee, and
sadly prepared to depart.
I see the regions of snow and ice;
I see the sharp-eyed Samoiede and the Finn;
I see the seal-seeker in his boat, poising his lance;
I see the Siberian on his slight-built sledge, drawn by
I see the porpess-hunters—I see the whale-crews of the
South Pacific and the North Atlantic;
I see the cliffs, glaciers, torrents, valleys, of Switzerland—
I mark the long winters, and the isolation.
I see the cities of the earth, and make myself at random
a part of them;
I am a real Parisian;
I am a habitant of Vienna, St. Petersburg, Berlin, Con-
I am of Adelaide, Sidney, Melbourne;
I am of London, Manchester, Bristol, Edinburgh, Lime-
I am of Madrid, Cadiz, Barcelona, Oporto, Lyons, Brus-
sels, Berne, Frankfort, Stuttgart, Turin, Florence;
I belong in Moscow, Cracow, Warsaw—or northward in
Christiania or Stockholm—or in Siberian Irkutsk
—or in some street in Iceland;
I descend upon all those cities, and rise from them again.
I see vapors exhaling from unexplored countries;
I see the savage types, the bow and arrow, the poisoned
splint, the fetich, and the obi.
I see African and Asiatic towns;
I see Algiers, Tripoli, Derne, Mogadore, Timbuctoo, Mon-
I see the swarms of Pekin, Canton, Benares, Delhi, Cal-
I see the Kruman in his hut, and the Dahoman and
Ashantee-man in their huts;
I see the Turk smoking opium in Aleppo;
I see the picturesque crowds at the fairs of Khiva, and
those of Herat;
I see Teheran—I see Muscat and Medina, and the inter-
vening sands—I see the caravans toiling onward;
I see Egypt and the Egyptians—I see the pyramids and
I look on chiselled histories, songs, philosophies, cut in
slabs of sand-stone, or on granite-blocks;
I see at Memphis mummy-pits, containing mummies, em-
balmed, swathed in linen cloth, lying there many
I look on the fallen Theban, the large-balled eyes, the
side-drooping neck, the hands folded across the
I see the menials of the earth, labouring;
I see the prisoners in the prisons;
I see the defective human bodies of the earth;
I see the blind, the deaf and dumb, idiots, hunchbacks,
I see the pirates, thieves, betrayers, murderers, slave-
makers of the earth;
I see the helpless infants, and the helpless old men and
I see male and female everywhere;
I see the serene brotherhood of philosophs;
I see the constructiveness of my race;
I see the results of the perseverance and industry of my
I see ranks, colours, barbarisms, civilizations—I go among
them—I mix indiscriminately,
And I salute all the inhabitants of the earth.
You, where you are!
You daughter or son of England!
You of the mighty Slavic tribes and empires! you Russ
You dim-descended, black, divine-souled African, large,
fine-headed, nobly-formed, superbly destined, on
equal terms with me!
You Norwegian! Swede! Dane! Icelander! you
You Spaniard of Spain! you Portuguese!
You Frenchwoman and Frenchman of France!
You Belge! you liberty-lover of the Netherlands!
You sturdy Austrian! you Lombard! Hun! Bohemian!
farmer of Styria!
You neighbour of the Danube!
You working-man of the Rhine, the Elbe, or the Weser!
you working-woman too!
You Sardinian! you Bavarian! Swabian! Saxon!
You citizen of Prague! Roman! Neapolitan! Greek!
You lithe matador in the arena at Seville!
You mountaineer living lawlessly on the Taurus or
You Bokh horse-herd, watching your mares and stallions
You beautiful-bodied Persian, at full speed in the saddle
shooting arrows to the mark!
You Chinaman and Chinawoman of China! you Tartar of
You women of the earth subordinated at your tasks!
You Jew journeying in your old age through every risk,
to stand once on Syrian ground!
You other Jews waiting in all lands for your Messiah!
You thoughtful Armenian, pondering by some stream of
the Euphrates! you peering amid the ruins of
Nineveh! you ascending mount Ararat!
You foot-worn pilgrim welcoming the far-away sparkle of
the minarets of Mecca!
You sheiks along the stretch from Suez to Babelmandeb,
ruling your families and tribes!
You olive-grower tending your fruit on fields of Nazareth,
Damascus, or lake Tiberias!
You Thibet trader on the wide inland, or bargaining in
the shops of Lassa!
You Japanese man or woman! you liver in Madagascar,
Ceylon, Sumatra, Borneo!
All you continentals of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia,
indifferent of place!
All you on the numberless islands of the archipelagoes of
And you of centuries hence, when you listen to
And you, each and everywhere, whom I specify not, but
include just the same!
Health to you! Good will to you all—from me and
Each of us inevitable;
Each of us limitless—each of us with his or her right
upon the earth;
Each of us allowed the eternal purports of the earth;
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.
You Hottentot with clicking palate! You woolly-haired
You owned persons, dropping sweat-drops or blood-
You human forms with the fathomless ever-impressive
countenances of brutes!
I dare not refuse you—the scope of the world, and of time
and space, are upon me.
You poor koboo whom the meanest of the rest look
down upon, for all your glimmering language and
You low expiring aborigines of the hills of Utah, Oregon,
You dwarfed Kamtschatkan, Greenlander, Lapp!
You Austral negro, naked, red, sooty, with protrusive lip,
groveling, seeking your food!
You Caffre, Berber, Soudanese!
You haggard, uncouth, untutored Bedowee!
You plague-swarms in Madras, Nankin, Kaubul, Cairo!
You bather bathing in the Ganges!
You benighted roamer of Amazonia! you Patagonian!
You peon of Mexico! you slave of Carolina, Texas,
I do not prefer others so very much before you either;
I do not say one word against you, away back there,
where you stand;
You will come forward in due time to my side.
My spirit has passed in compassion and determination
around the whole earth;
I have looked for equals and lovers, and found them ready
for me in all lands;
I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them.
You vapors! I think I have risen with you, and moved
away to distant continents, and fallen down there,
I think I have blown with you, O winds;
O waters, I have fingered every shore with you.
I have run through what any river or strait of the globe
has run through;
I have taken my stand on the bases of peninsulas, and on
the high embedded rocks, to cry thence.
Salut au Monde!
What cities the light or warmth penetrates, I penetrate
those cities myself;
All islands to which birds wing their way, I wing my way
I raise high the perpendicular hand—I make the signal,
To remain after me in sight forever,
For all the haunts and homes of men.
(RECEPTION OF THE JAPANESE EMBASSY, JUNE 16, 1860.)
OVER sea, hither from Niphon,
Courteous, the Princes of Asia, swart-cheeked
First-comers, guests, two-sworded princes,
Lesson-giving princes, leaning back in their open ba-
rouches, bare-headed, impassive,
This day they ride through Manhattan.
I do not know whether others behold what I behold,
In the procession along with the Princes of Asia, the
Bringing up the rear, hovering above, around, or in the
But I will sing you a song of what I behold, Libertad.
When million-footed Manhattan, unpent, descends to its
When the thunder-cracking guns arouse me with the
proud roar I love;
When the round-mouthed guns, out of the smoke and
smell I love, spit their salutes;
When the fire-flashing guns have fully alerted me—when
heaven-clouds canopy my city with a delicate thin
When, gorgeous, the countless straight stems, the forests
at the wharves, thicken with colours;
When every ship, richly dressed, carries her flag at the
When pennants trail, and street-festoons hang from the
When Broadway is entirely given up to foot-passengers
and foot-standers—when the mass is densest;
When the façades of the houses are alive with people—
when eyes gaze, riveted, tens of thousands at a
When the guests from the islands advance—when the
pageant moves forward, visible;
When the summons is made—when the answer, that waited
thousands of years, answers;
I too, arising, answering, descend to the pavements, merge
with the crowd, and gaze with them.
Comrade Americanos!—to us, then, at last, the Orient
To us, my city,
Where our tall-topt marble and iron beauties range on
opposite sides—to walk in the space between,
To-day our Antipodes comes.
The Originatress comes,
The land of Paradise—land of the Caucasus—the nest of
The nest of languages, the bequeather of poems, the race
Florid with blood, pensive, rapt with musings, hot with
Sultry with perfume, with ample and flowing garments,
With sunburnt visage, with intense soul and glittering
The race of Brahma comes!
See, my cantabile! these, and more, are flashing to us
from the procession;
As it moves changing, a kaleidoscope divine it moves
changing, before us.
Not the errand-bearing princes, nor the tanned Japanee
Lithe and silent, the Hindoo appears—the whole Asiatic
continent itself appears—the Past, the dead,
The murky night-morning of wonder and fable, inscrutable,
The enveloped mysteries, the old and unknown hive-bees,
The North—the sweltering South—Assyria—the Hebrews
—the Ancient of ancients,
Vast desolated cities—the gliding Present—all of these,
and more, are in the pageant-procession.
Geography, the world, is in it;
The Great Sea, the brood of islands, Polynesia, the coast
The coast you henceforth are facing—you Libertad! from
your Western golden shores;
The countries there, with their populations—the millions
en-masse, are curiously here;
The swarming market-places—the temples, with idols
ranged along the sides, or at the end—bonze,
brahmin, and lama;
The mandarin, farmer, merchant, mechanic, and fisher-
The singing-girl and the dancing-girl—the ecstatic person
—the divine Buddha;
The secluded Emperors—Confucius himself—the great
poets and heroes—the warriors, the castes, all,
Trooping up, crowding from all directions—from the Altay
From Thibet—from the four winding and far-flowing
rivers of China,
From the Southern peninsulas, and the demi-continental
These, and whatever belongs to them, palpable, show forth
to me, and are seized by me,
And I am seized by them, and friendlily held by them,
Till, as here, them all I chant, Libertad! for themselves
and for you.
For I too, raising my voice, join the ranks of this pageant;
I am the chanter—I chant aloud over the pageant;
I chant the world on my Western sea;
I chant, copious, the islands beyond, thick as stars in the
I chant the new empire, grander than any before—As in
a vision it comes to me;
I chant America, the Mistress—I chant a greater supre-
I chant, projected, a thousand blooming cities yet, in time,
on those groups of sea-islands;
I chant my sail-ships and steam-ships threading the archi-
I chant my stars and stripes fluttering in the wind;
I chant commerce opening, the sleep of ages having done
its work—races reborn, refreshed;
Lives, works, resumed—The object I know not—but the
old, the Asiatic, resumed, as it must be,
Commencing from this day, surrounded by the world.
And you, Libertad of the world!
You shall sit in the middle, well-poised, thousands of
As to-day, from one side, the Princes of Asia come to
As to-morrow, from the other side, the Queen of England
sends her eldest son to you.
The sign is reversing, the orb is enclosed,
The ring is circled, the journey is done;
The box-lid is but perceptibly opened—nevertheless the
perfume pours copiously out of the whole box.
With the venerable Asia, the all-mother,
Be considerate with her, now and ever, hot Libertad—for
you are all;
Bend your proud neck to the long-off mother, now send-
ing messages over the archipelagoes to you:
Bend your proud neck low for once, young Libertad.
Were the children straying westward so long? so wide the
Were the precedent dim ages debouching westward from
Paradise so long?
Were the centuries steadily footing it that way, all the
while unknown, for you, for reasons?
They are justified—they are accomplished—they shall
now be turned the other way also, to travel toward
They shall now also march obediently eastward, for your
FAR hence, amid an isle of wondrous beauty,
Crouching over a grave, an ancient sorrowful mother,
Once a queen—now lean and tattered, seated on the
Her old white hair drooping dishevelled round her
At her feet fallen an unused royal harp,
Long silent—she too long silent—mourning her shrouded
hope and heir;
Of all the earth her heart most full of sorrow, because
most full of love.
Yet a word, ancient mother;
You need crouch there no longer on the cold ground, with
forehead between your knees;
O you need not sit there, veiled in your old white hair,
For know you, the one you mourn is not in that grave;
It was an illusion—the heir, the son you love, was not
The Lord is not dead—he is risen again, young and strong
in another country;
Even while you wept there by your fallen harp, by the
What you wept for was translated, passed from the
The winds favored, and the sea sailed it,
And now with rosy and new blood,
Moves to-day in a new country.
TO get betimes in Boston town, I rose this morning
Here’s a good place at the corner—I must stand and see
Clear the way there, Jonathan!
Way for the President’s marshal! Way for the govern-
Way for the Federal foot and dragoons—and the appari-
tions copiously tumbling.
I love to look on the stars and stripes—I hope the fifes will
play Yankee Doodle.
How bright shine the cutlasses of the foremost troops!
Every man holds his revolver, marching stiff through
A fog follows—antiques of the same come limping,
Some appear wooden-legged, and some appear bandaged
Why this is indeed a show! It has called the dead out of
The old graveyards of the hills have hurried to see!
Phantoms! phantoms countless by flank and rear!
Cocked hats of mothy mould! crutches made of mist!
Arms in slings! old men leaning on young men’s shoulders!
What troubles you Yankee phantoms? What is all this
chattering of bare gums?
Does the ague convulse your limbs? Do you mistake
your crutches for fire-locks, and level them?
If you blind your eyes with tears, you will not see the
If you groan such groans, you might balk the government
For shame, old maniacs! Bring down those tossed arms,
and let your white hair be;
Here gape your great grandsons—their wives gaze at
them from the windows,
See how well-dressed, see how orderly they conduct them-
Worse and worse! Can’t you stand it? Are you re-
Is this hour with the living too dead for you?
Retreat then! Pell-mell!
To your graves! Back! back to the hills, old limpers!
I do not think you belong here, anyhow.
But there is one thing that belongs here—shall I tell you
what it is, gentlemen of Boston?
I will whisper it to the Mayor—He shall send a committee
They shall get a grant from the Parliament, go with a cart
to the royal vault—haste!
Dig out King George’s coffin, unwrap him quick from the
grave-clothes, box up his bones for a journey;
Find a swift Yankee clipper—here is freight for you,
Up with your anchor! shake out your sails! steer straight
toward Boston bay.
Now call for the President’s marshal again, bring out the
Fetch home the roarers from Congress, make another
procession, guard it with foot and dragoons.
This centre-piece for them!
Look, all orderly citizens! Look from the windows,
The committee open the box; set up the regal ribs; glue
those that will not stay;
Clap the skull on top of the ribs, and clap a crown on top
of the skull.
You have got your revenge, old buster! The crown is
come to its own and more than its own.
Stick your hands in your pockets, Jonathan—you are a
made man from this day;
You are mighty ’cute—and here is one of your bargains.
THE 18TH YEAR OF THESE STATES.*
A GREAT year and place;
A harsh, discordant, natal scream out-sounding, to
touch the mother’s heart closer than any yet.
I walked the shores of my Eastern Sea,
Heard over the waves the little voice,
Saw the divine infant, where she woke, mournfully wailing,
amid the roar of cannon, curses, shouts, crash of
Was not so sick from the blood in the gutters running,
—nor from the single corpses, nor those in heaps,
nor those borne away in the tumbrils;
* 1793-4. The great poet of Democracy is "not so shocked" at
the great European year of Democracy.
Was not so desperate at the battues of death—was not so
shocked at the repeated fusillades of the guns.
Pale, silent, stern, what could I say to that long-accrued
Could I wish humanity different?
Could I wish the people made of wood and stone?
Or that there be no justice in destiny or time?
O Liberty! O mate for me!
Here too the blaze, the bullet, and the axe, in reserve, to
fetch them out in case of need,
Here too, though long repressed, can never be destroyed;
Here too could rise at last, murdering and ecstatic;
Here too demanding full arrears of vengeance.
Hence I sign this salute over the sea,
And I do not deny that terrible red birth and baptism,
But remember the little voice that I heard wailing—and
wait with perfect trust, no matter how long;
And from to-day, sad and cogent, I maintain the be-
queathed cause, as for all lands,
And I send these words to Paris with my love,
And I guess some chansonniers there will understand
For I guess there is latent music yet in France—floods
O I hear already the bustle of instruments—they will
soon be drowning all that would interrupt them;
O I think the east wind brings a triumphal and free
It reaches hither—it swells me to joyful madness,
I will run transpose it in words, to justify it,
I will yet sing a song for you, ma femme!
THE 72ND AND 73RD YEARS OF THESE STATES.*
SUDDENLY, out of its stale and drowsy lair, the lair of
Like lightning it leaped forth, half startled at itself,
Its feet upon the ashes and the rags—its hands tight to
the throats of kings.
O hope and faith!
O aching close of exiled patriots’ lives!
O many a sickened heart!
Turn back unto this day, and make yourselves afresh.
And you, paid to defile the People! you liars, mark!
Not for numberless agonies, murders, lusts,
For court thieving in its manifold mean forms, worming
from his simplicity the poor man’s wages,
For many a promise sworn by royal lips, and broken, and
laughed at in the breaking,
Then in their power, not for all these did the blows strike
revenge, or the heads of the nobles fall;
The People scorned the ferocity of kings.
But the sweetness of mercy brewed bitter destruction, and
the frightened rulers come back;
Each comes in state with his train—hangman, priest, tax-
Soldier, lawyer, lord, jailer, and sycophant.
Yet behind all, lowering, stealing—lo, a Shape,
Vague as the night, draped interminably, head, front, and
form, in scarlet folds,
Whose face and eyes none may see:
Out of its robes only this—the red robes, lifted by the
One finger crooked, pointed high over the top, like the
head of a snake appears.
Meanwhile, corpses lie in new-made graves—bloody
corpses of young men;
The rope of the gibbet hangs heavily, the bullets of
princes are flying, the creatures of power laugh
And all these things bear fruits—and they are good.
Those corpses of young men,
Those martyrs that hang from the gibbets—those hearts
pierced by the gray lead,
Cold and motionless as they seem, live elsewhere with
They live in other young men, O kings!
They live in brothers, again ready to defy you!
They were purified by death—they were taught and
Not a grave of the murdered for freedom but grows seed
for freedom, in its turn to bear seed,
Which the winds carry afar and resow, and the rains and
the snows nourish.
Not a disembodied spirit can the weapons of tyrants let
But it stalks invisibly over the earth, whispering, coun-
Liberty! let others despair of you! I never despair of
Is the house shut? Is the master away?
Nevertheless, be ready—be not weary of watching:
He will soon return—his messengers come anon.
TO A FOILED REVOLTER OR
COURAGE! my brother or my sister!
Keep on! Liberty is to be subserved, whatever
That is nothing that is quelled by one or two failures, or
any number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon,
What we believe in waits latent forever through all the
continents, and all the islands and archipelagoes of
What we believe in invites no one, promises nothing, sits
in calmness and light, is positive and composed,
knows no discouragement,
Waiting patiently, waiting its time.
The battle rages with many a loud alarm, and frequent
advance and retreat,
The infidel triumphs—or supposes he triumphs,
The prison, scaffold, garrote, hand-cuffs, iron necklace and
anklet, lead-balls, do their work,
The named and unnamed heroes pass to other spheres,
The great speakers and writers are exiled—they lie sick in
The cause is asleep—the strongest throats are still, choked
with their own blood,
The young men droop their eyelashes toward the ground
when they meet;
But for all this, Liberty has not gone out of the place, nor
the infidel entered into full possession.
When liberty goes out of a place it is not the first to go,
nor the second or third to go,
It waits for all the rest to go—it is the last.
When there are no more memories of heroes and martyrs,
And when all life, and all the souls of men and women are
discharged from any part of the earth,
Then only shall Liberty be discharged from that part of the
And the infidel and the tyrant come into possession.
Then courage! revolter! revoltress!
For till all ceases, neither must you cease.
I do not know what you are for, (I do not know what I am
for myself, nor what any thing is for,)
But I will search carefully for it even in being foiled,
In defeat, poverty, imprisonment—for they too are great.
Did we think victory great?
So it is—but now it seems to me, when it cannot be helped,
that defeat is great,
And that death and dismay are great.
FIRST, O songs, for a prelude,
Lightly strike on the stretched tympanum, pride
and joy in my city,
How she led the rest to arms—how she gave the cue,
How at once with lithe limbs, unwaiting a moment, she
O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!
O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O truer
How you sprang! how you threw off the costumes of
peace with indifferent hand;
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and
fife were heard in their stead;
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude,
songs of soldiers,)
How Manhattan drum-taps led.
Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading;
Forty years as a pageant—till unawares, the Lady of this
teeming and turbulent city,
Sleepless, amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable
With her million children around her—suddenly,
At dead of night, at news from the South,
Incensed, struck with clenched hand the pavement.
A shock electric—the night sustained it;
Till, with ominous hum, our hive at day-break poured
out its myriads.
From the houses then, and the workshops, and through all
Leapt they tumultuous—and lo! Manhattan arming.
To the drum-taps prompt,
The young men falling in and arming;
The mechanics arming, the trowel, the jack-plane, the
blacksmith’s hammer, tossed aside with precipitation;
The lawyer leaving his office, and arming—the judge
leaving the court;
The driver deserting his wagon in the street, jumping
down, throwing the reins abruptly down on the
The salesman leaving the store—the boss, book-keeper,
porter, all leaving;
Squads gather everywhere by common consent, and
The new recruits, even boys—the old men show them
how to wear their accoutrements—they buckle the
Outdoors arming—indoors arming—the flash of the
The white tents cluster in camps—the armed sentries
around—the sunrise cannon, and again at sunset;
Armed regiments arrive every day, pass through the city,
and embark from the wharves;
How good they look, as they tramp down to the river,
sweaty, with their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their
brown faces, and their clothes and knapsacks
covered with dust!
The blood of the city up—armed! armed! the cry every-
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches, and
from all the public buildings and stores;
The tearful parting—the mother kisses her son—the son
kisses his mother;
Loth is the mother to part—yet not a word does she speak
to detain him;
The tumultuous escort—the ranks of policemen preceding,
clearing the way;
The unpent enthusiasm—the wild cheers of the crowd for
The artillery—the silent cannons, bright as gold, drawn
along, rumble lightly over the stones;
Silent cannons—soon to cease your silence,
Soon, unlimbered, to begin the red business!
All the mutter of preparation—all the determined arming;
The hospital service—the lint, bandages and medicines;
The women volunteering for nurses—the work begun for,
in earnest—no mere parade now;
War! an armed race is advancing!—the welcome for
battle—no turning away;
War! be it weeks, months, or years—an armed race is
advancing to welcome it.
Mannahatta a-march—and it’s O to sing it well!
It’s O for a manly life in the camp!
And the sturdy artillery!
The guns, bright as gold—the work for giants—to serve
well the guns:
Unlimber them! no more, as the past forty years, for
salutes for courtesies merely;
Put in something now besides powder and wadding.
And you, Lady of Ships! you Mannahatta!
Old matron of the city! this proud, friendly, turbulent
Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly
frowned amid all your children;
But now you smile with joy, exulting old Mannahatta!
ARMED year! year of the struggle!
No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for
you, terrible year!
Not you as some pale poetling, seated at a desk, lisping
But as a strong man, erect, clothed in blue clothes,
advancing, carrying rifle on your shoulder,
With well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands—
with a knife in the belt at your side,
As I heard you shouting loud—your sonorous voice
ringing across the continent;
Your masculine voice, O year, as rising amid the great
Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you, as one of the
workmen, the dwellers in Manhattan;
Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois and
Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait, and descending
Or down from the great lakes, or in Pennsylvania, or on
deck along the Ohio river;
Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers,
or at Chattanooga on the mountain top,
Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs, clothed in
blue, bearing weapons, robust year;
Heard your determined voice, launched forth again and
Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round-lipped
I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.
RISE, O days, from your fathomless deeps, till you
loftier and fiercer sweep!
Long for my soul, hungering gymnastic, I devoured what
the earth gave me;
Long I roamed amid the woods of the north—long I watched
I traveled the prairies over, and slept on their breast—I
crossed the Nevadas, I crossed the plateaus;
I ascended the towering rocks along the Pacific, I sailed
out to sea;
I sailed through the storm, I was refreshed by the storm;
I watched with joy the threatening maws of the waves;
I marked the white combs where they careered so high,
I heard the wind piping, I saw the black clouds;
Saw from below what arose and mounted, (O superb! O
wild as my heart, and powerful!)
Heard the continuous thunder, as it bellowed after the
Noted the slender and jagged threads of lightning, as sudden
and fast amid the din they chased each other across
—These, and such as these, I, elate, saw—saw with wonder,
yet pensive and masterful;
All the menacing might of the globe uprisen around me;
Yet there with my soul I fed—I fed content, supercilious.
’Twas well, O soul! ’twas a good preparation you gave
Now we advance our latent and ampler hunger to fill;
Now we go forth to receive what the earth and the sea
never gave us;
Not through the mighty woods we go, but through the
Something for us is pouring now, more than Niagara
Torrents of men, (sources and rills of the Northwest, are
you indeed inexhaustible?)
What, to pavements and homesteads here—what were
those storms of the mountains and sea?
What, to passions I witness around me to-day, was the
Was the wind piping the pipe of death under the black
Lo! from deeps more unfathomable, something more
deadly and savage;
Manhattan, rising, advancing with menacing front—Cin-
cinnati, Chicago, unchained;
—What was that swell I saw on the ocean? behold what
How it climbs with daring feet and hands! how it dashes!
How the true thunder bellows after the lightning! how
bright the flashes of lightning!
How DEMOCRACY with desperate vengeful port strides on,
shown through the dark by those flashes of
Yet a mournful wail and low sob I fancied I heard through
In a lull of the deafening confusion.
Thunder on! stride on, Democracy! strike with vengeful
And do you rise higher than ever yet, O days, O cities!
Crash heavier, heavier yet, O storms! you have done me
My soul, prepared in the mountains, absorbs your immortal
Long had I walked my cities, my country roads through
farms, only half satisfied;
One doubt, nauseous, undulating like a snake, crawled on
the ground before me,
Continually preceding my steps, turning upon me oft,
ironically hissing low;
—The cities I loved so well I abandoned and left—I sped
to the certainties suitable to me;
Hungering, hungering, hungering, for primal energies, and
I refreshed myself with it only, I could relish it only;
I waited the bursting forth of the pent fire—on the water
and air I waited long.
—But now I no longer wait—I am fully satisfied—I am
I have witnessed the true lightning—I have witnessed my
I have lived to behold man burst forth, and warlike
Hence I will seek no more the food of the northern solitary
No more the mountains roam, or sail the stormy sea.
BEAT! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows—through doors—burst like
a force of ruthless men,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation;
Into the school where the scholar is studying:
Leave not the bridegroom quiet—no happiness must he
have now with his bride;
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or
gathering his grain;
So fierce you whirr and pound, you drums—so shrill you
Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Over the traffic of cities—over the rumble of wheels in the
Are beds prepared for sleepers at night in the houses?
No sleepers must sleep in those beds,
No bargainers’ bargains by day—no brokers or speculators
—Would they continue?
Would the talkers be talking? would the singer attempt
Would the lawyer rise in the court to state his case before
Then rattle quicker, heavier, drums—you bugles wilder
Beat! beat! drums!—Blow! bugles! blow!
Make no parley—stop for no expostulation;
Mind not the timid—mind not the weeper or prayer;
Mind not the old man beseeching the young man;
Let not the child’s voice be heard, nor the mother’s
Make even the trestles to shake the dead, where they lie
awaiting the hearses,
So strong you thump, O terrible drums—so loud you
O A new song, a free song,
Flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping, by sounds, by
By the wind’s voice and that of the drum,
By the banner’s voice, and child’s voice, and sea’s voice,
and father’s voice,
Low on the ground and high in the air,
On the ground where father and child stand,
In the upward air where their eyes turn,
Where the banner at day-break is flapping.
Words! book-words! what are you?
Words no more, for hearken and see,
My song is there in the open air—and I must sing,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping.
I’ll weave the chord and twine in,
Man’s desire and babe’s desire—I’ll twine them in, I’ll put
I’ll put the bayonet’s flashing point—I’ll let bullets and
I’ll pour the verse with streams of blood, full of volition,
full of joy;
Then loosen, launch forth, to go and compete,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping.
Come up here, bard, bard;
Come up here, soul, soul;
Come up here, dear little child,
To fly in the clouds and winds with me, and play with the
Father, what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long
And what does it say to me all the while?
Nothing, my babe, you see in the sky;
And nothing at all to you it says. But look you, my
Look at these dazzling things in the houses, and see you
the money-shops opening;
And see you the vehicles preparing to crawl along the
streets with goods:
These! ah, these! how valued and toiled for, these!
How envied by all the earth!
Fresh and rosy red, the sun is mounting high;
On floats the sea in distant blue, careering through its
On floats the wind over the breast of the sea, setting in
The great steady wind from west or west-by-south,
Floating so buoyant, with milk-white foam on the waters.
But I am not the sea, nor the red sun;
I am not the wind, with girlish laughter;
Not the immense wind which strengthens—not the wind
Not the spirit that ever lashes its own body to terror and
But I am that which unseen comes and sings, sings,
Which babbles in brooks and scoots in showers on the
Which the birds know in the woods, mornings and
And the shore-sands know, and the hissing wave, and
that banner and pennant,
Aloft there flapping and flapping.
O father, it is alive—it is full of people—it has children!
O now it seems to me it is talking to its children!
I hear it—it talks to me—O it is wonderful!
O it stretches—it spreads and runs so fast! O my father,
It is so broad it covers the whole sky!
Cease, cease, my foolish babe,
What you are saying is sorrowful to me—much it dis-
Behold with the rest, again I say—behold not banners and
But the well-prepared pavements behold—and mark the
Speak to the child, O bard, out of Manhattan;
To our children all, or north or south of Manhattan,
Where our factory-engines hum, where our miners delve
Where our hoarse Niagara rumbles, where our prairie-
ploughs are ploughing;
Speak, O bard! point this day, leaving all the rest, to us
over all—and yet we know not why;
For what are we, mere strips of cloth, profiting nothing,
Only flapping in the wind?
I hear and see not strips of cloth alone;
I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry;
I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men—I hear
I hear the drums beat, and the trumpets blowing;
I myself move abroad, swift-rising, flying then;
I use the wings of the land-bird, and use the wings of the
sea-bird, and look down as from a height,
I do not deny the precious results of peace—I see populous
cities, with wealth incalculable;
I see numberless farms—I see the farmers working in their
fields or barns;
I see mechanics working—I see buildings everywhere
founded, going up, or finished;
I see trains of cars swiftly speeding along railroad tracks,
drawn by the locomotives;
I see the stores, depots, of Boston, Baltimore, Charleston,
I see far in the west the immense area of grain—I dwell
I pass to the lumber forests of the north, and again to the
southern plantation, and again to California;
Sweeping the whole, I see the countless profit, the busy
gatherings, earned wages;
See the identity formed out of thirty-six spacious and
haughty States, (and many more to come;)
See forts on the shores of harbours—see ships sailing in
Then over all, (aye! aye!) my little and lengthened
pennant shaped like a sword
Runs swiftly up, indicating war and defiance—And now
the halyards have raised it,
Side of my banner broad and blue—side of my starry
Discarding peace over all the sea and land.
Yet louder, higher, stronger, bard! yet farther, wider
No longer let our children deem us riches and peace
We can be terror and carnage also, and are so now.
Not now are we any one of these spacious and haughty States,
(nor any five, nor ten;)
Nor market nor depot are we, nor money-bank in the
But these, and all, and the brown and spreading land, and
the mines below, are ours;
And the shores of the sea are ours, and the rivers great
And the fields they moisten are ours, and the crops and
the fruits are ours;
Bays and channels, and ships sailing in and out, are ours
—and we over all,
Over the area spread below, the three millions of square
The thirty-five millions of people—O bard! in life and
We, even we, from this day flaunt out masterful, high up
Not for the present alone, for a thousand years, chanting
This song to the soul of one poor little child.
O my father I like not the houses;
They will never to me be anything—nor do I like money;
But to mount up there I would like, O father dear—that
banner I like;
That pennant I would be, and must be.
Child of mine, you fill me with anguish;
To be that pennant would be too fearful;
Little you know what it is this day, and henceforth for
It is to gain nothing, but risk and defy everything;
Forward to stand in front of wars—and O, such wars!—
what have you to do with them?
With passions of demons, slaughter, premature death?
Demons and death then I sing;
Put in all, aye all, will I—sword-shaped pennant for war,
and banner so broad and blue,
And a pleasure new and ecstatic, and the prattled yearning
Blent with the sounds of the peaceful land, and the liquid
wash of the sea;
And the icy cool of the far, far north, with rustling cedars
And the whirr of drums, and the sound of soldiers
marching, and the hot sun shining south;
And the beach-waves combing over the beach on my
eastern shore, and my western shore the same;
And all between those shores, and my ever running Mis-
sissippi, with bendsand chutes;
And my Illinois fields, and my Kansas fields, and my fields
The CONTINENT—devoting the whole identity without re-
serving an atom,
Pour in! whelm that which asks, which sings, with all,
and the yield of all,
Aye for all! for ever, for all!
From sea to sea, north and south, east and west,
Fusing and holding, claiming, devouring the whole;
No more with tender lip, nor musical labial sound,
But, out of the night emerging for good, our voice per-
suasive no more,
Croaking like crows here in the wind.
My limbs, my veins dilate;
The blood of the world has filled me full—my theme is
clear at last.
—Banner so broad, advancing out of the night, I sing you
haughty and resolute;
I burst through where I waited long, too long, deafened
My sight, my hearing and tongue, are come to me, (a little
child taught me;)
I hear from above, O pennant of war, your ironical call
Insensate! insensate! yet I at any rate chant you, O
Not houses of peace are you, nor any nor all their pros-
perity; if need be, you shall have every one of
those houses to destroy them;
You thought not to destroy those valuable houses, stand-
ing fast, full of comfort, built with money;
May they stand fast, then? Not an hour, unless you,
above them and all, stand fast.
—O banner! not money so precious are you, not farm
produce you, nor the material good nutriment,
Nor excellent stores, nor landed on wharves from the ships;
Not the superb ships, with sail-power or steam-power,
fetching and carrying cargoes,
Nor machinery, vehicles, trade, nor revenues,—But you,
as henceforth I see you,
Running up out of the night, bringing your cluster of
stars, ever-enlarging stars;
Divider of daybreak you, cutting the air, touched by the
sun, measuring the sky,
Passionately seen and yearned for by one poor little child,
While others remain busy, or smartly talking, forever
teaching thrift, thrift;
O you up there! O pennant! where you undulate like a
snake, hissing so curious,
Out of reach—an idea only—yet furiously fought for,
risking bloody death—loved by me!
So loved! O you banner, leading the day, with stars
brought from the night!
Valueless, object of eyes, over all and demanding all—O
banner and pennant!
I too leave the rest—great as it is, it is nothing—houses,
machines are nothing—I see them not;
I see but you, O warlike pennant! O banner so broad,
with stripes, I sing you only,
Flapping up there in the wind.
THE BIVOUAC’S FLAME.
BY the bivouac’s fitful flame,
A procession winding around me, solemn and sweet
and slow;—but first I note
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields’ and woods’
The darkness, lit by spots of kindled fire—the silence;
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving;
The shrubs and trees (as I lift my eyes they seem to be
stealthily watching me;)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and won-
Of life and death—of home and the past and loved, and
of those that are far away;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the ground,
By the bivouac’s fitful flame.
BIVOUAC ON A MOUNTAIN SIDE.
I SEE before me now a travelling army halting;
Below, a fertile valley spread, with barns, and the
orchards of summer;
Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt in places,
Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall shapes
The numerous camp-fires scattered near and far, some
away up on the mountain;
The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large-
And over all the sky—the sky! far, far out of reach,
studded with the eternal stars.
CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful sharp-bowed steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here;
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirl-
ing in and out with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores! city of tall façades of marble
Proud and passionate city! mettlesome, mad, extravagant
Spring up, O city! not for peace alone, but be indeed
Fear not! submit to no models but your own, O city!
Behold me! incarnate me, as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offered me—whom you
adopted, I have adopted;
Good or bad, I never question you—I love all—I do not
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is
War, red war, is my song through your streets, O city!
VIGIL ON THE FIELD.
VIGIL strange I kept on the field one night,
When you, my son and my comrade, dropped at my
side that day.
One look I but gave, which your dear eyes returned with
a look I shall never forget;
One touch of your hand to mine, O boy, reached up as
you lay on the ground.
Then onward I sped in the battle, the even-contested
Till, late in the night relieved, to the place at last again I
made my way;
Found you in death so cold, dear comrade—found your
body, son of responding kisses, (never again on
Bared your face in the starlight—curious the scene—cool
blew the moderate night-wind.
Long there and then in vigil I stood, dimly around me
the battle-field spreading;
Vigil wondrous and vigil sweet, there in the fragrant
But not a tear fell, not even a long-drawn sigh—Long,
long I gazed;
Then on the earth partially reclining, sat by your side,
leaning my chin in my hands;
Passing sweet hours, immortal and mystic hours, with
you, dearest comrade—Not a tear, not a word;
Vigil of silence, love, and death—vigil for you, my son
and my soldier,
As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward
Vigil final for you, brave boy, (I could not save you, swift
was your death,
I faithfully loved you and cared for you living—I think
we shall surely meet again;)
Till at latest lingering of the night, indeed just as the
My comrade I wrapped in his blanket, enveloped well his
Folded the blanket well, tucking it carefully over head,
and carefully under feet;
And there and then, and bathed by the rising sun, my
son in his grave, in his rude-dug grave, I de-
Ending my vigil strange with that—vigil of night and
Vigil for boy of responding kisses, never again on earth
Vigil for comrade swiftly slain, vigil I never forget—how
as day brightened
I rose from the chill ground, and folded my soldier well in
And buried him where he fell.
BATHED in war’s perfume—delicate flag!
O to hear you call the sailors and the soldiers!
flag like a beautiful woman!
O to hear the tramp, tramp, of a million answering men!
O the ships they arm with joy!
O to see you leap and beckon from the tall masts of
O to see you peering down on the sailors on the decks!
Flag like the eyes of women.
A MARCH in the ranks hard-pressed, and the road un-
A route through a heavy wood, with muffled steps in the
Our army foiled with loss severe, and the sullen remnant
Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the
’Tis a large old church, at the crossing roads—’tis now
an impromptu hospital;
—Entering but for a minute, I see a sight beyond all the
pictures and poems ever made:
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving
candles and lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch, stationary, with wild red
flame and clouds of smoke;
By these, crowds, groups of forms, vaguely I see, on the
floor, some in the pews laid down;
At my feet more distinctly, a soldier, a mere lad, in
danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the
I stanch the blood temporarily, (the youngster’s face is
white as a lily;)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o’er the scene fain
to absorb it all;
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in ob-
scurity, some of them dead;
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of
ether, the odour of blood;
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms of soldiers—
the yard outside also filled;
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers,
some in the death-spasm sweating;
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor’s shouted orders
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the
glint of the torches;
These I resume as I chant—I see again the forms, I smell
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, Fall
But first I bend to the dying lad—his eyes open—a half-
smile gives he me;
Then the eyes close, calmly close: and I speed forth to the
Resuming, marching, as ever in darkness marching, on in
The unknown road still marching.
A SIGHT IN CAMP.
A SIGHT in camp in the day-break gray and dim.
As from my tent I emerge so early, sleepless,
As slow I walk in the cool fresh air the path near by the
Three forms I see on stretchers lying, brought out there,
Over each the blanket spread, ample brownish woollen
Gray and heavy blanket, folding, covering all.
Curious, I halt, and silent stand;
Then with light fingers I from the face of the nearest, the
first, just lift the blanket:
Who are you, elderly man so gaunt and grim, with well-
grayed hair, and flesh all sunken about the eyes?
Who are you my dear comrade?
Then to the second I step—and who are you, my child
Who are you, sweet boy, with cheeks yet blooming?
Then to the third—a face nor child nor old, very calm,
as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man, I think I know you—I think this face of yours
is the face of the Christ himself;
Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again he
AS toilsome I wandered Virginia’s woods,
To the music of rustling leaves kicked by my feet
—for ’twas autumn—
I marked at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier;
Mortally wounded he, and buried on the retreat—easily
all could I understand;
The halt of a mid-day hour—when, Up! no time to
lose! Yet this sign leftBold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
On a tablet scrawled and nailed on the tree by the grave,
Long, long I muse,—then on my way go wandering,
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt,
—alone, or in the crowded street,—
Comes before me the unknown soldier’s grave, comes the
inscription rude in Virginia’s woods,Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.
AN old man bending I come among new faces,
Years, looking backward, resuming, in answer to
"Come tell us, old man," (as from young men and maidens
that love me,
Years hence "of these scenes, of these furious passions,
Of unsurpassed heroes—(was one side so brave? the other
was equally brave)
Now be witness again—paint the mightiest armies of
Of those armies, so rapid, so wondrous, what saw you to
What stays with you latest and deepest? of curious panics,
Of hard-fought engagements, or sieges tremendous, what
O maidens and young men I love, and that love me,
What you ask of my days, those the strangest and sudden
your talking recalls.
Soldier alert I arrive, after a long march, covered with
sweat and dust;
In the nick of time I come, plunge in the fight, loudly
shout in the rush of successful charge;
Enter the captured works . . . . yet lo! like a swift-
running river, they fade,
Pass, and are gone; they fade—I dwell not on soldiers’
perils or soldiers’ joys;
(Both I remember well—many the hardships, few the joys,
yet I was content.)
But in silence, in dreams’ projections,
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the im-
prints off the sand,
In nature’s reverie sad, with hinged knees returning, I
enter the doors—(while for you up there,
Whoever you are, follow me without noise, and be of
Bearing the bandages, water and sponge,
Straight and swift to my wounded I go,
Where they lie on the ground, after the battle brought in;
Where their priceless blood reddens the grass, the ground;
Or to the rows of the hospital tent, or under the roofed
To the long rows of cots, up and down, each side I return;
To each and all, one after another, I draw near—not one
do I miss;
An attendant follows, holding a tray—he carries a refuse
Soon to be filled with clotted rags and blood, emptied, and
I onward go, I stop,
With hinged knees and steady hand, to dress wounds;
I am firm with each—the pangs are sharp, yet unavoid-
One turns to me his appealing eyes—poor boy! I never
Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you,
if that would save you.
On, on I go—(open, doors of time! open, hospital doors!)
The crushed head I dress (poor crazed hand, tear not the
The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through and
through, I examine;
Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye,
yet life struggles hard;
Come, sweet death! be persuaded, O beautiful death!
In mercy come quickly.
From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand,
I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the
matter and blood;
Back on his pillow the soldier bends, with curved neck, and
His eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on
the bloody stump,
And has not yet looked on it.
I dress a wound in the side, deep, deep;
But a day or two more—for see, the frame all wasted and
And the yellow-blue countenance see.
I dress the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet
Cleanse the one with a gnawing and putrid gangrene, so
sickening, so offensive,
While the attendant stands behind aside me, holding the
tray and pail.
I am faithful, I do not give out;
The fractured thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
These and more I dress with impassive hand—yet deep in
my breast a fire, a burning flame.
Thus in silence, in dreams’ projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hos-
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all the dark night—some are so young,
Some suffer so much—I recall the experience sweet and
Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have crossed
Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.
"COME up from the fields, father, here’s a letter from
And come to the front door, mother—here’s a letter from
thy dear son."
Lo, ’tis autumn;
Lo, where the trees, deeper green, yellower and redder,
Cool and sweeten Ohio’s villages, with leaves fluttering in
the moderate wind;
Where apples ripe in the orchards hang, and grapes on the
Smell you the smell of the grapes on the vines?
Smell you the buckwheat, where the bees were lately
Above all, lo, the sky, so calm, so transparent after the
rain, and with wondrous clouds;
Below, too, all calm, all vital and beautiful—and the farm
Down in the fields all prospers well;
But now from the fields come, father—come at the
And come to the entry, mother—to the front door come,
Fast as she can she hurries—something ominous—her steps
She does not tarry to smooth her white hair, nor adjust her
Open the envelope quickly;
O this is not our son’s writing, yet his name is signed;
O a strange hand writes for our dear son—O stricken
All swims before her eyes—flashes with black—she catches
the main words only;
Sentences broken—gun-shot wound in the breast, cavalry
skirmish, taken to hospital,
At present low, but will soon be better.
Ah, now the single figure to me,
Amid all teeming and wealthy Ohio, with all its cities and
Sickly white in the face and dull in the head, very faint,
By the jamb of a door leans.
"Grieve not so, dear mother" (the just-grown daughter
speaks through her sobs;
The little sisters huddle around, speechless and dismayed);
"See, dearest mother, the letter says Pete will soon be
Alas, poor boy, he will never be better (nor may-be needs
to be better, that brave and simple soul);
While they stand at home at the door, he is dead already;
The only son is dead.
But the mother needs to be better;
She, with thin form, presently dressed in black;
By day her meals untouched—then at night fitfully sleep-
ing, often waking,
In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep
O that she might withdraw unnoticed—silent from life
escape and withdraw,
To follow, to seek, to be with her dear dead son!
IN clouds descending, in midnight sleep, of many a face
Of the look at first of the mortally wounded, (of that inde-
Of the dead on their backs with arms extended wide—
I dream, I dream, I dream.
Of scenes of nature, the fields and the mountains,
Of the skies so beauteous after a storm, and at night the
moon so unearthly bright,
Shining sweetly, shining down, where we dig the trenches
and gather the heaps—
I dream, I dream, I dream.
Long have they passed, long lapsed—faces, and trenches,
Long through the carnage I moved with a callous compo-
sure, or away from the fallen
Onward I sped at the time. But now of their faces and
forms at night,
I dream, I dream, I dream.
WHILE my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the
wars are over long,pillow rests at home, and the mystic
And my head on the
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just
hear, the breath of my infant,
There in the room, as I wake from sleep, this vision
presses upon me.
The engagement opens there and then, in my busy brain
The skirmishers begin—they crawl cautiously ahead—I
hear the irregular snap! snap!t-h-t! t-h-t! of the rifle-balls;
I hear the sounds of the different missiles—the short
I see the shells exploding, leaving small white clouds—I
hear the great shells shrieking as they pass;
The grape, like the hum and whirr of wind through the
trees, (quick, tumultuous, now the contest rages!)
All the scenes at the batteries rise in detail
before me again;
The crashing and smoking—the pride of the men in their
The chief gunner ranges and sights his piece, and selects
a fuse of the right time;
After firing, I see him lean aside, and look eagerly off to
note the effect;
—Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging—the
young colonel leads himself this time, with bran-
I see the gaps cut by the enemy’s volleys, quickly filled
I breathe the suffocating smoke—then the flat clouds
hover low, concealing all;
Now a strange lull comes for a few seconds, not a shot
fired on either side;
Then resumed, the chaos louder than ever, with eager
calls, and orders of officers;
While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to
my ears a shout of applause, (some special success;)
And ever the sound of the cannon, far or near, rousing,
even in dreams, a devilish exultation, and all the
old mad joy, in the depths of my soul;
And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions—
batteries, cavalry, moving hither and thither;
The falling, dying, I heed not—the wounded, dripping
and red, I heed not—some to the rear are
Grime, heat, rush—aide-de-camps galloping by or on a
With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the
rifles, (these in my vision I hear or see,)
And bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari-coloured
O TAN-FACED PRAIRIE BOY.
O TAN-FACED prairie-boy!
Before you came to camp came many a welcome
Praises and presents came, and nourishing food—till at
last, among the recruits,
You came, taciturn, with nothing to give—we but looked
on each other,
When lo! more than all the gifts of the world you gave
GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams
Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the
Give me a field where the unmowed grass grows;
Give me an arbour, give me the trellised grape;
Give me fresh corn and wheat—give me serene-moving
animals, teaching content;
Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus west of
the Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars;
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers,
where I can walk undisturbed;
Give me for marriage a sweet-breathed woman, of whom
I should never tire;
Give me a perfect child—give me, away, aside from the
noise of the world, a rural domestic life;
Give me to warble spontaneous songs, relieved, recluse by
myself, for my own ears only;
Give me solitude—give me Nature—give me again,
O Nature, your primal sanities!
—These, demanding to have them, tired with ceaseless
excitement, and racked by the war-strife,
These to procure incessantly asking, rising in cries from
While yet incessantly asking, still I adhere to my city;
Day upon day, and year upon year, O city, walking your
Where you hold me enchained a certain time, refusing to
give me up,
Yet giving to make me glutted, enriched of soul—you
give me for ever faces;
O I see what I sought to escape, confronting, reversing
I see my own soul trampling down what it asked for.
Keep your splendid silent sun;
Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by the
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-
fields and orchards;
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields, where the ninth-
month bees hum.
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms in-
cessant and endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me
comrades and lovers by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones by
the hand every day!
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching—give me
the sound of the trumpets and drums!
The soldiers in companies or regiments—some starting
away, flushed and reckless;
Some, their time up, returning, with thinned ranks—
young, yet very old, worn, marching, noticing
—Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed
with the black ships!
O such for me! O an intense life! O full to repletion,
The life of the theatre, bar-room, huge hotel, for me!
The saloon of the steamer, the crowded excursion, for me!
the torch-light procession!
The dense brigade, bound for the war, with high piled
military wagons following;
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions,
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the
beating drums, as now;
The endless and noisy chorus, the rustle and clank of
muskets, even the sight of the wounded;
Manhattan crowds with their turbulent musical chorus—
with varied chorus and light of the sparkling eyes;
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me!
OVER THE CARNAGE.
OVER the carnage rose prophetic a voice,—
Be not disheartened—Affection shall solve the
problems of Freedom yet;
Those who love each other shall become invincible—they
shall yet make Columbia victorious.
Sons of the Mother of all! you shall yet be victorious!
You shall yet laugh to scorn the attacks of all the re-
mainder of the earth.
No danger shall balk Columbia’s lovers;
If need be, a thousand shall sternly immolate themselves
One from Massachusetts shall be a Missourian’s comrade;
From Maine and from hot Carolina, and another an Ore-
gonese, shall be friends triune,
More precious to each other than all the riches of the
To Michigan, Florida perfumes shall tenderly come;
Not the perfumes of flowers, but sweeter, and wafted be-
It shall be customary in the houses and streets to see manly
The most dauntless and rude shall touch face to face
The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers,
The continuance of Equality shall be comrades.
These shall tie you and band you stronger than hoops
I, ecstatic, O partners! O lands! with the love of lovers tie
Were you looking to be held together by lawyers?
Or by an agreement on a paper? or by arms?
—Nay—nor the world nor any living thing will so
PENSIVE, on her dead gazing, I heard the Mother of
Desperate, on the torn bodies, on the forms covering the
As she called to her earth with mournful voice while she
"Absorb them well, O my earth," she cried—"I charge
you, lose not my sons! lose not an atom;
And you, streams, absorb them well, taking their dear
And you local spots, and you airs that swim above lightly,
And all you essences of soil and growth—and you, O my
And you mountain-sides—and the woods where my dear
children’s blood, trickling, reddened;
And you trees, down in your roots, to bequeath to all
My dead absorb—my young men’s beautiful bodies ab-
sorb—and their precious, precious, precious blood;
Which holding in trust for me, faithfully back again give
me, many a year hence,
In unseen essence and odour of surface and grass, centuries
In blowing airs from the fields, back again give me my
darlings—give my immortal heroes;
Exhale me them centuries hence—breathe me their breath
—let not an atom be lost.
O years and graves! O air and soil! O my dead, an aroma
Exhale them perennial, sweet death, years, centuries
CAMPS OF GREEN.
NOT alone our camps of white, O soldiers,
When, as ordered forward, after a long march,
Footsore and weary, soon as the light lessens, we halt for
Some of us so fatigued, carrying the gun and knapsack,
dropping asleep in our tracks;
Others pitching the little tents, and the fires lit up begin
Outposts of pickets posted, surrounding, alert through the
And a word provided for countersign, careful for
Till to the call of the drummers at daybreak loudly beating
We rise up refreshed, the night and sleep passed over, and
resume our journey,
Or proceed to battle.
Lo! the camps of the tents of green,
Which the days of peace keep filling, and the days of war
With a mystic army, (is it too ordered forward? is it too
only halting awhile,
Till night and sleep pass over?)
Now in those camps of green—in their tents dotting the
In the parents, children, husbands, wives, in them—in the
old and young,
Sleeping under the sunlight, sleeping under the moon-
light, content and silent there at last;
Behold the mighty bivouac-field and waiting-camp of us
and ours and all,
Of the corps and generals all, and the President over the
corps and generals all,
And of each of us, O soldiers, and of each and all in the
ranks we fight,
There without hatred we all meet.
For presently, O soldiers, we too camp in our place in the
bivouac-camps of green;
But we need not provide for outposts, nor word for the
Nor drummer to beat the morning drum.
DIRGE FOR TWO VETERANS.
THE last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finished Sabbath
On the pavement here—and there beyond, it is looking
Down a new-made double grave.
Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the silvery round moon;
Beautiful over the house-tops, ghastly, phantom moon;
Immense and silent moon.
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-keyed bugles;
All the channels of the city streets they’re flooding,
As with voices and with tears.
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring;
And every blow of the great convulsive drums
Strikes me through and through.
For the son is brought with the father;
In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell;
Two veterans, son and father, dropped together,
And the double grave awaits them.
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive;
And the daylight o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.
In the eastern sky up-buoying,
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumined;
’Tis some mother’s large, transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.
O strong dead-march, you please me!
O moon immense, with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans, passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.
The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.
HOW solemn, as one by one,
As the ranks returning, all worn and sweaty—as
the men file by where I stand;
As the faces, the masks appear—as I glance at the faces,
studying the masks;
As I glance upward out of this page, studying you, dear
friend, whoever you are;—
How solemn the thought of my whispering soul, to each in
the ranks, and to you!
I see, behind each mask, that wonder, a kindred soul.
O the bullet could never kill what you really are, dear
Nor the bayonet stab what you really are.
—The soul, yourself, I see, great as any, good as the best,
Waiting secure and content,—which the bullet could never
Nor the bayonet stab, O friend!
HYMN OF DEAD SOLDIERS.
ONE breath, O my silent soul,
A perfumed thought—no more I ask, for the sake
of all dead soldiers.
Buglers off in my armies!
At present I ask not you to sound;
Not at the head of my cavalry, all on their spirited
With their sabres drawn and glistening, and carbines
clanking by their thighs—(ah, my brave horse-
My handsome, tan-faced horsemen! what life, what joy
With all the perils, were yours!)
Nor you drummers—neither at reveillé, at dawn,
Nor the long roll alarming the camp—nor even the muffled
beat for a burial;
Nothing from you, this time, O drummers, bearing my
But aside from these, and the crowd’s hurrahs, and the
Admitting around me comrades close, unseen by the rest,
I chant this chant of my silent soul, in the name of all
Faces so pale, with wondrous eyes, very dear, gather
Draw close, but speak not.
Phantoms, welcome, divine and tender!
Invisible to the rest, henceforth become my companions;
Follow me ever! desert me not, while I live!
Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living, sweet are
the musical voices sounding;
But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead, with their silent eyes.
Dearest comrades! all now is over;
But love is not over—and what love, O comrades!
Perfume from battle-fields rising—up from fœtor arising.
Perfume therefore my chant, O love! immortal love!
Give me to bathe the memories of all dead soldiers.
Perfume all! make all wholesome!
O love! O chant! solve all with the last chemistry.
Give me exhaustness—make me a fountain,
That I exhale love from me wherever I go,
For the sake of all dead soldiers.
SPIRIT whose work is done! spirit of dreadful hours!
Ere, departing, fade from my eyes your forests of
Spirit of gloomiest fears and doubts, yet onward ever
Spirit of many a solemn day, and many a savage scene!
That with muttering voice, through the years now closed,
like a tireless phantom flitted,
Rousing the land with breath of flame, while you beat and
beat the drum;
—Now, as the sound of the drum, hollow and harsh to the
last, reverberates round me;
As your ranks, your immortal ranks, return, return from
While the muskets of the young men yet lean over their
While I look on the bayonets bristling over their shoulders;
While those slanted bayonets, whole forests of them, ap-
pearing in the distance, approach and pass on, re-
Moving with steady motion, swaying to and fro, to the right
Evenly, lightly, rising and falling, while the steps keep time:
—Spirit of hours I knew, all hectic red one day, but pale
as death next day;
Touch my mouth, ere you depart—press my lips close!
Leave me your pulses of rage! bequeath them to me! fill
me with currents convulsive!
Let them scorch and blister out of my chants, when you are
Let them identify you to the future in these songs!
WORD over all, beautiful as the sky!
Beautiful that war, and all its deeds of carnage,
must in time be utterly lost;
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly,
softly wash again, and ever again, this solid world.
For my enemy is dead—a man divine as myself is dead.
I look where he lies, white-faced and still, in the coffin—
I draw near;
I bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face
in the coffin.
AFTER THE WAR.
TO the leavened soil they trod, calling, I sing, for the
Not cities nor man alone, nor war, nor the dead:
But forth from my tent emerging for good—loosing, unty-
ing the tent-ropes;
In the freshness, the forenoon air, in the far-stretching
circuits and vistas, again to peace restored;
To the fiery fields emanative, and the endless vistas beyond
—to the south and the north;
To the leavened soil of the general western world, to attest
To the average earth, the wordless earth, witness of war
To the Alleghanian hills, and the tireless Mississippi,
To the rocks I, calling, sing, and all the trees in the woods,
To the plain of the poems of heroes, to the prairies spread-
To the far-off sea, and the unseen winds, and the sane im-
And responding they answer all (but not in words),
The average earth, the witness of war and peace, acknow-
The prairie draws me close, as the father, to bosom broad,
The Northern ice and rain, that began me, nourish me to
But the hot sun of the South is to ripen my songs.
THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he looked upon, that object he
And that object became part of him for the day, or a
certain part of the day, or for many years, or
stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories,* and white
and red clover, and the song of the phœbe-bird,†
And the third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint
litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barnyard, or by the mire of
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below
there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
* The name of "morning-glory" is given to the bindweed, or a
sort of bindweed, in America. I am not certain whether this expres-
sive name is used in England also.
† A dun-coloured little bird with a cheerful note, sounding like
the word Phœbe.
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all
became part of him.
The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month
became part of him;
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn,
and the esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple-trees covered with blossoms and the fruit
afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest
weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard, staggering home from the outhouse
of the tavern, whence he had lately risen,
And the schoolmistress that passed on her way to the
And the friendly boys that passed, and the quarrelsome
boys,fresh-cheeked girls, and the barefoot
And the tidy and
negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country, wherever he
His own parents;
He that had fathered him, and she that had conceived him
in her womb, and birthed him,
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day—they became part of
The mother at home, quietly placing the dishes on the
The mother with mild words—clean her cap and gown, a
wholesome odour falling off her person and clothes
as she walks by;
The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, angered,
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the
The family usages, the language, the company, the fur-
niture—the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsaied—the sense of what is
real—the thought if after all it should prove unreal,
The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time—
the curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes
Men and women crowding fast in the streets—if they are
not flashes and specks, what are they?
The streets themselves, and the façades of houses, and
goods in the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-planked wharves—the huge
crossing at the ferries,
The village on the highland, seen from afar at sunset—the
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and
gables of white or brown, three miles off,
The schooner near by, sleepily dropping down the tide—
the little boat slack-towed astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests
The strata of coloured clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint
away solitary by itself—the spread of purity it lies
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of
salt marsh and shore mud;—
These became part of that child who went forth every
day, and who now goes, and will always go forth
A WORLD OUT OF THE SEA.
OUT of the rocked cradle,
Out of the mocking-bird’s throat, the musical
Out of the ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the
child, leaving his bed, wandered alone, bareheaded,
Down from the showered halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows, twining and twisting
as if they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories, sad brother—from the fitful risings
and fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and swollen
as if with tears,
From those beginning notes of sickness and love, there in
the transparent mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart, never to cease,
From the myriad thence-aroused words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,—
From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
Borne hither—ere all eludes me, hurriedly,—
A man—yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter, of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond
A reminiscence sing.
When the snows had melted, and the fifth-month grass
Up this sea-shore, in some briars,
Two guests from Alabama—two together,
And their nest, and four light-green eggs spotted with
And every day the he-bird, to and fro, near at hand,
And every day the she-bird, crouched on her nest, silent,
with bright eyes;
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.
Shine! shine! shine!
Pour down your warmth, great Sun!
While we bask—we two together.
Winds blow South, or winds blow North,
Day come white or night come black,
Home, or rivers and mountains from home,
Singing all time, minding no time,
If we two but keep together.
Till of a sudden,
May-be killed, unknown to her mate,
One forenoon the she-bird crouched not on the nest,
Nor returned that afternoon, nor the next,
Nor ever appeared again.
And thenceforward, all summer, in the sound of the sea,
And at night, under the full of the moon, in calmer
Over the hoarse surging of the sea,
Or flitting from brier to brier by day,
I saw, I heard at intervals, the remaining one, the he-
The solitary guest from Alabama.
Blow! blow! blow!
Blow up, sea-winds, along Paumanok’s shore!
I wait and I wait, till you blow my mate to me.
Yes, when the stars glistened,
All night long, on the prong of a moss-scalloped stake,
Down, almost amid the slapping waves,
Sat the lone singer, wonderful, causing tears.
He called on his mate;
He poured forth the meanings which I, of all men, know.
Yes, my brother, I know;
The rest might not—but I have treasured every note;
For once, and more than once, dimly, down to the beach
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds
and sights after their sorts,
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
Listened long and long.
Listened, to keep, to sing—now translating the notes,
Following you, my brother.
Soothe! soothe! soothe!
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
And again another behind, embracing and lapping, every
But my love soothes not me, not me.
Low hangs the moon—it rose late;
O it is lagging—O I think it is heavy with love, with love.
O madly the sea pushes upon the land,
With love—with love.
O night! do I not see my love fluttering out among
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?
Loud! loud! loud!
Loud I call to you, my love!
High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves;
Surely you must know who is here, is here;
You must know who I am, my love.
What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow?
O it is the shape, the shape of my mate!
O moon, do not keep her from me any longer!
Land! land! O land!
Whichever way I turn, O I think you could give me my
mate back again, if you only would;
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look.
O rising stars!
Perhaps the one I want so much will rise, will rise with
some of you.
O throat! O trembling throat!
Sound clearer through the atmosphere!
Pierce the woods, the earth;
Somewhere, listening to catch you, must be the one I want.
Shake out, carols!
Solitary here—the night’s carols!
Carols of lonesome love! Death’s carols!
Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon!
O, under that moon, where she droops almost down into the
O reckless, despairing carols!
But soft! sink low;
Soft! let me just murmur;
And do you wait a moment, you husky-noised sea;
For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me,
So faint—I must be still, be still to listen;
But not altogether still, for then she might not come imme-
diately to me.
Hither, my love!
Here I am! Here!
With this just-sustained note I announce myself to you;
This gentle call is for you, my love, for you!
Do not be decoyed elsewhere!
That is the whistle of the wind—it is not my voice;
That is the fluttering, the fluttering of the spray;
Those are the shadows of leaves.
O darkness! O in vain!
O I am very sick and sorrowful!
O brown halo in the sky, near the moon, drooping upon the
O troubled reflection in the sea!
O throat! O throbbing heart!
O all!—and I singing uselessly, uselessly all the night!
Yet I murmur, murmur on!
O murmurs—you yourselves make me continue to sing, I
know not why.
O past! O life! O songs of joy!
In the air—in the woods—over fields;
Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved!
But my love no more, no more with me!
We two together no more!
The aria sinking;
All else continuing—the stars shining,
The winds blowing—the notes of the bird continuous
With angry moans the fierce old Mother incessantly
On the sands of Paumanok’s shore, grey and rustling;
The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, drooping,
the face of the sea almost touching;
The boy ecstatic—with his bare feet the waves, with his
hair the atmosphere, dallying,
The love in the heart long pent, now loose, now at last
The aria’s meaning the ears, the soul, swiftly depositing,
The strange tears down the cheeks coursing;
The colloquy there—the trio—each uttering;
The undertone—the savage old Mother, incessantly crying,
To the boy’s soul’s questions sullenly timing—some
drowned secret hissing
To the outsetting bard of love.
Demon or bird! (said the boy’s soul,)
Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it mostly
For I, that was a child, my tongue’s use sleeping,
Now I have heard you,
Now in a moment I know what I am for—I awake;
And already a thousand singers—a thousand songs,
clearer, louder, and more sorrowful than yours,
A thousand warbling echoes, have started to life within
Never to die.
O you singer, solitary, singing by yourself—projecting
O solitary me, listening—never more shall I cease per-
Never more shall I escape, never more, the reverbera-
Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was
before what there, in the night,
By the sea, under the yellow and sagging moon,
The messenger there aroused—the fire, the sweet hell
The unknown want, the destiny of me.
O give me the clue! (it lurks in the night here some-
O if I am to have so much, let me have more!
O a word! O what is my destination? I fear it is hence-
O how joys, dreads, convulsions, human shapes and all
shapes, spring as from graves around me!
O phantoms! you cover all the land, and all the sea!
O I cannot see in the dimness whether you smile or
frown upon me;
O vapour, a look, a word! O well-beloved!
O you dear women’s and men’s phantoms!
A word then, (for I will conquer it,)
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up—what is it?—I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?
Whereto answering, the Sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whispered me through the night, and very plainly before
Lisped to me the low and delicious word DEATH;
And again Death—ever Death, Death, Death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my
aroused child’s heart,
But edging near, as privately for me, rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears, and laving me
softly all over,
Death, Death, Death, Death, Death.
Which I do not forget,
But fuse the song of my dusky demon and brother,
That he sang to me in the moonlight on Paumanok’s gray
With the thousand responsive songs, at random,
My own songs, awaked from that hour;
And with them the key, the word up from the waves,
The word of the sweetest song, and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my
The Sea whispered me.
CROSSING BROOKLYN FERRY.
FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I
see you also face to face.
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,
how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross,
returning home, are more curious to me than you
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence
are more to me, and more in my meditations, than
you might suppose.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all
hours of the day;
The simple, compact, well-joined scheme—myself disinte-
grated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future;
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and
hearings—on the walk in the street, and the pas-
sage over the river;
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and
The certainty of others—the life, love, sight, hearing, of
Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from
shore to shore;
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide;
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and
west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the south and
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the
sun half an hour high;
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years
hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood-tide, the
falling-back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
It avails not, neither time nor place—distance avails not;
I am with you—you men and women of a generation, or
ever so many generations hence;
I project myself—also I return—I am with you, and know
how it is.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of
Just as you are refreshed by the gladness of the river and
the bright flow, I was refreshed;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the
swift current, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the
thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I looked.
I too many and many a time crossed the river, the sun half
an hour high;
I watched the twelfth-month sea-gulls—I saw them high
in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscil-
lating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies,
and left the rest in strong shadow,
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging
toward the south.
I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Looked at the fine centrifugal spokes of light round the
shape of my head in the sun-lit water,
Looked on the haze on the hills southward and south-
Looked on the vapour as it flew in fleeces tinged with
Looked toward the lower bay to notice the arriving
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw the ships
The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the
slender serpentine pennants,
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous
whirl of the wheels,
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sunset,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups,
the frolicsome crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the grey
walls of the granite store-houses by the docks,
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely
flanked on each side by the barges—the hay-boat,
the belated lighter,
On the neighboring shore, the fires from the foundry
chimneys burning high and glaringly into the
Casting their flicker of black, contrasted with wild red and
yellow light, over the tops of houses, and down
into the clefts of streets.
These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to
I project myself a moment to tell you—also I return.
I loved well those cities;
I loved well the stately and rapid river;
The men and women I saw were all near to me;
Others the same—others who look back on me because I
looked forward to them;
The time will come, though I stop here to-day and
What is it, then, between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years
Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place
I too lived—Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine;
I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed
in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me;
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they
came upon me.
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had received identity by my Body;
That I was, I knew, was of my body—and what I should
be, I knew, I should be of my body.
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also;
The best I had done seemed to me blank and suspicious;
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in
reality meagre? would not people laugh at me?
It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabbed, blushed, resented, lied, stole, grudged,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of
But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices of
young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent
leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public
assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it,—as
great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.
Closer yet I approach you;
What thought you have of me, I had as much of you—I
laid in my stores in advance;
I considered long and seriously of you before you were
Who was to know what should come home to me?
Who knows but I am enjoying this?
Who knows but I am as good as looking at you now, for
all you cannot see me?
It is not you alone, nor I alone;
Nor a few races, nor a few generations, nor a few centuries;
It is that each came or comes or shall come from its due
emission, without fail, either now or then or
Everything indicates—the smallest does, and the largest
A necessary film envelops all, and envelops the Soul for a
Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and
admirable to me than my mast-hemmed Manhatta,
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edged waves of
The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the
twilight, and the belated lighter;
Curious what Gods can exceed these that clasp me by the
hand, and with voices I love call me promptly and
loudly by my nighest name as I approach;
Curious what is more subtle than this which ties me to the
woman or man that looks in my face,
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into
We understand, then, do we not?
What I promised without mentioning it, have you not
accepted?the preaching could
What the study could not teach—what
not accomplish, is accomplished, is it not?
What the push of reading could not start, is started by me
personally, is it not?
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edged waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set, drench with your splendour
me, or the men and women generations after me!
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!—stand up, beautiful
hills of Brooklyn!
Bully for you! you proud, friendly, free Manhattanese!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Blab, blush, lie, steal, you or I or anyone after us!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically
call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor
Play the old rôle, the rôle that is great or small, according
as one makes it!
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in
unknown ways be looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly,
yet haste with the hasting current:
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles
high in the air;
Receive the summer sky, you water! and faithfully hold
it, till all downcast eyes have time to take it from
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head,
or anyone’s head, in the sun-lit water;
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down,
white-sailed schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lowered at
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black
shadows at nightfall; cast red and yellow light over
the tops of the houses;
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are;
You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul;
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung
our divinest aromas;
Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, ample
and sufficient rivers!
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more
Keep your places, objects than which none else is more
We descend upon you and all things—we arrest you all;
We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and
Through you color, form, location, sublimity, ideality;
Through you every proof, comparison, and all the sugges-
tions and determinations of ourselves.
You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful
ministers! you novices!
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold
yourselves from us;
We use you, and do not cast you aside—we plant you
permanently within us;
We fathom you not—we love you—there is perfection in
You furnish your parts toward eternity;
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.
NIGHT AND DEATH.
NIGHT on the prairies.
The supper is over—the fire on the ground burns
The wearied emigrants sleep, wrapped in their blankets;
I walk by myself—I stand and look at the stars, which I
think now I never realized before.
Now I absorb immortality and peace,
I admire death, and test propositions.
How plenteous! How spiritual! How resumé!
The same Old Man and Soul—the same old aspirations,
and the same content.
I was thinking the day most splendid, till I saw what the
I was thinking this globe enough, till there sprang out so
noiseless around me myriads of other globes.
Now, while the great thoughts of space and eternity fill
me, I will measure myself by them;
And now, touched with the lives of other globes, arrived
as far along as those of the earth,
Or waiting to arrive, or passed on farther than those of
I henceforth no more ignore them than I ignore my own
Or the lives of the earth arrived as far as mine, or waiting
O I see now that life cannot exhibit all to me—as the day
I see that I am to wait for what will be exhibited by
O I wish I could impress others as you and the
waves have just been impressing me.
As I ebbed with an ebb of the ocean of life,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walked where the sea-ripples wash you, Paumanok,
Where they rustle up, hoarse and sibilant,
Where the fierce old Mother endlessly cries for her cast-
I, musing, late in the autumn day, gazing off southward,
Alone, held by this eternal self of me, out of the pride of
which I have uttered my poems,
Was seized by the spirit that trails in the lines underfoot,
In the rim, the sediment, that stands for all the water and
all the land of the globe.
Fascinated, my eyes, reverting from the south, dropped,
to follow those slender winrows,
Chaff, straw, splinters of wood, weeds, and the sea-
Scum, scales from shining rocks, leaves of salt-lettuce,
left by the tide;
Miles walking, the sound of breaking waves the other
side of me,
Paumanok, there and then, as I thought the old thought
These you presented to me, you fish-shaped Island,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walked with that eternal self of me, seeking types.
As I wend to the shores I know not,
As I list to the dirge, the voices of men and women
As I inhale the impalpable breezes that set in upon me,
As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer and
I too but signify, at the utmost, a little washed-up drift,
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and drift.
O baffled, baulked, bent to the very earth,
Oppressed with myself that I have dared to open my
Aware now that, amid all that blab whose echoes recoil
upon me, I have not once had the least idea who
or what I am,
But that before all my insolent poems, the real ME stands
yet untouched, untold, altogether unreached,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory
signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand
Now I perceive I have not really understood anything—not a
single object—and that no man ever can.
I perceive Nature, here in sight of the sea, is taking
advantage of me, to dart upon me, and sting me,
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all.
You oceans both! I close with you;
These little shreds shall, indeed, stand for all.
You friable shore, with trails of debris!
You fish-shaped Island, I take what is underfoot;
What is yours is mine, my father.
I too, Paumanok,
I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and
been washed on your shores;
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped Island.
I throw myself upon your breast, my father,
I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me,
I hold you so firm till you answer me something.
Kiss me, my father,
Touch me with your lips, as I touch those I love,
Breathe to me, while I hold you close, the secret of the
wondrous murmuring I envy.
Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,)
Cease not your moaning, you fierce old Mother,
Endlessly cry for your castaways—but fear not, deny not
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feet, as I
touch you, or gather from you.
I mean tenderly by you,
I gather for myself, and for this phantom, looking down
where we lead, and following me and mine.
Me and mine!
We, loose winrows, little corpses,
Froth, snowy white, and bubbles,
(See! from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last!
See—the prismatic colours, glistening and rolling!)
Tufts of straw, sands, fragments,
Buoyed hither from many moods, one contradicting another,
From the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the swell;
Musing, pondering, a breath, a briny tear, a dab of liquid
Up just as much out of fathomless workings fermented
A limp blossom or two, torn, just as much over waves
floating, drifted at random;
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of Nature;
Just as much, whence we come, that blare of the cloud-
We, capricious, brought hither, we know not whence,
spread out before you,
You, up there, walking or sitting,
Whoever you are—we too lie in drifts at your feet.
WHO learns my lesson complete?
Boss, journeyman, apprentice—churchman and
The stupid and the wise thinker—parents and offspring—
merchant, clerk, porter, and customer,
Editor, author, artist, and schoolboy—Draw nigh and
It is no lesson—it lets down the bars to a good lesson,
And that to another, and every one to another still.
The great laws take and effuse without argument;
I am of the same style, for I am their friend,
I love them quits and quits—I do not halt and make
I lie abstracted, and hear beautiful tales of things, and the
reasons of things;
They are so beautiful I nudge myself to listen.
I cannot say to any person what I hear—I cannot say it to
myself—it is very wonderful.
It is no small matter, this round and delicious globe,
moving so exactly in its orbit for ever and ever,
without one jolt, or the untruth of a single second;
I do not think it was made in six days, nor in ten thousand
years, nor ten billions of years,
Nor planned and built one thing after another, as an
architect plans and builds a house.
I do not think seventy years is the time of a man or woman,
Nor that seventy millions of years is the time of a man or
Nor that years will ever stop the existence of me, or any
Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every one is
I know it is wonderful—but my eye-sight is equally
wonderful, and how I was conceived in my mother’s
womb is equally wonderful;
And passed from a babe, in the creeping trance of a couple
of summers and winters, to articulate and walk—
All this is equally wonderful.
And that my Soul embraces you this hour, and we affect
each other without ever seeing each other, and
never perhaps to see each other, is every bit as
And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as
And that I can remind you, and you think them and know
them to be true, is just as wonderful.
And that the moon spins round the earth, and on with the
earth, is equally wonderful;
And that they balance themselves with the sun and stars
is equally wonderful.
What shall I give? and which are my miracles?
Realism is mine—my miracles—Take freely,
Take without end—I offer them to you wherever your
feet can carry you, or you eyes reach.
Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge
of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed
at night with any one I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of stars shining
so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like
me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soirée—or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of ma-
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the
perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring—yet each distinct and in its place.
To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread
with the same,
Every cubic foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs, of men
and women, and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.
To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves
—the ships, with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
OF the visages of things—And of piercing through to
the accepted hells beneath.
Of ugliness—To me there is just as much in it as there
is in beauty—And now the ugliness of human
beings is acceptable to me.
Of detected persons—To me, detected persons are not, in
any respect, worse than undetected persons—and
are not in any respect worse than I am myself.
Of criminals—To me, any judge, or any juror, is equally
criminal—and any reputable person is also—and
the President is also.
THE DARK SIDE.
I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world,
and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at
anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children,
dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the trea-
cherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love,
attempted to be hid—I see these sights on the
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see
martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting
lots who shall be killed, to preserve the lives of the
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant
persons upon labourers, the poor, and upon negroes,
and the like;
All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I
sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.
I HEARD you, solemn-sweet pipes of the organ, as last
Sunday morn I passed the church;
Winds of autumn!—as I walked the woods at dusk, I
heard your long-stretched sighs, up above, so
I heard the perfect Italian tenor, singing at the opera—I
heard the soprano in the midst of the quartet
...Heart of my love!—you too I heard, murmuring low,
through one of the wrists around my head;
Heard the pulse of you, when all was still, ringing little
bells last night under my ear.
O ME! O life!...of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities filled
with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more
foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—
of the struggle ever renewed;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid
crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid
these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a
AS I lay with my head in your lap, camerado,
The confession I made I resume—what I said to
you and the open air I resume.
I know I am restless, and make others so;
I know my words are weapons, full of danger, full of
(Indeed I am myself the real soldier;
It is not he, there, with his bayonet, and no the red-striped
For I confront peace, security, and all the settled laws, to
I am more resolute because all have denied me than I
could ever have been had all accepted me;
I heed not, and have never heeded, either experience,
cautions, majorities, nor ridicule;
And the threat of what is called hell is little or nothing
And the lure of what is called heaven is little or nothing
...Dear camerado! I confess I have urged you onward
with me, and still urge you, without the least idea
what is our destination,
Or whether we shall be victorious, or utterly quelled and
SONG AT SUNSET.
SPLENDOUR of ended day, floating and filling me!
Hour prophetic—hour resuming the past!
Inflating my throat—you, divine Average!
You, Earth and Life, till the last ray gleams, I sing.
Open mouth of my soul, uttering gladness,
Eyes of my soul, seeing perfection,
Natural life of me, faithfully praising things;
Corroborating forever the triumph of things.
Illustrious every one!
Illustrious what we name space—sphere of unnumbered
Illustrious the mystery of motion, in all beings, even the
Illustrious the attribute of speech—the senses—the body;
Illustrious the passing light! Illustrious the pale reflection
on the new moon in the western sky!
Illustrious whatever I see, or hear, or touch, to the last.
Good in all,
In the satisfaction and aplomb of animals,
In the annual return of the seasons,
In the hilarity of youth,
In the strength and flush of manhood,
In the grandeur and exquisiteness of old age,
In the superb vistas of Death.
Wonderful to depart;
Wonderful to be here!
The heart, to jet the all-alike and innocent blood,
To breathe the air, how delicious!
To speak! to walk! to seize something by the hand!
To prepare for sleep, for bed—to look on my rose-colored
To be conscious of my body, so happy, so large,
To be this incredible God I am,
To have gone forth among other Gods—these men and
women I love.
Wonderful how I celebrate you and myself!
How my thoughts play subtly at the spectacles around!
How the clouds pass silently overhead!
How the earth darts on and on! and how the sun, moon,
stars, dart on and on!
How the water sports and sings! (Surely it is alive!)
How the trees rise and stand up—with strong trunks—
with branches and leaves!
Surely there is something more in each of the trees—some
O amazement of things! even the least particle!
O spirituality of things!
O strain musical, flowing through ages and continents—
now reaching me and America!
I take your strong chords—I intersperse them, and cheer-
fully pass them forward.
I too carol the sun, ushered, or at noon, or, as now,
I too throb to the brain and beauty of the earth, and of
all the growths of the earth,
I too have felt the resistless call of myself.
As I sailed down the Mississippi,
As I wandered over the prairies,
As I have lived—As I have looked through my windows,
As I went forth in the morning—As I beheld the light
breaking in the east;
As I bathed on the beach of the Eastern Sea, and again
on the beach of the Western Sea;
As I roamed the streets of inland Chicago—whatever
streets I have roamed;
Wherever I have been, I have charged myself with con-
tentment and triumph.
I sing the Equalities;
I sing the endless finales of things;
I say Nature continues—Glory continues;
I praise with electric voice:
For I do not see one imperfection in the universe;
And I do not see one cause or result lamentable at last in
O setting sun! though the time has come,
I still warble under you unmitigated adoration.
LONGINGS FOR HOME
O MAGNET South! O glistening, perfumed South!
O quick mettle, rich blood, impulse, and love! good and
evil! O all dear to me!
O dear to me my birth-things—all moving things, and
the trees where I was born,* the grains, plants,
Dear to me my own slow sluggish rivers, where they flow
distant over flats of slivery sands or through
Dear to me the Roanoke, the Savannah, the Altamahaw,
the Pedee, the Tombigbee, the Santee, the Coosa,
and the Sabine—
O pensive, far away wandering, I return with my soul to
haunt their banks again.
Again in Florida I float on transparent lakes—I float on
Okeechobee—I cross the hummock land, or through
pleasant openings or dense forests.
I see the parrots in the woods, I see the papaw tree, and
the blossoming titi.
Again, sailing in my coaster, on deck, I coast off Georgia,
I coast up the Carolinas;
I see where the live-oak is growing—I see where the
yellow-pine, the scented bay-tree, the lemon and
orange, the cypress, the graceful palmetto.
I pass rude sea-headlands, and enter Pamlico Sound
through an inlet, and dart my vision inland;
* These expressions cannot be understood in a literal sense, for
Whitman was born, not in the South, but in the State of New York.
The precise sense to be attached to them may be open to some
difference of opinion.
O the cotton plant! the growing fields of rice, sugar,
The cactus, guarded with thorns—the laurel-tree, with
large white flowers;
The range afar—the richness and barrenness—the old
woods charged with mistletoe and trailing moss,
The piney odor and the gloom—the awful natural stillness,
(Here in these dense swamps the free-booter carries
his gun, and the fugitive slave has his concealed
O the strange fascination of these half-known, half-
impassable swamps, infested by reptiles, resounding
with the bellow of the alligator, the sad noises of
the night-owl and the wild-cat, and the whirr of the
The mocking-bird, the American mimic, singing all the
forenoon—singing through the moon-lit night,
The humming-bird, the wild-turkey, the raccoon, the
A Tennessee corn-field—the tall, graceful, long-leaved corn
—slender, flapping, bright green, with tassels—
with beautiful ears, each well-sheathed in its husk;
An Arkansas prairie—a sleeping lake, or still bayou.
O my heart! O tender and fierce pangs—I can stand them
not—I will depart!
O to be a Virginian, where I grew up! O to be a Caro-
O longings irrepressible! O I will go back to old Tennes-
see, and never wander more!
OF the terrible doubt of appearances,
Of the uncertainty after all—that we may be
That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations after
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable
May-be the things I perceive—the animals, plants, men,
hills, shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night—colours, densities, forms—
May-be these are (as doubtless they are) only
apparitions, and the real something has yet to be
(How often they dart out of themselves, as if to confound
me and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,
aught of them!)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they
indeed but seem) as from my present point of view
—And might prove (as of course they would)
nought of what they appear, or nought any how,
from entirely changed points of view;
—To me, these, and the like of these, are curiously answered
by my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me, or sits a long while
holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words
and reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom—I
am silent—I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances, or that of
identity beyond the grave;
But I walk or sit indifferent—I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.
RECORDERS ages hence!
Come, I will take you down underneath this im-
passive exterior—I will tell you what to say
Publish my name and hang up my picture as that of the
The friend, the lover’s portrait, of whom his friend, his
lover, was fondest,
Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measureless
ocean of love within him—and freely poured it
Who often walked lonesome walks, thinking of his dear
friends, his lovers,
Who pensive, away from one he loved, often lay sleepless
and dissatisfied at night,
Who knew too well the sick, sick dread lest the one he
loved might secretly be indifferent to him,
Whose happiest days were far away, through fields, in
woods, on hills, he and another, wandering hand in
hand, they twain, apart from other men,
Who oft as he sauntered the streets, curved with his arm
the shoulder of his friend—while the arm of his
friend rested upon him also.
WHEN I heard at the close of the day how my name
had been received with plaudits in the capitol,
still it was not a happy night for me that
And else, when I caroused, or when my plans were accom-
plished, still I was not happy.
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect
health, refreshed, singing, inhaling the ripe breath
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and dis-
appear in the morning light,
When I wandered alone over the beach, and undressing
bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was
on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day my
food nourished me more—and the beautiful day
And the next came with equal joy—and with the next, at
evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll
slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as
directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me;
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the
same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was
inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that
night I was happy.
OF him I love day and night, I dreamed I heard he
And I dreamed I went where they had buried him I love
—but he was not in that place;
And I dreamed I wandered, searching among burial-
places, to find him;
And I found that every place was a burial-place;
The houses full of life were equally full of death, (this
house is now;)
The streets, the shipping, the places of amusement, the
Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, the Mannahatta,
were as full of the dead as of the living,
And fuller, O vastly fuller, of the dead than of the
—And what I dreamed I will henceforth tell to every
person and age,
And I stand henceforth bound to what I dreamed;
And now I am willing to disregard burial-places, and
dispense with them;
And if the memorials of the dead were put up indifferently
everywhere, even in the room where I eat or sleep
I should be satisfied;
And if the corpse of any one I love, or if my own corpse,
be duly rendered to powder, and poured in the
sea, I shall be satisfied;
Or if it be distributed to the winds, I shall be satisfied.
WHAT think you I take my pen in hand to record?
The battle-ship, perfect-modeled, majestic, that I
saw pass the offing to-day under full sail?
The splendours of the past day? Or the splendour of the
night that envelops me?
Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city spread
But I record of two simple men I saw to-day, on the pier,
in the midst of the crowd, parting the parting of
The one to remain hung on the other’s neck, and passion-
ately kissed him,
While the one to depart tightly pressed the one to remain
in his arms.
TO A STRANGER.
PASSING stranger! you do no know how longingly
I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it
comes to me, as of a dream).
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recalled as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has
become not yours only, nor left my body mine
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we
pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands, in
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I
sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
THIS moment yearning and thoughtful, sitting alone,
It seems to me there are other men in other lands,
yearning and thoughtful;
It seems to me I can look over and behold them, in
Prussia, Italy, France, Spain—or far, far away,
in China, or in Russia or India—talking other
And it seems to me if I could know those men, I should
become attached to them, as I do to men in my
O I know we should be brethren and lovers,
I know I should be happy with them.
WHEN I peruse the conquered fame of heroes, and
the victories of mighty generals, I do not envy the
Nor the President in his Presidency, nor the rich in his
But when I read of the brotherhood of lovers, how it was
How through life, through dangers, odium, unchanging,
long and long,
Through youth, and through middle and old age, how
unfaltering, how affectionate and faithful they were,
Then I am pensive—I hastily put down the book, and
walk away, filled with the bitterest envy.
I DREAMED in a dream I saw a city invincible to the
attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth;
I dreamed that was the new City of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love
—it led the rest;
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that
And in all their looks and words.
OUT OF THE CROWD.
OUT of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop
gently to me,
Whispering, I love you, before long I die:
I have traveled a long way, merely to look on you, to touch
For I could not die till I once looked on you,
For I feared I might afterward lose you.
Now we have met, we have looked, we are safe;
Return in peace to the ocean, my love;
I too am part of that ocean, my love—we are not so much
Behold the great rondure—the cohesion of all, how per-
But as for me, for you, the irresistible sea is to separate us,
As for an hour carrying us diverse—yet cannot carry us
diverse for ever;
Be not impatient—a little space—know you, I salute the
air, the ocean, and the land,
Every day, at sundown, for your dear sake, my love.
AMONG THE MULTITUDE.
AMONG the men and women, the multitude,
I perceive one picking me out by secret and divine
Acknowledging none else—not parent, wife, husband,
brother, child, any nearer than I am;
Some are baffled—But that one is not—that one knows
Ah, lover and perfect equal!
I meant that you should discover me so, by faint in-
And I, when I meet you, mean to discover you by the like
WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloomed,
And the great star* early drooped in the western
sky in the night,
I mourned ... and yet shall mourn with ever-returning
O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappeared! O the black murk that hides
* "The evening star, which, as many may remember, night after
night, in the early part of that eventful spring, hung low in the west
with unusual and tender brightness."—JOHN BURROUGHS.
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul!
In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped
leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising delicate, with the
perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle: and from this bush in the
With delicate-coloured blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves
of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.
In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song:
Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—for well, dear brother, I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing, thou wouldst surely die.
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, where lately the
violets peeped from the ground, spotting the grey
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing
the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-speared wheat, every grain from its
shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening
With the pomp of the inlooped flags, with the cities draped
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veiled
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces,
and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices
rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, poured around
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where
amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
Nor for you, for one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring;
For fresh as the morning—thus would I chant a song for
you, O sane and sacred Death.
All over bouquets of roses,
O Death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes:
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you, O Death.
O western orb, sailing the heaven!
Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since
As we walked up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we walked in silence the transparent shadowy
As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me
night after night,
As you drooped from the sky low down, as if to my side,
while the other stars all looked on;
As we wandered together the solemn night, for something,
I know not what, kept me from sleep;
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west,
ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cool
As I watched where you passed and was lost in the nether-
ward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you,
Concluded, dropped in the night, and was gone.
Sing on, there in the swamp!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detained
The star, my comrade departing, holds and detains me.
O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul
that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I
Sea-winds, blown from east and west,
Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western
sea, till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant,
I perfume the grave of him I love.
O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?
Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the fourth-month eve at sundown, and the grey
smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent,
sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale
green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river,
with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against
the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the
workmen homeward returning.
Lo! body and soul! this land!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and
hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in
the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, covered with grass
Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes:
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfilled noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
Sing on! sing on, you grey-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.
Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.
O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear ...... yet the star holds me, (but will soon
Yet the lilac, with mastering odour, holds me.
Now while I sat in the day and looked forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of
spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its
lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, after the perturbed winds,
and the storms;
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing,
and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields
all busy with labour,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each
with its meals and minutiæ of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbbed, and the
cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me
with the rest,
Appeared the cloud, appeared the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge
Then with the Knowledge of Death as walking one side of
And the Thought of Death close-walking the other side of
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding
the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp
in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.
And the singer so shy to the rest received me;
The grey-brown bird I know received us Comrades three;
And he sang what seemed the song of Death, and a verse
for him I love.
From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the singing of the bird.
And the charm of the singing rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my Comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.
Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.
Praised be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! O praise and praise,
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.
Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that, when thou must indeed come,
Approach, encompassing Death—strong deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously
sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.
From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and
feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread
sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose
voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veiled Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad
fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-packed cities all, and the teeming wharves
I float this carol with joy, with joy, to thee, O Death!
To the tally of my soul
Loud and strong kept up the grey-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.
Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my Comrades there in the night.
While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.
I saw the vision of armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierced with
missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn
And at last but a few shreds of the flags left on the staffs,
(and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splintered and broken.
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all dead soldiers.
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffered not;
The living remained and suffered—the mother suffered,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade
And the armies that remained suffered.
Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my Comrades’ hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song
of my soul,
Victorious song, Death’s outlet song, yet varying, ever-
As low and wailing, yet clear, the notes, rising and falling,
flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and
yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night, I heard from recesses.
Must I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves?
Must I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming,
returning with spring?
Must I pass from my song for thee—
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west,
communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night?
Yet each I keep, and all;
The song, the wondrous chant of the grey-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo aroused in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance
full of woe;
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odour;
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory
ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well:
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands...
and this for his dear sake;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.
(FOR THE DEATH OF LINCOLN.)
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done!
The ship has weathered every wrack, the prize we
sought is won.
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and
But, O heart! heart! heart!
Leave you not the little spot
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells!
Rise up! for you the flag is flung, for you the bugle
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths, for you the
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm I push beneath you!
It is some dream that on the deck
You’ve fallen cold and dead!
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still:
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will.
But the ship, the ship is anchored safe, its voyage closed
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object
Exult, O shores! and ring, O bells!
But I, with silent tread,
Walk the spot my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
PIONEERS! O PIONEERS!
COME, my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready;
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!
For we cannot tarry here,
We must march, my darlings, we must bear the brunt of
We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend.
Pioneers! O pioneers!
O you youths, western youths,
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and
Plain I see you, western youths, see you tramping with
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Have the elder races halted?
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there
beyond the seas?
We take up the task eternal, and the burden, and the
Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the past we leave behind;
We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world;
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labour and
Pioneers! O pioneers!
We detachments steady throwing,
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains
Conquering, holding, daring, venturing, as we go, the
Pioneers! O pioneers!
We primeval forests felling,
We the rivers stemming, vexing we, and piercing deep
the mines within;
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil up-
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Colorado men are we,
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail
Pioneers! O pioneers!
From Nebraska, from Arkansas,
Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the con-
tinental blood interveined;
All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all
Pioneers! O pioneers!
O resistless, restless race!
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender
love for all!
O I mourn and yet exult—I am rapt with love for all,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Raise the mighty mother mistress,
Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry
mistress, (bend your heads all,)
Raise the fanged and warlike mistress, stern, impassive,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
See, my children, resolute children,
By those swarms upon our rear, we must never yield or
Ages back in ghostly millions, frowning there behind us
Pioneers! O pioneers!
On and on, the compact ranks,
With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead
Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never
Pioneers! O pioneers!
O to die advancing on!
Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour
Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the
gap is filled,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the pulses of the world,
Falling in, they beat for us, with the western movement
Holding single or together, steady moving, to the front,
all for us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Life’s involved and varied pageants,
All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work,
All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with
Pioneers! O pioneers!
All the hapless silent lovers,
All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the
All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the
Pioneers! O pioneers!
I too with my soul and body,
We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way,
Through these shores, amid the shadows, with the
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Lo! the darting bowling orb!
Lo! the brother orbs around! all the clustering sons and
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
These are of us, they are with us,
All for primal needed work, while the followers there in
embryo wait behind,
We to-day’s procession heading, we the route for travel
Pioneers! O pioneers!
O you daughters of the west!
O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and
Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Minstrels latent on the prairies!
(Shrouded bards of other lands! you may sleep—you
have done your work;)
Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and
tramp amid us,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Not for delectations sweet;
Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the
Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame en-
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Do the feasters gluttonous feast?
Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they locked and
Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground,
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Has the night descended?
Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged,
nodding on our way?
Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause
Pioneers! O pioneers!
Till with sound of trumpet,
Far, far off the daybreak call—hark! how loud and clear
I hear it wind;
Swift! to the head of the army!—swift! spring to your
Pioneers! O pioneers!
TO THE SAYERS OF WORDS
EARTH, round, rolling, compact—suns, moons, ani-
mals—all these are words to be said;
Watery, vegetable, sauroid advances—beings, premoni-
tions, lispings of the future,
Behold! these are vast words to be said.
Were you thinking that those were the words—those up-
right lines? those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words—the substantial words are in
the ground and sea,
They are in the air—they are in you.
Were you thinking that those were the words—those
delicious sounds out of your friends’ mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.
Human bodies are words, myriads of words;
In the best poems re-appears the body, man’s or woman’s,
well-shaped, natural, gay,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the
need of shame.
Air, soil, water, fire—these are words;
I myself am a word with them—my qualities inter-
penetrate with theirs—my name is nothing to
Though it were told in the three thousand languages,
what would air, soil, water, fire, know of my
A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture,
are words, sayings, meanings;
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and
women are sayings and meanings also.
The workmanship of souls is by the inaudible words of
The great masters know the earth’s words, and use them
more than the audible words.
Amelioration is one of the earth’s words;
The earth neither lags nor hastens;
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from
It is not half beautiful only—defects and excrescences
show just as much as perfections show.
The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough;
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print;
They are imbued through all things, conveying them-
Conveying a sentiment and invitation of the earth. I utter
I speak not, yet if you hear me not, of what avail am I to
To bear—to better; lacking these, of what avail am I?
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?
The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none
The earth does not exhibit itself, nor refuse to exhibit
itself—possesses still underneath;
Underneath the ostensible sounds, the august chorus of
heroes, the wail of slaves,
Persuasions of lovers, curses, gasps of the dying, laughter
of young people, accents of bargainers,
Underneath these, possessing words that never fail.
To her children, the words of the eloquent dumb great
mother never fail;
The true words do not fail, for motion does not fail, and
reflection does not fail;
Also the day and night do not fail, and the voyage we
pursue does not fail.
Of the interminable sisters,
Of the ceaseless cotillons of sisters,
Of the centripetal and centrifugal sisters, the elder and
The beautiful sister we know dances on with the rest.
With her ample back towards every beholder,
With the fascinations of youth, and the equal fascinations
Sits she whom I too love like the rest—sits undisturbed,
Holding up in her hand what has the character of a mirror,
while her eyes glance back from it,
Glance as she sits, inviting none, denying none,
Holding a mirror day and night tirelessly before her own
Seen at hand, or seen at a distance,
Duly the twenty-four appear in public every day,
Duly approach and pass with their companions, or a
Looking from no countenances of their own, but from the
countenances of those who are with them,
From the countenances of children or women, or the
From the open countenances of animals, or from inanimate
From the landscape or waters, or from the exquisite ap-
parition of the sky,
From our countenances, mine and yours, faithfully re-
Every day in public appearing without fail, but never
twice with the same companions.
Embracing man, embracing all, proceed the three hundred
and sixty-five resistlessly round the sun;
Embracing all, soothing, supporting, follow close three
hundred and sixty-five offsets of the first, sure and
necessary as they.
Tumbling on steadily, nothing dreading,
Sunshine, storm, cold, heat, forever withstanding, passing,
The Soul’s realization and determination still inheriting;
The fluid vacuum around and ahead still entering and
No baulk retarding, no anchor anchoring, on no rock
Swift, glad, content, unbereaved, nothing losing,
Of all able and ready at any time to give strict account,
The divine ship sails the divine sea.
Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth
is solid and liquid,
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.
Each man to himself, and each woman to herself, such is
the word of the past and present, and the word of
No one can acquire for another—not one!
Not one can grow for another—not one!
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him;
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him;
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him;
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—it
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and
actress, not to the audience;
And no man understands any greatness or goodness but
his own, or the indication of his own.
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her
who shall be complete!
I swear the earth remains jagged and broken only to him
or her who remains broken and jagged!
I swear there is no greatness or power that does not
emulate those of the earth!
I swear there can be no theory of any account, unless it
corroborate the theory of the earth!
No politics, art, religion, behaviour, or what not, is of
account, unless it compare with the amplitude of
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude
of the earth.
I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that
which responds love!
It is that which contains itself—which never invites, and
I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible words!
I swear I think all merges toward the presentation of the
unspoken meanings of the earth!
Toward him who sings the songs of the Body, and of the
truths of the earth;
Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that
print cannot touch.
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best;
It is always to leave the best untold.
When I undertake to tell the best, I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.
The best of the earth cannot be told anyhow—all or any
It is not what you anticipated—it is cheaper, easier,
Things are not dismissed from the places they held
The earth is just as positive and direct as it was before;
Facts, religions, improvements, politics, trades, are as real
But the Soul is also real,—it too is positive and direct;
No reasoning, no proof has established it,
Undeniable growth has established it.
This is a poem for the sayers of words—these are hints of
These are they that echo the tones of souls, and the
phrases of souls;
If they did not echo the phrases of souls, what were they
If they had not reference to you in especial, what were
I swear I will never henceforth have to do with the faith
that tells the best!
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best
Say on, sayers!
Delve! mould! pile the words of the earth!
Work on—it is materials you bring, not breaths;
Work on, age after age! nothing is to be lost;
It may have to wait long, but it will certainly come in
When the materials are all prepared, the architects shall
I swear to you the architects shall appear without fail! I
announce them and lead them;
I swear to you they will understand you and justify you;
I swear to you the greatest among them shall be he who
best knows you, and encloses all, and is faithful
I swear to you, he and the rest shall not forget you—
they shall perceive that you are not an iota less
I swear to you, you shall be fully glorified in them.
NOW I make a leaf of Voices—for I have found
nothing mightier than they are,
And I have found that no word spoken but is beautiful
in its place.
O what is it in me that makes me tremble so at voices?
Surely, whoever speaks to me in the right voice, him or
her I shall follow,
As the water follows the moon, silently, with fluid steps
any where around the globe.
All waits for the right voices;
Where is the practised and perfect organ? Where is the
For I see every word uttered thence has deeper, sweeter,
new sounds, impossible on less terms.
I see brains and lips closed—tympans and temples un-
Until that comes which has the quality to strike and to
Until that comes which has the quality to bring forth what
lies slumbering, forever ready, in all words.
WHOEVER you are, I fear you are walking the
walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under
your feet and hands;
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, man-
ners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate
away from you,
Your true Soul and Body appear before me,
They stand forth out of affairs—out of commerce, shops,
law, science, work, farms, clothes, the house, medi-
cine, print, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffer-
Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that
you be my poem;
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none
better than you.
Oh! I have been dilatory and dumb;
I should have made my way straight to you long ago;
I should have blabbed nothing but you, I should have
chanted nothing but you.
I will leave all, and come and make the hymns of you;
None has understood you, but I understand you;
None have done justice to you—you have not done justice
None but have found you imperfect—I only find no im-
perfection in you;
None but would subordinate you—I only am he who will
never consent to subordinate you;
I only am he who places over you no master, owner,
better, God, beyond what waits intrinsically in
Painters have painted their swarming groups, and the
centre figure of all,
From the head of the centre figure spreading a nimbus of
But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without
its nimbus of gold-coloured light;
From my hand, from the brain of every man and woman
it streams, effulgently flowing forever.
O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are—you have slumbered
upon yourself all your life;
Your eye-lids have been the same as closed most of the
What you have done returns already in mockeries;
Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in
mockeries, what is their return?
The mockeries are not you;
Underneath them, and within them, I see you lurk;
I pursue you where none else has pursued you;
Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the
accustomed routine, if these conceal you from
others, or from yourself, they do not conceal you
The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure com-
plexion, if these baulk others, they do not baulk me.
The pert apparel, the deformed attitude, drunkenness,
greed, premature death, all these I part aside.
There is no endowment in man or woman that is not
tallied in you;
There is no virtue, no beauty, in man or woman, but as
good is in you;
No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you;
No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure
waits for you.
As for me, I give nothing to any one, except I give the
like carefully to you;
I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than
I sing the songs of the glory of you.
Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard!
These shows of the east and west are tame compared to
These immense meadows—these interminable rivers—
you are immense and interminable as they;
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes
of apparent dissolution—you are he or she who is
master or mistress over them,
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, ele-
ments, pain, passion, dissolution.
The hopples fall from your ankles—you find an unfailing
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the
rest, whatever you are promulges itself;
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided,
nothing is scanted;
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what
you are picks its way.
HOW they are provided for upon the earth, appearing
How dear and dreadful they are to the earth;
How they inure to themselves as much as to any—What
a paradox appears their age;
How people respond to them, yet know them not;
How there is something relentless in their fate, all times;
How all times mischoose the objects of their adulation and
And how the same inexorable price must still be paid for
the same great purchase.
TO A PUPIL.
IS reform needed? Is it through you?
The greater the reform needed, the greater the PER-
SONALITY you need to accomplish it.
You! do you not see how it would serve to have eyes,
blood, complexion, clean and sweet?
Do you not see how it would serve to have such a Body
and Soul that, when you enter the crowd, an
atmosphere of desire and command enters with
you, and every one is impressed with your per-
O the magnet! the flesh over and over!
Go, dear friend! if need be, give up all else, and com-
mence to-day to inure yourself to pluck, reality,
self-esteem, definiteness, elevatedness;
Rest not, till you rivet and publish yourself of your own
THINK of the Soul;
I swear to you that body of yours gives proportions
to your Soul somehow to live in other spheres;
I do not know how, but I know it is so.
Think of loving and being loved;
I swear to you, whoever you are, you can interfuse your-
self with such things that everybody that sees you
shall look longingly upon you.
Think of the past;
I warn you that, in a little while, others will find their past
in you and your times.
The race is never separated—nor man nor woman
All is inextricable—things, spirits, nature, nations, you
too—from precedents you come.
Recall the ever-welcome defiers, (the mothers precede
Recall the sages, poets, saviours, inventors, lawgivers, of
Recall Christ, brother of rejected persons—brother of
slaves, felons, idiots, and of insane and diseased
Think of the time when you was not yet born;
Think of times you stood at the side of the dying;
Think of the time when your own body will be dying.
Think of spiritual results:
Sure as the earth swims through the heavens, does every
one of its objects pass into spiritual results.
Think of manhood, and you to be a man;
Do you count manhood, and the sweet of manhood,
Think of womanhood, and you to be a woman;
The creation is womanhood;
Have I not said that womanhood involves all?
Have I not told how the universe has nothing better than
the best womanhood?
THE world below the brine,
Forests at the bottom of the sea—the branches and
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds—the
thick tangle, the openings, and the pink turf,
Different colours, pale grey and green, purple, white, and
gold—the play of light through the water,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks—coral, gluten,
grass, rushes—and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly
crawling close to the bottom:
The sperm-whale at the surface, blowing air and spray,
or disporting with his flukes,
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy
sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes—sight in those
ocean-depths—breathing that thick-breathing air,
as so many do.
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air,
breathed by beings like us, who walk this sphere:
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk
TO THE STATES.
TO IDENTIFY THE 16TH, 17TH, OR 18TH PRESIDENTIAD.*
WHY reclining, interrogating? Why myself and all
What deepening twilight! Scum floating atop of the
Who are they, as bats and night-dogs, askant in the
* These were the three Presidentships of Polk; of Taylor, suc-
ceeded by Filmore; and of Pierce;—1845 to 1857.
What a filthy Presidentiad! (O South, your torrid suns!
O North, your arctic freezings!)
Are those really Congressmen? Are those the great
Judges? Is that the President?
Then I will sleep a while yet—for I see that these States
sleep, for reasons.
With gathering murk—with muttering thunder and
lambent shoots, we all duly awake,
South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will
TEARS! tears! tears!
In the night, in solitude, tears;
On the white shore dripping, dripping, sucked in by the
Tears—not a star shining—all dark and desolate;
Moist tears from the eyes of a muffled head:
—O who is that ghost?—that form in the dark, with
What shapeless lump is that, bent, crouched there on the
Streaming tears—sobbing tears—throes, choked with wild
O storm, embodied, rising, careering with swift steps
along the beach;
O wild and dismal night-storm, with wind! O belching
O shade, so sedate and decorous by day, with calm coun-
tenance and regulated pace;
But away, at night, as you fly, none looking—O then the
Of tears! tears! tears!
ABOARD, at the ship’s helm,
A young steersman, steering with care.
A bell through fog on a sea-coast dolefully ringing,
An ocean-bell—O a warning bell, rocked by the waves.
O you give good notice indeed, you bell by the sea-reefs
Ringing, ringing, to warn the ship from its wreck-place.
For, as on the alert, O steersman, you mind the bell’s
The bows turn,—the freighted ship, tacking, speeds
away under her gray sails,
The beautiful and noble ship, with all her precious wealth,
speeds away gaily and safe.
But O the ship, the immortal ship! O ship aboard the
O ship of the body—ship of the soul—voyaging, voyaging,
Great are the myths—I too delight in them;
Great are Adam and Eve—I too look back and
Great the risen and fallen nations, and their poets, women,
sages, inventors, rulers, warriors, and priests.
Great is Liberty! great is Equality! I am their follower;
Helmsmen of nations, choose your craft! where you sail,
I weather it out with you, or sink with you.
Great is Youth—equally great is Old Age—great are the
Day and Night;
Great is Wealth—great is Poverty—great is Expression—
great is Silence.
Youth, large, lusty, loving—Youth, full of grace, force,
Do you know that Old Age may come after you, with
equal grace, force, fascination?
Day, full-blown and splendid—Day of the immense sun,
action, ambition, laughter,
The Night follows close, with millions of suns, and sleep,
and restoring darkness.
Wealth, with the flush hand, fine clothes, hospitality;
But then the soul’s wealth, which is candour, knowledge,
pride, enfolding love;
Who goes for men and women showing Poverty richer
Expression of speech! in what is written or said, forget
not that Silence is also expressive;
That anguish as hot as the hottest, and contempt as cold
as the coldest, may be without words.
Great is the Earth, and the way it became what it is:
Do you imagine it is stopped at this? the increase
Understand then that it goes as far onward from this as
this is from the times when it lay in covering
waters and gases, before man had appeared.
Great is the quality of Truth in man;
The quality of truth in man supports itself through all
It is inevitability in the man—he and it are in love, and
never leave each other.
The truth in man is no dictum, it is vital as eyesight;
If there be any Soul, there is truth—if there be man or
woman, there is truth—if there be physical or
moral, there is truth;
If there be equilibrium or volition, there is truth—if there
be things at all upon the earth, there is truth.
O truth of the earth! O truth of things! I am determined
to press my way toward you;
Sound your voice! I scale mountains, or dive in the sea
Great is Language—it is the mightiest of the sciences,
It is the fulness, colour, form, diversity of the earth, and of
men and women, and of all qualities and pro-
It is greater than wealth—it is greater than buildings,
ships, religions, paintings, music.
Great is the English speech—what speech is so great as the
Great is the English brood—what brood has so vast a
destiny as the English?
It is the mother of the brood that must rule the earth with
the new rule;
The new rule shall rule as the Soul rules, and as the love,
justice, equality in the Soul, rule.
Great is Law—great are the old few land-marks of the law,
They are the same in all times, and shall not be disturbed.
Great is Justice!
Justice is not settled by legislators and laws—it is in the
It cannot be varied by statues, any more than love, pride,
the attraction of gravity, can;
It is immutable—it does not depend on majorities—
majorities or what not come at last before the same
passionless and exact tribunal.
For justice are the grand natural lawyers, and perfect
judges—it is in their souls;
It is well assorted—they have not studied for nothing—
the great includes the less;
They rule on the highest grounds—they oversee all eras,
The perfect judge fears nothing—he could go front to front
Before the perfect judge all shall stand back—life and
death shall stand back—heaven and hell shall stand
Great is Life, real and mystical, wherever and whoever;
Great is Death—sure as Life holds all parts together, Death
holds all parts together,
Has Life much purport?—Ah, Death has the greatest
NOW list to my morning’s romanza;
To the cities and farms I sing, as they spread in the
sunshine before me.
A young man comes to me bearing a message from his
How shall the young man know the whether and when
of his brother?
Tell him to send me the signs.
And I stood before the young man face to face, and took
his right hand in my left hand, and his left hand
in my right hand,
And I answered for his brother, and for men, and I
answered for THE POET, and sent these signs.
Him all wait for—him all yield up to—his word is decisive
Him they accept, in him lave, in him perceive themselves,
as amid light,
Him they immerse, and he immerses them.
Beautiful women, the haughtiest nations, laws, the land-
scape, people, animals,
The profound earth and its attributes, and the unquiet
ocean (so tell I my morning’s romanza),
All enjoyments and properties, and money, and whatever
money will buy,
The best farms—others toiling and planting, and he
The noblest and costliest cities—others grading and
building, and he domiciles there,
Nothing for anyone, but what is for him—near and far
are for him,—the ships in the offing,
The perpetual shows and marches on land, are for him, if
they are for anybody.
He puts things in their attitudes;
He puts to-day out of himself, with plasticity and love;
He places his own city, times, reminiscences, parents,
brothers and sisters, associations, employment,
politics, so that the rest never shame them after-
ward, nor assume to command them.
He is the answerer;
What can be answered he answers—and what cannot be
answered, he shows how it cannot be answered.
A man is a summons and challenge;
(It is vain to skulk—Do you hear that mocking and
laughter? Do you hear the ironical echoes?)
Books, friendships, philosophers, priests, action, pleasure,
pride, beat up and down seeking to give satisfac-
He indicates the satisfaction, and indicates them that beat
up and down also.
Whichever the sex, whatever the season or place, he may
go freshly and gently and safely, by day or by
He has the pass-key of hearts—to him the response of the
prying of hands on the knobs.
His welcome is universal—the flow of beauty is not more
welcome or universal than he is;
The person he favours by day or sleeps with at night is
Every existence has its idiom—everything has an idiom
He resolves all tongues into his own, and bestows it upon
men, and any man translates, and any man trans-
lates himself also;
One part does not counteract another part—he is the
joiner—he sees how they join.
He says indifferently and alike How are you, friend? to
the President at his levee,
And he says Good-day, my brother! to Cudge that hoes in
And both understand him, and know that his speech is
He walks with perfect ease in the Capitol,
He walks among the Congress, and one representative
says to another Here is our equal, appearing and
Then the mechanics take him for a mechanic,
And the soldiers suppose him to be a soldier, and the
sailors that he has followed the sea,
And the authors take him for an author, and the artists
for an artist,
And the labourers perceive he could labour with them and
No matter what the work is, that he is the one to follow
it, or has followed it,
No matter what the nation, that he might find his brothers
and sisters there.
The English believe he comes of their English stock,
A Jew to the Jew he seems—a Russ to the Russ—usual
and near, removed from none.
Whoever he looks at in the travellers’ coffee-house claims
The Italian or Frenchman is sure, and the German is
sure, and the Spaniard is sure, and the island
Cuban is sure;
The engineer, the deck-hand on the great lakes, or on the
Mississippi, or St. Lawrence, or Sacramento, or
Hudson, or Paumanok Sound, claims him.
The gentleman of perfect blood acknowledges his perfect
The insulter, the prostitute, the angry person, the beggar,
see themselves in the ways of him—he strangely
They are not vile any more—they hardly know themselves,
they are so grown.
To think of it!
To think of time—of all that retrospection!
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!
Have you guessed you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you feared the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and
women were flexible, real, alive! that everything
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and
terrible look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers
and sisters are sent for,
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell
has long pervaded the rooms,)
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand
of the dying,
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look
It is palpable as the living are palpable.
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks
curiously on the corpse.
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and
the fruits ripen, and act upon as others as upon us
now—yet not act upon us!
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and
others taking great interest in them—and we taking
no interest in them!
To think how eager we are in building our houses!
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indif-
I see one building the house that serves him a few years,
or seventy or eighty years at most,
I see one building the house that serves him longer than
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth
—they never cease—they are the burial lines,
He that was President was buried, and he that is now
President shall surely be buried.
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in
the river, half-frozen mud in the streets, a grey
discouraged sky overhead, the short last daylight
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the
funeral of an old Broadway stage-driver, the cor-
tege mostly drivers.
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-
bell, the gate is passed, the new-dug grave is halted
at, the living alight, the hearse uncloses,
The coffin is passed out, lowered and settled, the whip is
laid on the coffin, the earth is swiftly shovelled in,
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,
A minute, no one moves or speaks—it is done,
He is decently put away—is there anything more?
He was a good fellow, free-mouthed, quick-tempered, not
bad-looking, able to take his own part, witty, sen-
sitive to a slight, ready with life or death for a
friend, fond of women, gambled, ate hearty, drank
hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew
low-spirited toward the last, sickened, was helped
by a contribution, died, aged forty-one years—and
that was his funeral.
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves,
strap, wet-weather clothes, whip carefully chosen,
boss, spotter, starter, hostler, somebody loafing on
you, you loafing on somebody, headway, man before
and man behind, good day’s work, bad day’s work,
pet stock, mean stock, first out, last out, turning-in
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other
drivers—and he there takes no interest in them!
The markets, the government, the working-man’s wages,
—to think what account they are through our
nights and days!
To think that other working-men will make just as
great account of them—yet we make little or no
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and
what you call goodness—to think how wide a
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet
we lie beyond the difference.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you
pleasure from poems?
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business?
or planning a nomination and election? or with
your wife and family?
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly house-
work? or the beautiful maternal cares?
These also flow onward to others—you and I flow on-
But in due time you and I shall take less interest in
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engrossed you
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for
you, of what avail?
What will be will be well—for what is is well:
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be
The sky continues beautiful,
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated,
nor the pleasure of women with men, nor the
pleasure from poems;
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the
building of houses—these are not phantasms—
they have weight, form, location;
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are
none of them phantasms,
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the
things of his life are well-considered.
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and
safely around yourself;
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, for ever and ever!
It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother
and father—it is to identify you,
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and
formed in you,
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.
The threads that were spun are gathered, the weft crosses
the warp, the pattern is systematic.
The preparations have every one been justified,
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—
the baton has given the signal.
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—
he is now housed,
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he
is one of those that to look upon and be with is
The law of the past cannot be eluded,
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one
iota thereof can be eluded.
Slow-moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and
they on the Atlantic side, and they on the Pacific,
and they between, and all through the Mississippi
country, and all over the earth.
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the
heroes and good-doers are well,
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners
and pious and distinguished, may be well,
But there is more account than that—there is strict account
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
Th common people of Europe are not nothing—the
American aborigines are not nothing,
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—
the murderer or mean person is not nothing,
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing
as they go.
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of reli-
gion is not nothing as he goes.
I shall go with the rest—we have satisfaction,
I have dreamed that we are not to be changed so much,
nor the law of us changed,
I have dreamed that heroes and good-doers shall be under
the present and past law,
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the
present and past law,
For I have dreamed that the law they are under now is
And I have dreamed that the satisfaction is not so much
changed, and that there is not life without satis-
What is the earth? what are Body and Soul without
I shall go with the rest,
We cannot be stopped at a given point—that is not satis-
To show us a good thing, or a few good things, for a space
of time—that is no satisfaction,
We must have the indestructible breed of the best, re-
gardless of time.
If otherwise, all these things came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then alarum! for we are
Then indeed suspicion of death.
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I
should die now:
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited
Pleasantly and well-suited I walk:
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good;
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals! How perfect
is my Soul!
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is
just as perfect,
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the im-
ponderable fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have passed on to this, and slowly
and surely they yet pass on.
My Soul! if I realize you, I have satisfaction,
Animals and vegetables! if I realize you, I have satis-
Laws of the earth and air! if I realize you, I have
I cannot define my satisfaction, yet it is so,
I cannot define my life, yet it is so.
It comes to me now!
I swear I think now that everything without exception has
an eternal Soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the
sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float
is for it, and the cohering is for it;
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and
life and death are altogether for it!
SOMETHING startles me where I thought I was
I withdraw from the still woods I loved;
I will not go now on the pastures to walk;
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover
I will not touch my flesh to the earth, as to other flesh, to
O how can the ground not sicken?
How can you be alive, you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health, you blood of herbs, roots,
Are they not continually putting distempered corpses in
Is not every continent worked over and over with sour
Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations;
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day—or perhaps I am
I will run a furrow with my plough—I will press my
spade through the sod, and turn it up underneath;
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.
Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once formed part of a sick
The grass covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster to