or enter with: facebook twitter google Forgot your password? | Signup
or enter with: facebook twitter google
Walt whitman

Walt Whitman

POEMS
FOLLOWERS
72

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood—cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

AFTER the Sea—Ship—after the whistling winds;
After the white—gray sails, taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad, myriad waves, hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship:
Waves of the ocean, bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves—liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great Vessel, sailing and tacking, displaced the surface;
Larger and smaller waves, in the spread of the ocean, yearnfully
flowing;
The wake of the Sea—Ship, after she passes—flashing and frolicsome,
under the sun, 10
A motley procession, with many a fleck of foam, and many fragments,
Following the stately and rapid Ship—in the wake following.

NOT my enemies ever invade me—no harm to my pride from
         them I fear;
But the lovers I recklessly love—lo! how they master me!
Lo! me, ever open and helpless, bereft of my strength!
Utterly abject, grovelling on the ground before them.

1  WHAT shall I give? and which are my miracles?

2  Realism is mine—my miracles—Take freely,
Take without end—I offer them to you wherever your
         feet can carry you, or your eyes reach.

3  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
         sky,
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 sum—
         mer forenoon,
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 spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that
         like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to the
         opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of
         machinery,
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.

4  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.

5  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?

WOMEN sit, or move to and fro—some old, some
         young;
The young are beautiful—but the old are more beauti–
         ful than the young.

1  
SAUNTERING the pavement, or riding the country by–
         road—lo! such faces!
Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity,
         ideality;
The spiritual prescient face—the always welcome,
         common, benevolent face,
The face of the singing of music—the grand faces of
         natural lawyers and judges, broad at the back–
         top;
The faces of hunters and fishers, bulged at the brows—
         the shaved blanch’d faces of orthodox citizens;
The pure, extravagant, yearning, questioning artist’s
         face;
The ugly face of some beautiful Soul, the handsome
         detested or despised face;
The sacred faces of infants, the illuminated face of the
         mother of many children;
The face of an amour, the face of veneration;
The face as of a dream, the face of an immobile rock;
The face withdrawn of its good and bad, a castrated
         face;
A wild hawk, his wings clipp’d by the clipper;
A stallion that yielded at last to the thongs and knife
         of the gelder.

2  
Sauntering the pavement, thus, or crossing the
         ceaseless ferry, faces, and faces, and faces:
I see them, and complain not, and am content with
         all.

3  
Do you suppose I could be content with all, if I
         thought them their own finale?

4  
This now is too lamentable a face for a man;
Some abject louse, asking leave to be—cringing for it;
Some milk-nosed maggot, blessing what lets it wrig to
         its hole.

5  
This face is a dog’s snout, sniffing for garbage;
Snakes nest in that mouth—I hear the sibilant threat.

6
This face is a haze more chill than the arctic sea;
Its sleepy and wobbling icebergs crunch as they go.

7  
This is a face of bitter herbs—this an emetic—they
         need no label;
And more of the drug-shelf, laudanum, caoutchouc, or
         hog’s-lard.

8  
This face is an epilepsy, its wordless tongue gives
         out the unearthly cry,
Its veins down the neck distend, its eyes roll till
         they show nothing but their whites,
Its teeth grit, the palms of the hands are cut by the
         turn’d-in nails,
The man falls struggling and foaming to the ground
         while he speculates well.

9  
This face is bitten by vermin and worms,
And this is some murderer’s knife with a half-pull’d
         scabbard.

10  
This face owes to the sexton his dismalest fee;
An unceasing death-bell tolls there.

11  
Those then are really men—the bosses and tufts of
         the great round globe!

12  
Features of my equals, would you trick me with
         your creas’d and cadaverous march?
Well, you cannot trick me.

13  
I see your rounded never-erased flow;
I see neath the rims of your haggard and mean dis–
         guises.

14  
Splay and twist as you like—poke with the tangling
         fores of fishes or rats;
You’ll be unmuzzled, you certainly will.

15  
I saw the face of the most smear’d and slobbering
         idiot they had at the asylum;
And I knew for my consolation what they knew not;
I knew of the agents that emptied and broke my
         brother,
The same wait to clear the rubbish from the fallen
         tenement;
And I shall look again in a score or two of ages,
And I shall meet the real landlord, perfect and un–
         harm’d, every inch as good as myself.

16  
The Lord advances, and yet advances;
Always the shadow in front—always the reach’d hand
         bringing up the laggards.

17  
Out of this face emerge banners and horses—O su–
         perb! I see what is coming;
I see the high pioneer-caps—I see the staves of run–
         ners clearing the way,
I hear victorious drums.

18  
This face is a life-boat;
This is the face commanding and bearded, it asks no
         odds of the rest;
This face is flavor’d fruit, ready for eating;
This face of a healthy honest boy is the programme of
         all good.

19  
These faces bear testimony slumbering or awake;
They show their descent from the Master himself.

20  
Off the word I have spoken I except not one—red,
         white, black, are all deific;
In each house is the ovum—it comes forth after a
         thousand years.

21  
Spots or cracks at the windows do not disturb me;
Tall and sufficient stand behind, and make signs to
         me;
I read the promise, and patiently wait.

22  
This is a full-grown lily’s face,
She speaks to the limber-hipp’d man near the garden
         pickets,
Come here, she blushingly cries—Come nigh to me, lim–
          ber-hipp’d man,
Stand at my side till I lean as high as I can upon you,
Fill me with albescent honey, bend down to me,
Rub to me with your chafing beard, rub to my breast and
          shoulders .

23  
The old face of the mother of many children!
Whist! I am fully content.

24  
Lull’d and late is the smoke of the First-day
         morning,
It hangs low over the rows of trees by the fences,
It hangs thin by the sassafras, the wild-cherry, and
         the cat-brier under them.

25  I saw the rich ladies in full dress at the soiree,
I heard what the singers were singing so long,
Heard who sprang in crimson youth from the white
         froth and the water-blue.

26  
Behold a woman!
She looks out from her quaker cap—her face is clearer
         and more beautiful than the sky.

27  
She sits in an arm-chair, under the shaded porch of
         the farm-house,
The sun just shines on her old white head.

28  
Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen,
Her grandsons raised the flax, and her grand—daugh—
         ters spun it with the distaff and the wheel.

29  
The melodious character of the earth,
The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go, and
         does not wish to go,
The justified mother of men.

1

1  I WANDER all night in my vision,
Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly step–
         ping and stopping,
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers,
Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted,
         contradictory,
Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping.

2  How solemn they look there, stretch’d and still!
How quiet they breathe, the little children in their
         cradles!

3  The wretched features of ennuyés, the white fea–
         tures of corpses, the livid faces of drunkards,
         the sick-gray faces of onanists,
The gash’d bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their
         strong-door’d rooms, the sacred idiots, the new–
         born emerging from gates, and the dying emer–
         ging from gates,
The night pervades them and infolds them.

4  The married couple sleep calmly in their bed—he
         with his palm on the hip of the wife, and she
         with her palm on the hip of the husband,
The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed,
The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs,
And the mother sleeps, with her little child carefully
         wrap’t.

5  The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps well in the prison—the run-away
         son sleeps;
The murderer that is to be hung next day—how does
         he sleep?
And the murder’d person—how does he sleep?

6  The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day
         sleeps,
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions—all,
         all sleep.

2

7  I stand in the dark with drooping eyes by the
         worst-suffering and the most restless,
I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few inches
         from them,
The restless sink in their beds—they fitfully sleep.

8  Now I pierce the darkness—new beings appear,
The earth recedes from me into the night,
I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not
         the earth is beautiful.

9  I go from bedside to bedside—I sleep close with
         the other sleepers, each in turn,
I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other
         dreamers,
And I become the other dreamers.

 
3

10  I am a dance—Play up, there! the fit is whirling
         me fast!

11  I am the ever-laughing—it is new moon and twi–
         light,
I see the hiding of douceurs—I see nimble ghosts
         whichever way I look,
Cache, and cache again, deep in the ground and sea,
         and where it is neither ground or sea.

12  Well do they do their jobs, those journeymen di–
         vine,
Only from me can they hide nothing, and would not
         if they could,
I reckon I am their boss, and they make me a pet
         besides,
And surround me and lead me, and run ahead when
         I walk,
To lift their cunning covers, to signify me with
         stretch’d arms, and resume the way;
Onward we move! a gay gang of blackguards! with
         mirth-shouting music, and wild—flapping pen—
         nants of joy!

13  I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician;
The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood
         in the box,
He who has been famous, and he who shall be famous
         after to-day,
The stammerer, the well-form’d person, the wasted or
         feeble person.

14  I am she who adorn’d herself and folded her hair
         expectantly,
My truant lover has come, and it is dark.

15  Double yourself and receive me, darkness!
Receive me and my lover too—he will not let me go
         without him.

16  I roll myself upon you, as upon a bed—I resign
         myself to the dusk.

17  He whom I call answers me, and takes the place of
         my lover,
He rises with me silently from the bed.

18  Darkness! you are gentler than my lover—his flesh
         was sweaty and panting,
I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me.

19  My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all direc–
         tions,
I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are
         journeying.

20  Be careful, darkness! already, what was it touch’d
         me?
I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are
         one,
I hear the heart-beat—I follow, I fade away.

21  O hot-cheek’d and blushing! O foolish hectic!
O for pity’s sake, no one must see me now! my clothes
         were stolen while I was abed,
Now I am thrust forth, where shall I run?

22  Pier that I saw dimly last night, when I look’d from
         the windows!
Pier out from the main, let me catch myself with you,
         and stay—I will not chafe you,
I feel ashamed to go naked about the world.

23  I am curious to know where my feet stand—and
         what this is flooding me, childhood or manhood
         —and the hunger that crosses the bridge
         between.

24  The cloth laps a first sweet eating and drinking,
Laps life-swelling yolks—laps ear of rose-corn, milky
         and just ripen’d;
The white teeth stay, and the boss-tooth advances in
         darkness,
And liquor is spill’d on lips and bosoms by touching
         glasses, and the best liquor afterward.

 
4

25  I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid,
Perfume and youth course through me, and I am their
         wake.

26  It is my face yellow and wrinkled, instead of the
         old woman’s,
I sit low in a straw-bottom chair, and carefully darn
         my grandson’s stockings.

27  It is I too, the sleepless widow, looking out on the
         winter midnight,
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid
         earth.

28  A shroud I see, and I am the shroud—I wrap a body,
         and lie in the coffin,
It is dark here under ground—it is not evil or pain
         here—it is blank here, for reasons.

29  It seems to me that everything in the light and air
         ought to be happy,
Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let
         him know he has enough.

 
5

30  I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer, swimming naked
         through the eddies of the sea,
His brown hair lies close and even to his head—he
         strikes out with courageous arms—he urges
         himself with his legs,
I see his white body—I see his undaunted eyes,
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him
         head-foremost on the rocks.

31  What are you doing, you ruffianly red-trickled waves?
Will you kill the courageous giant? Will you kill him
         in the prime of his middle age?

32  Steady and long he struggles,
He is baffled, bang’d, bruis’d—he holds out while his
         strength holds out,
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood—they
         bear him away—they roll him, swing him, turn
         him,
His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is
         continually bruis’d on rocks,
Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.

 6

33  I turn, but do not extricate myself,
Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness
         yet.

34  The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind—the wreck–
         guns sound,
The tempest lulls—the moon comes floundering
         through the drifts.

35  I look where the ship helplessly heads end on—I
         hear the burst as she strikes—I hear the howls
         of dismay—they grow fainter and fainter.

36  I cannot aid with my wringing fingers,
I can but rush to the surf, and let it drench me and
         freeze upon me.

37  I search with the crowd—not one of the company is
         wash’d to us alive;
In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay them
         in rows in a barn.

 
7

38  Now of the old war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn,
Washington stands inside the lines—he stands on the
         intrench’d hills, amid a crowd of officers,
His face is cold and damp—he cannot repress the
         weeping drops,
He lifts the glass perpetually to his eyes—the color is
         blanch’d from his cheeks,
He sees the slaughter of the southern braves confided
         to him by their parents.

39  The same, at last and at last, when peace is declared,
He stands in the room of the old tavern—the well–
         beloved soldiers all pass through,
The officers speechless and slow draw near in their
         turns,
The chief encircles their necks with his arm, and
         kisses them on the cheek,
He kisses lightly the wet cheeks one after another—
         he shakes hands, and bids good-by to the army.

 
8

40  Now I tell what my mother told me to-day as we
         sat at dinner together,
Of when she was a nearly grown girl, living home
         with her parents on the old homestead.

41  A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old
         homestead,
On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for rush–
         bottoming chairs,
Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse, half–
         envelop’d her face,
Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded
         exquisitely as she spoke.

42  My mother look’d in delight and amazement at the
         stranger,
She look’d at the freshness of her tall-borne face, and
         full and pliant limbs,
The more she look’d upon her, she loved her,
Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and
         purity,
She made her sit on a bench by the jamb of the fire–
         place—she cook’d food for her,
She had no work to give her, but she gave her re–
         membrance and fondness.

43  The red squaw staid all the forenoon, and toward
         the middle of the afternoon she went away,
O my mother was loth to have her go away!
All the week she thought of her—she watch’d for her
         many a month,
She remember’d her many a winter and many a
         summer,
But the squaw never came, nor was heard of there
         again.

 
9

44  Now Lucifer was not dead—or if he was, I am his
         sorrowful terrible heir;
I have been wrong’d—I am oppress’d—I hate him
         that oppresses me,
I will either destroy him, or he shall release me.

45  Damn him! how he does defile me!
How he informs against my brother and sister, and
         takes pay for their blood!
How he laughs when I look down the bend, after the
         steamboat that carries away my woman!

46  Now the vast dusk bulk that is the whale’s bulk, it
         seems mine;
Warily, sportsman! though I lie so sleepy and slug–
         gish, the tap of my flukes is death.

 
10

47  A show of the summer softness! a contact of some–
         thing unseen! an amour of the light and air!
I am jealous, and overwhelm’d with friendliness,
And will go gallivant with the light and air myself,
And have an unseen something to be in contact with
         them also.

48  O love and summer! you are in the dreams, and in
         me!
Autumn and winter are in the dreams—the farmer
         goes with his thrift,
The droves and crops increase, and the barns are well–
         fill’d.

49  Elements merge in the night—ships make tacks in
         the dreams,
The sailor sails—the exile returns home,
The fugitive returns unharm’d—the immigrant is
         back beyond months and years,
The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his
         childhood, with the well-known neighbors and
         faces,
They warmly welcome him—he is barefoot again, he
         forgets he is well off;
The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman and
         Welshman voyage home, and the native of the
         Mediterranean voyages home,
To every port of England, France, Spain, enter well–
         fill’d ships,
The Swiss foots it to toward his hills—the Prussian goes
         his way, the Hungarian his way, and the Pole
         his way,
The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian re–
         turn.

 
11

50  The homeward bound, and the outward bound,
The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuyé, the onanist,
         the female that loves unrequited, the money–
         maker,
The actor and actress, those through with their parts
         and those waiting to commence,
The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the voter,
         the nominee that is chosen, and the nominee
         that has fail’d,
The great already known, and the great any time
         after to-day,
The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-form’d, the
         homely,
The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that
         sat and sentenced him, the fluent lawyers, the
         jury, the audience,
The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight
         widow, the red squaw,
The consumptive, the erysipelite, the idiot, he that is
         wrong’d,
The antipodes, and every one between this and them
         in the dark,
I swear they are averaged now—one is no better than
         the other,
The night and sleep have liken’d them and restored
         them.

51  I swear they are all beautiful;
Every one that sleeps is beautiful—everything in the
         dim light is beautiful,
The wi1dest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace.

52  Peace is always beautiful,
The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.

53  The myth of heaven indicates the Soul;
The Soul is always beautiful—it appears more or it
         appears less—it comes, or it lags behind,
It comes from its embower’d garden, and looks
         pleasantly on itself, and encloses the world,
Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting, and
         perfect and clean the womb cohering,
The head well-grown, proportion’d and plumb, and
         the bowels and joints proportion’d and plumb.

54  The Soul is always beautiful,
The universe is duly in order, everything is in its
         place,
What has arrived is in its place, and what waits is in
         its place;
The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood
         waits,
The child of the glutton or venerealee waits long, and
         the child of the drunkard waits long, and the
         drunkard himself waits long,
The sleepers that lived and died wait—the far ad–
         vanced are to go on in their turns, and the far
         behind are to come on in their turns,
The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall
         flow and unite—they unite now.

 
12

55  The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed,
They flow hand in hand over the whole earth, from
         east to west, as they lie unclothed,
The Asiatic and African are hand in hand—the Eu–
         ropean and American are hand in hand,
Learn’d and unlearn’d are hand in hand, and male
         and female are hand in hand,
The bare arm of the girl crosses the bare breast of
         her lover—they press close without lust—his
         lips press her neck,
The father holds his grown or ungrown son in his
         arms with measureless love, and the son holds
         the father in his arms with measureless love,
The white hair of the mother shines on the white
         wrist of the daughter,
The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the
         man, friend is inarm’d by friend,
The scholar kisses the teacher, and the teacher kisses
         the scholar—the wrong’d is made right,
The call of the slave is one with the master’s call, and
         the master salutes the slave,
The felon steps forth from the prison—the insane
         becomes sane—the suffering of sick persons is
         reliev’d,
The sweatings and fevers stop—the throat that was
         unsound is sound—the lungs of the consump–
         tive are resumed—the poor distres’t head is
         free,
The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as ever,
         and smoother than ever,
Stiflings and passages open—the paralyzed become
         supple,
The swell’d and convuls’d and congested awake to
         themselves in condition,
They pass the invigoration of the night, and the
         chemistry of the night, and awake.

 
13

56  I too pass from the night,
I stay a while away, O night, but I return to you
         again, and love you.

57  Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you?
I am not afraid—I have been well brought forward by
         you;
I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her
         in whom I lay so long.
I know not how I came of you, and I know not where
         I go with you—but I know I came well, and
         shall go well.

58  I will stop only a time with the night, and rise be–
         times;
I will duly pass the day, O my mother, and duly
         return to you.

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
         ships!
O to see you peering down on the sailors on the decks!
Flag like the eyes of women.

I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud,
And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.

And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.)

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.

TURN, O Libertad, no more doubting;
Turn from lands retrospective, recording proofs of the
         past;
From the singers that sing the trailing glories of the
         past;
From the chants of the feudal world—the triumphs of
         kings, slavery, caste;
Turn to the world, the triumphs reserv’d and to come—
         give up that backward world;
Leave to the singers of hitherto—give them the trailing
         past:
But what remains, remains for singers for you—wars
         to come are for you;
(Lo! how the wars of the past have duly inured to you
         —and the wars of the present shall also inure:)
—Then turn, and be not alarm’d, O Libertad—turn
         your undying face,
To where the future, greater than all the past,
Is swiftly, surely preparing for you.

1

from Memories of President Lincoln

1

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

2

O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

3

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
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 dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

4

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 would’st surely die.)

5

Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

6

Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crepe-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
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 faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you a sprig of lilac.

7

(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 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.)

8

O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,
As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on,)
As we wander’d 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 how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

9

Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you,
But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain’d me,
The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.

10

O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my soul for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds blown from the 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’ll perfume the grave of him I love.

11

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 gray 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 of 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 of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

12

Lo, body and soul—this land,
My own 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 cover’d with grass and corn.

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 fulfill’d noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

13

Sing on, sing on, you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
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 depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.

14

Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds and 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 they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
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 the ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know received us comrades three,
And he sang the carol 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 carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol 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.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! 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, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,
When it is so, when you have 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-veil’d death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the treetops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-packed cities and all the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

15

To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-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.

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
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 bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d 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 the dead soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

16

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-altering song,
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,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.

I cease 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 to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to 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,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.