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"Or si sa il nome, o per tristo o per buono,
E si sa pure al mondo ch'io ci sono."

"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 impuissante,
et leurs petits succes, ne doivent pas vous effrayer; ce ne sont que des
egratignures sur les epaules d'Hercule."


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 come
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 sympathy 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 experiment; and this is enhanced
by my being enabled to associate with it your name, as that of an early and
well-qualified appreciator of Whitman, and no less as that of a dear

Yours affectionately,

_October_ 1867.











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.[1] 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
readers--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 depreciatory, and rather
intercepting than forwarding the candid construction which people might be
willing to put upon the poems, alike in their beauties and their
aberrations. Some English critics, no doubt, have been more discerning--as
W. J. Fox, of old, in the _Dispatch_, the writer of the notice in the
_Leader_, and of late two in the _Pall Mall Gazette_ and the _London
Review_;[2] but these have been the exceptions among us, the great majority
of the reviewers presenting that happy and familiar critical combination--
scurrility and superciliousness.

[Footnote 1: See _The Chronicle_ for 6th July 1867, article _Walt Whitman's

[Footnote 2: Since this Prefatory Notice was written [in 1868], another
eulogistic review of Whitman has appeared--that by Mr. Robert Buchanan, in
the _Broadway_.]

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
something of what I then said, or else leaving unstated some points of
principal importance. I shall therefore adopt the simplest course--that of
summarising the critical remarks 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 named _Songs before Parting_,[3] and of the _Drum Taps_,
with its _Sequel_. It has been intimated that he does not expect to write
any more poems, unless it might be in expression 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 republished in England.

[Footnote 3: In a copy of the book revised by Whitman himself, which we
have seen, this title is modified into _Songs of Parting_.]

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

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 inquiry, has that great thinker since then retreated
from this position in fundamentals, although his admiration may have
entailed some worry upon him, and reports of his recantation have been
rife. Of other writers on Whitman's side, expressing themselves with no
measured enthusiasm, one may cite Mr. M. D. Conway; Mr. W. D. O'Connor, who
wrote a pamphlet named _The Good Grey 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
competitors a man of the period, one of audacious personal ascendant,
incapable of all compromise, and an initiator in the scheme and form of his

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, and 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 understood as strictly or
merely personal to himself, but sometimes 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 disfigurements along with it, and away.

The subject-matter of Whitman's poems, taken individually, 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 physiognomy 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 war. 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. Picturesqueness it has, but mostly
of a somewhat patriarchal kind, not deriving from the "word-painting" of
the _litterateur_; 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 writings. 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
importance 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 associate 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 preceded, 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 themselves, 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 _Legende des Siecles_
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
Americanism; 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 well.

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 addressed 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 sympathise 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 case 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
observe, which is fully shared by myself, and, I suppose, by all who
consent in any adequate measure to recognise Whitman, and to yield
themselves to his influence.

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 an 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 a 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 unfathomed
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 paean 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
foremost, is therein also a spirit and an intellect.

There is a singular and impressive intuition or revelation 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
extension or recast.

Let us next obtain some idea of what this most remarkable poet--the founder
of _American_ poetry rightly to be so called, and the most sonorous poetic
voice of the tangibilities of actual and prospective democracy--is in his
proper life and person.

Walt Whitman 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 County, 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 marriage. The father was a farmer, and afterwards a carpenter 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 carpenter 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 remuneration for his services.
The first immediate occasion of his going down to camp was on behalf of his
brother, Lieutenant-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.
Northerner 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 cases 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 enrolment-
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
1865, 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 well.

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 of health, and, by natural consequence, 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,
however, 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 confutation 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 indifferent, 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 appreciation 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 by Whitman.

The best sketch that I know of Whitman as an accessible human individual is
that given by Mr. Conway.[4] I borrow from it the following few details.
"Having occasion 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 100 deg., 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
distinguished 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

[Footnote 4: In the _Fortnightly Review_, 15th October 1866.]

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
confounded 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 considerable work was the _Leaves of
Grass_. He began it in 1853, and it underwent two or three complete
rewritings prior to its publication at Brooklyn in 1855, in a quarto
volume--peculiar-looking, but with something perceptibly 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 contempt 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[5] 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."

[Footnote 5: Mr. Burroughs (to whom I have recourse for most biographical
facts concerning Whitman) is careful to note, in order that no
misapprehension 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.]

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 thousand copies. Its chief feature was an additional
poem beginning "A Woman waits for me." It excited a considerable 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 memorable of all of 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 revised 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

The selection here offered to the English reader contains 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 inserted 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.[6] 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.

[Footnote 6: Compare, for instance, the Preface, pp. 38, 39, with the poem
_To a Foiled Revolter or Revoltress_, p. 133.]

A few words must be added as to the indecencies scattered through Whitman's
writings. Indecencies or improprieties--or, still better, deforming
crudities--they may rightly 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
cognisance 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 impropriety 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 security 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, knowing, 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, therefore, am I
from indignantly condemning Whitman for every startling allusion or
expression which he has admitted 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 repugnant, 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 Whitman_. I
sacrifice them grudgingly; and yet willingly, because 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 misconstructionists, let me add in distinct terms that, in
respect of morals and propriety, I neither admire nor approve the
incriminated passages in Whitman's poems, but, on the contrary, consider
that most of them would be much better away; and, in respect of art, I
doubt whether even one of them deserves 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 sections, made by Whitman himself, has
been noted above: _Leaves of Grass_, _Songs before Parting_, supplementary
to the preceding, 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 poem 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 recognise 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 three designations explain themselves. The fourth, _Leaves of
Grass_, is not so specially applicable to the particular poems of that
section 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 endowed by himself with
titles properly so 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 identifying 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 believe 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
entertain 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 a unique position on the globe,
and one which, even in past time, can have been occupied by only an
infinitesimally small number of men. He is the one man who entertains 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

"Come, I will make this continent indissoluble."[7]

[Footnote 7: See the poem headed _Love of Comrades_, p. 308.]

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
substantial 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

"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.


_N.B._--The above prefatory notice was written in 1868, and is reproduced
practically unaltered. Were it to be brought up to the present date, 1886,
I should have to mention Whitman's books _Two Rivulets_ and _Specimen-days
and Collect_, and the fact that for several years past he has been
partially disabled by a paralytic attack. He now lives at Camden, New

W. M. R.


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 manners and literature while
the life which served its requirements 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
broadcast 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 particulars 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 ruggedness 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 indecorous 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 suffice 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 or 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
continents 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 embouchure 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 lime-tree 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 red-shouldered-bawk 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
settlements 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 surrounded by blatherers, and always calm and
impregnable--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 gestations 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 workwomen--the general
ardour and friendliness and enterprise--the perfect equality of the female
with the male--the large amativeness--the fluid movement of the
population--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 north-east and of the north-
west and south-west-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
needs 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 equaliser 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, immortality--federal, state or municipal government,
marriage, 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 exclusiveness, 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 weakness or sin.

The greatest poet hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into
anything 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 marvellous? 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--probably 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 chestnuts 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 greatnesses 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 prevail.
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 persuades
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 proportions. 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 precision 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 realise 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 pinnacles
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 moralise 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 uncommon. 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 contemplate 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 soothe, 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 composition 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 for ever and for ever who contributes the greatest original
practical example. The cleanest expression 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 dismemberments, 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 anything 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
affluent 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, historian, 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 send 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. Cleaving 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 resumed--
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
concerns 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 and women.

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 happiness 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 afterward--
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 characterise 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
indispensable. 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 a while,
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 communion 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
realise the true American character, but do not yet[1]--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 deference 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--then only shall the instinct of liberty be discharged
from that part of the earth.

[Footnote 1: This clause is obviously imperfect in some respect: it is here
reproduced _verbatim_ from the American edition.]

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
stratagems 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 realise 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
violations 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 _outre_ 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 beautiful without ornament.
Exaggerations will be revenged in human physiology. Clean and vigorous
children 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
candour! 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 subterfuge 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 foetid
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 reformation
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
destructiveness 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 money-making, 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 naivete,
and the ghastly chatter of a death without serenity or majesty,--is the
great fraud upon modern civilisation and forethought; blotching the surface
and system which civilisation undeniably drafts, and moistening 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 realised and returned, and that returned in
further performances, and they returned again. Nor can the push of charity
or personal force ever be anything 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 for ever. 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
wandering 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 inured 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 coining 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 possible
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 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 nor avoids death.

The direct trial of him who would be the greatest poet is to-day. If he
does not flood himself with the immediate 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 swimming 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
representation 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 discovery 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 and the old
think of him?

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 realise
and be content and full? To no such terminus does the greatest poet bring--
he brings neither cessation nor 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 fearlessly 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 quiet again.

There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done. They may wait a
while--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 inspiration 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

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 freewoman's heart after
that which passes by, or this built to remain. Is it uniform with my
country? Are its disposals without ignominious distinctions? Is it for the
ever-growing 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 acknowledgment, 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 children? 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 composure 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.

[Script: Meantime, dear friend,
Farewell, Walt Whitman.]




Starting from fish-shape Paumanok,[1] where I was born,
Well-begotten, and raised by a perfect mother;
After roaming many lands--lover of populous pavements;
Dweller in Mannahatta,[2] city of ships, my city,--or on southern savannas;
Or a soldier camped, or carrying my knapsack and gun--or a miner in
Or rude in my home in Dakotah's woods, my diet meat, my drink from the
Or withdrawn to muse and meditate in some deep recess,
Far from the clank of crowds, intervals passing, rapt and happy;
Aware of the fresh free giver, the flowing Missouri--aware of mighty
Aware of the buffalo herds, grazing the plains--the hirsute and strong-
breasted bull;
Of earths, rocks, fifth-month flowers, experienced--stars, rain, snow, my
Having studied the mocking-bird's tones, and the mountain hawk's,
And heard at dusk the unrivalled one, the hermit thrush, from the
Solitary, singing in the West, I strike up for a New World.


Victory, union, faith, identity, time,
Yourself, the present and future lands, the indissoluble compacts, riches,
Eternal progress, the kosmos, and the modern reports.

This, then, is life;
Here is what has come to the surface after so many throes and convulsions.

How curious! how real!
Under foot the divine soil--over head the sun.

See, revolving, the globe;
The ancestor-continents, away, grouped together;
The present and future continents, north and south, with the isthmus

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, institutions, known.

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 turn,
With faces turned sideways or backward towards me, to listen,
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 Mexican Sea;
Chants of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota;
Chants going forth from the centre, from Kansas, and thence, equidistant,
Shooting in pulses of fire, ceaseless, to vivify all.


In the Year 80 of the States,[3]
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 never forgotten.)

I harbour, for good or bad--I permit to speak, at every hazard--
Nature now without check, with original energy.


Take my leaves, America! take them South, and take them North!
Make welcome for them everywhere, for they are your own offspring;
Surround them, East and West! for they would surround you;
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 desolate,
I dare not proceed till I respectfully credit what you have left, wafted
I have perused it--own it is admirable, (moving awhile among it;)
Think nothing can ever be greater--nothing can ever deserve more than it
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
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.


For ever and for ever--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 mortality,
For I think I shall then supply myself with the poems of my soul, and of

I will make a song for these States, that no one State may under any
circumstances be subjected to another State;
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 fires;
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 joy?
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 also;
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 everything.

Each is not for its own sake;
I say the whole earth, and all the stars in the sky, are for religion's

I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough;
None has ever yet adored or worshipped 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
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, amours?
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 poet also;
But behold! such swiftly subside--burnt up for religion's sake;
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 coincide;
It, magnificent, beyond materials, with continuous hands, sweeps and
provides for all.


Know you: to drop in the earth the germs of a greater religion,
The following chants, each for its kind, I sing.

My comrade!
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 of Religion.

Melange mine own! the unseen and the seen;
Mysterious ocean where the streams empty;
Prophetic spirit of materials shifting and flickering around me;
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 me
Has winded and twisted around me that which holds me to him,
Any more than I am held to the heavens, to the spiritual world,
And to the identities of the Gods, my lovers, faithful and true,
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, or setting!
O strain, musical, flowing through ages--now reaching hither,
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
briars, hatching her brood.
I have seen the he-bird also;
I have paused to hear him, near at hand, inflating his throat, and joyfully

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 the echoes;
But subtle, clandestine, away beyond,
A charge transmitted, and gift occult, for those being born.


Near at hand to you a throat is now inflating itself and joyfully singing.
Ma femme!
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 any.

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
And I will show that there is no imperfection in the present--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 death;
And I will thread a thread through my poems that time and events are
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
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, substances, 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

Not the types set up by the printer return their impression, 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 soul,
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 hand?

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, sugar, rice!
Land of wheat, beef, pork! Land of wool and hemp! Land of the apple and
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 adobie!
Lands where the north-west Columbia winds, and where the south-west
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
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 ones!
The side by side! the elder and younger brothers! the bony-limbed!
The great women's land! the feminine! the experienced sisters and the
inexperienced sisters!
Far-breathed land! Arctic-braced! Mexican-breezed! the diverse! the
The Pennsylvanian! the Virginian! the double Carolinian!
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
Crossing the prairies--dwelling again in Chicago--dwelling 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[4]--each man and woman my
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,

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