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Complete Prose Works by Walt Whitman

Part 7 out of 13

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in having the bequeath'd libraries, countless shelves of volumes,
records, etc.; yet how serious the danger, depending entirely on them,
of the bloodless vein, the nerveless arm, the false application, at
second or third hand. We see that the real interest of this people of
ours in the theology, history, poetry, politics, and personal models
of the past, (the British islands, for instance, and indeed all the
past,) is not necessarily to mould ourselves or our literature upon
them, but to attain fuller, more definite comparisons, warnings, and
the insight to ourselves, our own present, and our own far grander,
different, future history, religion, social customs, &c. We see that
almost everything that has been written, sung, or stated, of old,
with reference to humanity under the feudal and oriental institutes,
religions, and for other lands, needs to be re-written, re-sung,
re-stated, in terms consistent with the institution of these States,
and to come in range and obedient uniformity with them.

We see, as in the universes of the material kosmos, after
meteorological, vegetable, and animal cycles, man at last arises, born
through them, to prove them, concentrate them, to turn upon them with
wonder and love--to command them, adorn them, and carry them upward
into superior realms--so, out of the series of the preceding social
and political universes, now arise these States. We see that while
many were supposing things establish'd and completed, really the
grandest things always remain; and discover that the work of the New
World is not ended, but only fairly begun.

We see our land, America, her literature, esthetics, &c., as,
substantially, the getting in form, or effusement and statement, of
deepest basic elements and loftiest final meanings, of history and
man--and the portrayal, (under the eternal laws and conditions of
beauty,) of our own physiognomy, the subjective tie and expression of
the objective, as from our own combination, continuation, and points
of view--and the deposit and record of the national mentality,
character, appeals, heroism, wars, and even liberties--where these,
and all, culminate in native literary and artistic formulation, to be
perpetuated; and not having which native, first-class formulation,
she will flounder about, and her other, however imposing, eminent
greatness, prove merely a passing gleam; but truly having which, she
will understand herself, live nobly, nobly contribute, emanate, and,
swinging, poised safely on herself, illumin'd and illuming, become
a full-form'd world, and divine Mother not only of material but
spiritual worlds, in ceaseless succession through time--the main thing
being the average, the bodily, the concrete, the democratic, the
popular, on which all the superstructures of the future are to
permanently rest.


[20] "From a territorial area of less than nine hundred thousand
square miles, the Union has expanded into over four millions and a
half--fifteen times larger than that of Great Britain and France
combined--with a shore-line, including Alaska, equal to the entire
circumference of the earth, and with a domain within these lines far
wider than that of the Romans in their proudest days of conquest and
renown. With a river, lake, and coastwise commerce estimated at over
two thousand millions of dollars per year; with a railway traffic
of four to six thousand millions per year, and the annual domestic
exchanges of the country running up to nearly ten thousand millions
per year; with over two thousand millions of dollars invested in
manufacturing, mechanical, and mining industry; with over five hundred
millions of acres of land in actual occupancy, valued, with their
appurtenances, at over seven thousand millions of dollars, and
producing annually crops valued at over three thousand millions of
dollars; with a realm which, if the density of Belgium's population
were possible, would be vast enough to include all the present
inhabitants of the world; and with equal rights guaranteed to even the
poorest and humblest of our forty millions of people--we can, with
a manly pride akin to that which distinguish'd the palmiest days of
Rome, claim," &c., &c., &c.--_Vice-President Colfax's Speech, July 4,

LATER--_London "Times," (Weekly,) June 23, '82_.

"The wonderful wealth-producing power of the United States defies and
sets at naught the grave drawbacks of a mischievous protective tariff,
and has already obliterated, almost wholly, the traces of the greatest
of modern civil wars. What is especially remarkable in the present
development of American energy and success is its wide and equable
distribution. North and south, east and west, on the shores of the
Atlantic and the Pacific, along the chain of the great lakes, in the
valley of the Mississippi, and on the coasts of the gulf of Mexico,
the creation of wealth and the increase of population are signally
exhibited. It is quite true, as has been shown by the recent
apportionment of population in the House of Representatives, that some
sections of the Union have advanced, relatively to the rest, in an
extraordinary and unexpected degree. But this does not imply that
the States which have gain'd no additional representatives or have
actually lost some have been stationary or have receded. The fact is
that the present tide of prosperity has risen so high that it has
overflow' d all barriers, and has fill'd up the back-waters, and
establish'd something like an approach to uniform success."

[21] See, for hereditaments, specimens, Walter Scott's Border
Minstrelsy, Percy's collection, Ellis's early English Metrical
Romances, the European continental poems of Walter of Aquitania, and
the Nibelungen, of pagan stock, but monkish-feudal redaction; the
history of the Troubadours, by Fauriel; even the far-back cumbrous
old Hindu epics, as indicating the Asian eggs out of which European
chivalry was hatch'd; Ticknor's chapters on the Cid, and on the
Spanish poems and poets of Calderon's time. Then always, and, of
course, as the superbest poetic culmination-expression of feudalism,
the Shaksperean dramas, in the attitudes, dialogue, characters, &c.,
of the princes, lords and gentlemen, the pervading atmosphere, the
implied and express'd standard of manners, the high port and proud
stomach, the regal embroidery of style, &c.

[22] Of these rapidly-sketch'd hiatuses, the two which seem to me most
serious are, for one, the condition, absence, or perhaps the singular
abeyance, of moral conscientious fibre all through American society;
and, for another, the appaling depletion of women in their powers of
sane athletic maternity, their crowning attribute, and ever making the
woman, in loftiest spheres, superior to the man.

I have sometimes thought, indeed, that the sole avenue and means of
a reconstructed sociology depended, primarily, on a new birth,
elevation, expansion, invigoration of woman, affording, for races to
come, (as the conditions that antedate birth are indispensable,) a
perfect motherhood. Great, great, indeed, far greater than they
know, is the sphere of women. But doubtless the question of such
new sociology all goes together, includes many varied and complex
influences and premises, and the man as well as the woman, and the
woman as well as the man.

[23] The question hinted here is one which time only can answer.
Must not the virtue of modern Individualism, continually enlarging,
usurping all, seriously affect, perhaps keep down entirely, in
America, the like of the ancient virtue of Patriotism, the fervid and
absorbing love of general country? I have no doubt myself that the two
will merge, and will mutually profit and brace each other, and that
from them a greater product, a third, will arise. But I feel that at
present they and their oppositions form a serious problem and paradox
in the United States.

[24] "SHOOTING NIAGARA."--I was at first roused to much anger and
abuse by this essay from Mr. Carlyle, so insulting to the theory of
America--but happening to think afterwards how I had more than once
been in the like mood, during which his essay was evidently cast, and
seen persons and things in the same light, (indeed some might say
there are signs of the same feeling in these Vistas)--I have since
read it again, not only as a study, expressing as it does certain
judgments from the highest feudal point of view, but have read it with
respect as coming from an earnest soul, and as contributing certain
sharp-cutting metallic grains, which, if not gold or silver, may be
good, hard, honest iron.

[25] For fear of mistake, I may as well distinctly specify, as
cheerfully included in the model and standard of these Vistas, a
practical, stirring, worldly, money-making, even materialistic
character. It is undeniable that our farms, stores, offices,
dry-goods, coal and groceries, enginery, cash-accounts, trades,
earnings, markets, &c., should be attended to in earnest, and actively
pursued, just as if they had a real and permanent existence. I
perceive clearly that the extreme business energy, and this almost
maniacal appetite for wealth prevalent in the United States, are parts
of amelioration and progress, indispensably needed to prepare the
very results I demand. My theory includes riches, and the getting
of riches, and the amplest products, power, activity, inventions,
movements, &c. Upon them, as upon substrata, I raise the edifice
design'd in these Vistas.

[26] The whole present system of the officering and personnel of the
army and navy of these States, and the spirit and letter of their
trebly-aristocratic rules and regulations, is a monstrous exotic,
a nuisance and revolt, and belong here just as much as orders of
nobility, or the Pope's council of cardinals. I say if the present
theory of our army and navy is sensible and true, then the rest of
America is an unmitigated fraud.

[27] A: After the rest is satiated, all interest culminates in the
field of persons, and never flags there. Accordingly in this field
have the great poets and literatuses signally toil'd. They too, in all
ages, all lands, have been creators, fashioning, making types of men
and women, as Adam and Eve are made in the divine fable. Behold,
shaped, bred by orientalism, feudalism, through their long growth and
culmination, and breeding back in return--(when shall we have an
equal series, typical of democracy?)--behold, commencing in primal
Asia, (apparently formulated, in what beginning we know, in the gods
of the mythologies, and coming down thence,) a few samples out of the
countless product, bequeath'd to the moderns, bequeath'd to America as
studies. For the men, Yudishtura, Rama, Arjuna, Solomon, most of
the Old and New Testament characters; Achilles, Ulysses, Theseus,
Prometheus, Hercules, Aeneas, Plutarch's heroes; the Merlin of Celtic
bards; the Cid, Arthur and his knights, Siegfried and Hagen in the
Nibelungen; Roland and Oliver; Roustam in the Shah-Nemah; and so on to
Milton's Satan, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Shakspere's Hamlet, Richard
II., Lear, Marc Antony, &c., and the modern Faust. These, I say, are
models, combined, adjusted to other standards than America's, but of
priceless value to her and hers.

Among women, the goddesses of the Egyptian, Indian and Greek
mythologies, certain Bible characters, especially the Holy Mother;
Cleopatra, Penelope; the portraits of Brunhelde and Chriemhilde in
the Nibelungen; Oriana, Una, &c.; the modern Consuelo, Walter Scott's
Jeanie and Effie Deans, &c., &c. (Yet woman portray'd or outlin'd at
her best, or as perfect human mother, does not hitherto, it seems to
me, fully appear in literature.)

[28] Note, to-day, an instructive, curious spectacle and conflict.
Science, (twin in its fields, of Democracy in its)--Science, testing
absolutely all thoughts, all works, has already burst well upon the
world--a sun, mounting, most illuminating, most glorious--surely never
again to set. But against it, deeply entrench'd, holding possession,
yet remains, (not only through the churches and schools, but by
imaginative literature, and unregenerate poetry,) the fossil theology
of the mythic-materialistic, superstitious, untaught and credulous,
fable-loving, primitive ages of humanity.

[29] It is to the development, identification, and general prevalence
of that fervid comradeship, (the adhesive love, at least rivaling the
amative love hitherto possessing imaginative literature, if not going
beyond it,) that I look for the counterbalance and offset of
our materialistic and vulgar American democracy, and for the
spiritualization thereof. Many will say it is a dream, and will not
follow my inferences: but I confidently expect a time when there will
be seen, running like a half-hid warp through all the myriad audible
and visible worldly interests of America, threads of manly friendship,
fond and loving, pure and sweet, strong and life-long, carried
to degrees hitherto unknown--not only giving tone to individual
character, and making it unprecedently emotional, muscular, heroic,
and refined, but having the deepest relations to general politics. I
say democracy infers such loving comradeship, as its most inevitable
twin or counterpart, without which it will be incomplete, in vain, and
incapable of perpetuating itself.

[30] I am reminded as I write that out of this very conscience, or
idea of conscience, of intense moral right, and in its name and
strain'd construction, the worst fanaticisms, wars, persecutions,
murders, &c., have yet, in all lands, in the past, been broach'd, and
have come to their devilish fruition. Much is to be said--but I may
say here, and in response, that side by side with the unflagging
stimulation of the elements of religion and conscience must henceforth
move with equal sway, science, absolute reason, and the general
proportionate development of the whole man. These scientific
facts, deductions, are divine too--precious counted parts of moral
civilization, and, with physical health, indispensable to it, to
prevent fanaticism. For abstract religion, I perceive, is easily led
astray, ever credulous, and is capable of devouring, remorseless, like
fire and flame. Conscience, too, isolated from all else, and from the
emotional nature, may but attain the beauty and purity of glacial,
snowy ice. We want, for these States, for the general character,
a cheerful, religious fervor, endued with the ever-present
modifications of the human emotions, friendship, benevolence, with a
fair field for scientific inquiry, the right of individual judgment,
and always the cooling influences of material Nature.

[31] The culmination and fruit of literary artistic expression, and
its final fields of pleasure for the human soul, are in metaphysics,
including the mysteries of the spiritual world, the soul itself, and
the question of the immortal continuation of our identity. In all
ages, the mind of man has brought up here--and always will. Here, at
least, of whatever race or era, we stand on common ground. Applause,
too, is unanimous, antique or modern. Those authors who work well in
this field--though their reward, instead of a handsome percentage,
or royalty, may be but simply the laurel-crown of the victors in the
great Olympic games--will be dearest to humanity, and their works,
however esthetically defective, will be treasur'd forever. The
altitude of literature and poetry has always been religion--and
always will be. The Indian Vedas, the Nackas of Zoroaster, the Tal
mud of the Jews, the Old Testament, the Gospel of Christ and his
disciples, Plato's works, the Koran of Mohammed, the Edda of Snorro,
and so on toward our own day, to Swedenborg, and to the invaluable
contributions of Leibnitz, Kant and Hegel--these, with such poems only
in which, (while singing well of persons and events, of the passions
of man, and the shows of the material universe,) the religious tone,
the consciousness of mystery, the recognition of the future, of the
unknown, of Deity over and under all, and of the divine purpose, are
never absent, but indirectly give tone to all--exhibit literature's
real heights and elevations, towering up like the great mountains of
the earth.

Standing on this ground--the last, the highest, only permanent
ground--and sternly criticising, from it, all works, either of the
literary, or any art, we have peremptorily to dismiss every pretensive
production, however fine its esthetic or intellectual points, which
violates or ignores, or even does not celebrate, the central divine
idea of All, suffusing universe, of eternal trains of purpose, in the
development, by however slow degrees, of the physical, moral, and
spiritual kosmos. I say he has studied, meditated to no profit,
whatever may be his mere erudition, who has not absorbed this simple
consciousness and faith. It is not entirely new--but it is for
Democracy to elaborate it, and look to build upon and expand from
it, with uncompromising reliance. Above the doors of teaching the
inscription is to appear, Though little or nothing can be absolutely
known, perceiv'd, except from a point of view which is evanescent, yet
we know at least one permanency, that Time and Space, in the will of
God, furnish successive chains, completions of material births and
beginnings, solve all discrepancies, fears and doubts, and eventually
fulfil happiness--and that the prophecy of those births, namely
spiritual results, throws the true arch over all teaching, all
science. The local considerations of sin, disease, deformity,
ignorance, death, &c., and their measurement by the superficial mind,
and ordinary legislation and theology, are to be met by science,
boldly accepting, promulging this faith, and planting the seeds of
superber laws--of the explication of the physical universe through the
spiritual--and clearing the way for a religion, sweet and unimpugnable
alike to little child or great savan.


_Not the whole matter, but some side facts worth conning to-day and
any day_.

I consider the war of attempted secession, 1860-'65, not as a struggle
of two distinct and separate peoples, but a conflict (often happening,
and very fierce) between the passions and paradoxes of one and the
same identity--perhaps the only terms on which that identity could
really become fused, homogeneous and lasting. The origin and
conditions out of which it arose, are full of lessons, full of
warnings yet to the Republic--and always will be. The underlying and
principal of those origins are yet singularly ignored. The Northern
States were really just as responsible for that war, (in its
precedents, foundations, instigations,) as the South. Let me try to
give my view. From the age of 21 to 40, (1840-'60,) I was interested
in the political movements of the land, not so much as a participant,
but as an observer, and a regular voter at the elections. I think I
was conversant with the springs of action, and their workings, not
only in New York city and Brooklyn, but understood them in the whole
country, as I had made leisurely tours through all the middle States,
and partially through the western and southern, and down to New
Orleans, in which city I resided for some time. (I was there at the
close of the Mexican war--saw and talk'd with General Taylor, and the
other generals and officers, who were feted and detain'd several days
on their return victorious from that expedition.)

Of course many and very contradictory things, specialties,
developments, constitutional views, &c., went to make up the origin of
the war--but the most significant general fact can be best indicated
and stated as follows: For twenty-five years previous to the
outbreak, the controling "Democratic" nominating conventions of our
Republic--starting from their primaries in wards or districts, and
so expanding to counties, powerful cities, States, and to the great
Presidential nominating conventions--were getting to represent and be
composed of more and more putrid and dangerous materials. Let me give
a schedule, or list, of one of these representative conventions for
a long time before, and inclusive of, that which nominated Buchanan.
(Remember they had come to be the fountains and tissues of the
American body politic, forming, as it were, the whole blood,
legislation, office-holding, &c.) One of these conventions, from 1840
to '60, exhibited a spectacle such as could never be seen except in
our own age and in these States. The members who composed it were,
seven-eighths of them, the meanest kind of bawling and blowing
office-holders, office-seekers, pimps, malignants, conspirators,
murderers, fancy-men, custom-house clerks, contractors, kept-editors,
spaniels well-train'd to carry and fetch, jobbers, infidels,
disunionists, terrorists, mail-riflers, slave-catchers, pushers of
slavery, creatures of the President, creatures of would-be Presidents,
spies, bribers, compromisers, lobbyers, sponges, ruin'd sports,
expell'd gamblers, policy-backers, monte-dealers, duellists, carriers
of conceal'd weapons, deaf men, pimpled men, scarr'd inside with vile
disease, gaudy outside with gold chains made from the people's money
and harlots' money twisted together; crawling, serpentine men, the
lousy combings and born freedom-sellers of the earth. And whence came
they? From back-yards and bar-rooms; from out of the custom-houses,
marshals' offices, post-offices, and gambling-hells; from the
President's house, the jail, the station-house; from unnamed
by-places, where devilish disunion was hatch'd at midnight; from
political hearses, and from the coffins inside, and from the shrouds
inside of the coffins; from the tumors and abscesses of the land; from
the skeletons and skulls in the vaults of the federal almshouses; and
from the running sores of the great cities. Such, I say, form'd,
or absolutely controll'd the forming of, the entire personnel, the
atmosphere, nutriment and chyle, of our municipal, State, and National
politics--substantially permeating, handling, deciding, and wielding
everything--legislation, nominations, elections, "public sentiment,"
&c.--while the great masses of the people, farmers, mechanics, and
traders, were helpless in their gripe. These conditions were mostly
prevalent in the north and west, and especially in New York and
Philadelphia cities; and the southern leaders, (bad enough, but of a
far higher order,) struck hands and affiliated with, and used them.
Is it strange that a thunder-storm follow'd such morbid and stifling

I say then, that what, as just outlined, heralded, and made the ground
ready for secession revolt, ought to be held up, through all the
future, as the most instructive lesson in American political
history--the most significant warning and beacon-light to coming
generations. I say that the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth
terms of the American Presidency have shown that the villainy and
shallowness of rulers (back'd by the machinery of great parties) are
just as eligible to these States as to any foreign despotism, kingdom,
or empire--there is not a bit of difference. History is to record
those three Presidentiads, and especially the administrations of
Fillmore and Buchanan, as so far our topmost warning and shame.
Never were publicly display'd more deform'd, mediocre, snivelling,
unreliable, false-hearted men. Never were these States so insulted,
and attempted to be betray'd. All the main purposes for which the
government was establish'd were openly denied. The perfect equality of
slavery with freedom was flauntingly preach'd in the north--nay, the
superiority of slavery. The slave trade was proposed to be renew'd.
Everywhere frowns and misunderstandings--everywhere exasperations and
humiliations. (The slavery contest is settled--and the war is long
over--yet do not those putrid conditions, too many of them, still
exist? still result in diseases, fevers, wounds--not of war and army
hospitals--but the wounds and diseases of peace?)

Out of those generic influences, mainly in New York, Pennsylvania,
Ohio, &c., arose the attempt at disunion. To philosophical
examination, the malignant fever of that war shows its embryonic
sources, and the original nourishment of its life and growth, in the
north. I say secession, below the surface, originated and was brought
to maturity in the free States. I allude to the score of years
preceding 1860. My deliberate opinion is now, that if at the opening
of the contest the abstract duality-question of _slavery and quiet_
could have been submitted to a direct popular vote, as against their
opposite, they would have triumphantly carried the day in a majority
of the northern States--in the large cities, leading off with New York
and Philadelphia, by tremendous majorities. The events of '61 amazed
everybody north and south, and burst all prophecies and calculations
like bubbles. But even then, and during the whole war, the stern fact
remains that (not only did the north put it down, but) _the secession
cause had numerically just as many sympathizers in the free as in the
rebel States_.

As to slavery, abstractly and practically, (its idea, and the
determination to establish and expand it, especially in the new
territories, the future America,) it is too common, I repeat, to
identify it exclusively with the south. In fact down to the opening of
the war, the whole country had about an equal hand in it. The north
had at least been just as guilty, if not more guilty; and the east and
west had. The former Presidents and Congresses had been guilty--the
governors and legislatures of every northern State had been guilty,
and the mayors of New York and other northern cities had all been
guilty--their hands were all stain'd. And as the conflict took decided
shape, it is hard to tell which class, the leading southern or
northern disunionists, was more stunn'd and disappointed at the
non-action of the free-State secession element, so largely existing
and counted on by those leaders, both sections.

So much for that point, and for the north. As to the inception and
direct instigation of the war, in the south itself, I shall not
attempt interiors or complications. Behind all, the idea that it was
from a resolute and arrogant determination on the part of the extreme
slaveholders, the Calhounites, to carry the States-rights' portion
of the constitutional compact to its farthest verge, and nationalize
slavery, or else disrupt the Union, and found a new empire, with
slavery for its corner-stone, was and is undoubtedly the true theory.
(If successful, this attempt might--I am not sure, but it might--have
destroy'd not only our American republic, in anything like first-class
proportions, in itself and its prestige, but for ages at least, the
cause of Liberty and Equality everywhere--and would have been the
greatest triumph of reaction, and the severest blow to political and
every other freedom, possible to conceive. Its worst result would
have inured to the southern States themselves.) That our national
democratic experiment, principle, and machinery, could triumphantly
sustain such a shock, and that the Constitution could weather it, like
a ship a storm, and come out of it as sound and whole as before, is
by far the most signal proof yet of the stability of that experiment,
Democracy, and of those principles, and that Constitution.

Of the war itself, we know in the ostent what has been done. The
numbers of the dead and wounded can be told or approximated, the debt
posted and put on record, the material events narrated, &c. Meantime,
elections go on, laws are pass'd, political parties struggle, issue
their platforms, &c., just the same as before. But immensest results,
not only in politics, but in literature, poems, and sociology, are
doubtless waiting yet unform'd in the future. How long they will wait
I cannot tell. The pageant of history's retrospect shows us, ages
since, all Europe marching on the crusades, those arm'd uprisings of
the people, stirr'd by a mere idea, to grandest attempt--and, when
once baffled in it, returning, at intervals, twice, thrice, and again.
An unsurpass'd series of revolutionary events, influences. Yet it took
over two hundred years for the seeds of the crusades to germinate,
before beginning even to sprout. Two hundred years they lay, sleeping,
not dead, but dormant in the ground. Then, out of them, unerringly,
arts, travel, navigation, politics, literature, freedom, the spirit of
adventure, inquiry, all arose, grew, and steadily sped on to what we
see at present. Far back there, that huge agitation-struggle of the
crusades stands, as undoubtedly the embryo, the start, of the high
preeminence of experiment, civilization and enterprise which the
European nations have since sustain'd, and of which these States are
the heirs.

Another illustration--(history is full of them, although the war
itself, the victory of the Union, and the relations of our equal
States, present features of which there are no precedents in
the past.) The conquest of England eight centuries ago, by the
Franco-Normans--the obliteration of the old, (in many respects so
needing obliteration)--the Domesday Book, and the repartition of
the land--the old impedimenta removed, even by blood and ruthless
violence, and a new, progressive genesis establish'd, new seeds
sown--time has proved plain enough that, bitter as they were, all
these were the most salutary series of revolutions that could possibly
have happen'd. Out of them, and by them mainly, have come, out of
Albic, Roman and Saxon England--and without them could not have
come--not only the England of the 500 years down to the present,
and of the present--but these States. Nor, except for that terrible
dislocation and overturn, would these States, as they are, exist

It is certain to me that the United States, by virtue of that war and
its results, and through that and them only, are now ready to enter,
and must certainly enter, upon their genuine career in history, as
no more torn and divided in their spinal requisites, but a great
homogeneous Nation--free States all--a moral and political unity in
variety, such as Nature shows in her grandest physical works, and as
much greater than any mere work of Nature, as the moral and political,
the work of man, his mind, his soul, are, in their loftiest sense,
greater than the merely physical. Out of that war not only has the
nationality of the States escaped from being strangled, but more than
any of the rest, and, in my opinion, more than the north itself, the
vital heart and breath of the south have escaped as from the pressure
of a general nightmare, and are henceforth to enter on a life,
development, and active freedom, whose realities are certain in the
future, notwithstanding all the southern vexations of the hour--a
development which could not possibly have been achiev'd on any less
terms, or by any other means than that grim lesson, or something
equivalent to it. And I predict that the south is yet to outstrip the


PREFACE, 1855 _To first issue of Leaves of Grass. _Brooklyn, N.Y._

America does not repel the past, or what the past 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 impatient because
the slough still sticks to opinions and manners in 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 action untied from strings, necessarily blind to particulars and
details, magnificently moving in masses. Here is the hospitality
which for ever indicates heroes. Here the performance, disdaining the
trivial, unapproach'd 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
upon women.

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 parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors--but
always most in the common people, south, north, west, east, in all its
States, through all its mighty amplitude. The largeness of the
nation, however, were monstrous without a corresponding largeness and
generosity of the spirit of the citizen. Not 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
in North and South America, were less than the small theatre of the
antique, or the aimless sleep-walking of the middle ages!) The pride
of the United States leaves the wealth and finesse of the cities, and
all returns of commerce and agriculture, and all the magnitude of
geography or shows of exterior victory, to enjoy the sight and
realization 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. 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.
Whatever stagnates in the flat of custom or obedience or legislation,
the great poet 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 envelopes them. The
time straying toward infidelity and confections and persiflage he
withholds by steady faith. 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 the greatest poet,
but seldom 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 great 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 color, 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
open'd the space of a peach-pit, 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 out-door
people. They can never be assisted by poets to perceive--some may,
but they never can. The poetic quality is not marshal'd 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 and 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 labor to others, hate
tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward
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--re-examine all
you have been told in school or church or in any book, and 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
already plough'd 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 the scenes 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 the fruition of his love, and of all
perfection and beauty.

The fruition of beauty is no chance of miss or hit--it is as
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. These understand the law
of perfection in masses and floods--that it is profuse and
impartial--that there is not a minute of the light or dark, nor an
acre of the earth and 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 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 disjoin'd
but join'd. The greatest poet forms the consistence of what is to be,
from what has been and is. He drags the dead out of their coffins and
stands them again on their feet. He says to the past, Rise and walk
before me that I may realize you. He learns the lesson--he places
himself where the future becomes present. The greatest poet does
not only dazzle his rays over character and scenes and passions--he
finally ascends, and finishes all--he exhibits the 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 moralize or make applications of morals--he
knows the soul. The soul has that measureless pride which consists in
never acknowledging any lessons or deductions 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

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
insouciance 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 look'd on him who has achiev'd it
you have look'd on one of the masters of the artists of all nations
and times. You shall not contemplate the flight of the gray 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 great
poet has less a mark'd 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 portray 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 first-class 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, behavior, the craft of art,
an appropriate native grand opera, shipcraft, or any craft, he is
greatest for ever and 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 poems 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 inclose you inclose, what we enjoy you may enjoy. Did
you suppose there could be only one Supreme? We affirm there can be
unnumber'd 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 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 mark'd 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
braced him best--there he returns after all his goings and comings.
The sailor and traveler--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 utter'd, they sent the seed of the conception
of it--of them and by them stand the visible proofs of souls. If
there shall be love and content between the father and the son, and
if the greatness of the son is the exuding of the greatness of
the father, there shall be love between the poet and the man of
demonstrable science. In the beauty of poems are henceforth 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 supernatural, and all that was twined with it or educed out of
it, departs as a dream. What has ever happen'd--what happens, and
whatever may or shall happen, the vital laws inclose all. They are
sufficient for any case and for all cases--none to be hurried or
retarded--any special 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 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 candor. Upon this
basis philosophy speculates, ever looking towards 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 characterize the great master
--spoilt in one principle, all is spoilt. The great master has nothing
to do with miracles. He sees health for himself in being one of the
mass--he sees the hiatus in singular eminence. To the perfect shape
comes common ground. To be under the general law is great, for that
is to correspond with it. The master knows that he is unspeakably
great, and that all are unspeakably great--that nothing, for instance,
is greater than to conceive children, and bring them up well--that to
_be_ is just as great as to perceive or tell.

In the make of the great masters the idea of political liberty is
indispensable. Liberty takes the adherence of heroes wherever man and
woman 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.

As the attributes of the poets of the kosmos concentre in the real
body, and in the pleasure of things, they possess the superiority of
genuineness over all fiction and romance. As they emit themselves,
facts are shower'd over with light--the daylight is lit with more
volatile light--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-hull'd
clean-shap'd New York clipper at sea under steam or full sail gleams
with unmatch'd 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
realize or perceive more than any one else. The owner of the library
is not he who holds a legal title to it, having bought and paid for
it. Any one and every one is owner of the library, (indeed he or she
alone is owner,) who can read the same through all the varieties of
tongues and subjects and styles, and in whom they enter with ease, and
make supple and powerful and rich and large.

These American States, strong and healthy and accomplish'd, 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 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 allow'd--but those ornaments
can be allow'd 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 jetted and conceiv'd
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
demean'd to romances. As soon as histories are properly told, no more
need of romances.

The great poets are to be known by the absence in them of tricks, and
by the justification of perfect personal candor. All faults may be
forgiven of him who has perfect candor. 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
gather'd itself in a mass have 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 discover'd and
despised--and that the soul has never once been fool'd and never can
be fool'd--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, nor in that condition which
precedes the birth of babes, nor at any time during the changes of
life, nor in any stretch of abeyance or action 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 destuctiveness and causality, with a perfect sense
of the oneness of nature, and the propriety of the same spirit applied
to human affairs, are called up of the float of the brain of the world
to be parts of the greatest poet from his birth out of his mother's
womb, and from her birth out of her mother's. 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 for
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 clap-boards
around and shingles overhead on a lot of American soil own'd, 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
underhand dodgings, or infinitesimals of parlors, or shameless
stuffing while others starve, and all the loss of the bloom and odor
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 naivety, (even if you have
achiev'd a secure 10,000 a year, or election to Congress or the
Governorship,) and the ghastly chatter of a death without serenity or
majesty, is the great fraud upon modern civilization and forethought,
blotching the surface and system which civilization undeniably drafts,
and moistening with tears the immense features it spreads and spreads
with such velocity before the reach'd kisses of the soul.

Ever the right explanation remains to be made about prudence. The
prudence of the mere wealth and respectability of the most esteem'd
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 the wisdom that fills the thinness of a year,
or seventy or eighty years--to the 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. Nor can the push of charity or
personal force ever be anything else' than the profoundest reason,
whether it brings argument to hand or no. No specification is
necessary--to add or subtract or divide is in vain. Little or big,
learn'd or unlearn'd, white or black, legal or illegal, sick or well,
from the first inspiration down the windpipe to the last expiration
out of it, all that a male or female does that is vigorous and
benevolent and clean is so much sure profit to him or her in the
unshakable order of the universe, and through the whole scope of it
forever. The prudence of the greatest poet answers at last the craving
and glut of the soul, 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, and knows no possible forgiveness or deputed atonement.

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--if he be not himself the age transfigur'd, and if to him is
not open'd 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 shapes 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? 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 middleaged 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 realize, and be content and full? To no such
terminus does the greatest poet bring--he brings neither cessation nor
shelter'd fatness and ease. The touch of him, like Nature, tells in
action. Whom he takes he takes with firm sure grasp into live regions
previously unattain'd--thenceforward is no rest--they see the space
and ineffable sheen that turn the old spots and lights into dead
vacuums. 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 unabash'd 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. A new order
shall arise, and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall
be his own priest. 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 earth.

The English language befriends the grand American expression--it is
brawny enough, and limber and full enough. On the tough stock of a
race who through all change of circumstance was never without the
idea of political liberty, which is the animus of all liberty, it has
attracted the terms of daintier and gayer and subtler and more elegant
tongues. It is the powerful language of resistance--it is the dialect
of common sense. It is the speech of the proud and melancholy races,
and of all who aspire. It is the chosen tongue to express growth,
faith, self-esteem, freedom, justice, equality, friendliness,
amplitude, prudence, decision, and courage. It is the medium that
shall wellnigh express the inexpressible.

No great literature, nor any like style of behavior or oratory, or
social intercourse or household arrangements, or public institutions,
or the treatment by bosses of employ'd people, nor executive detail,
or detail of the army and navy, nor spirit of legislation or courts,
or police or tuition or architecture, or songs or amusements, 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, in Texas, Ohio, Canada, must answer for any individual or
nation that serves for a part of my materials. Does this answer? Is it
for the nursing of the young of the republic? Does it solve readily
with the sweet milk of the nipples of the breasts of the Mother of
Many Children?

America prepares with Composure and good-will 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, are not unappreciated--they fall in their
place and do their work. The soul of the nation also does its work. It
rejects none, it permits all. Only 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.

PREFACE, 1872 To As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free Now Thou Mother with
thy Equal Brood, _in permanent edition_.

The impetus and ideas urging me, for some years past, to an utterance,
or attempt at utterance, of New World songs, and an epic of Democracy,
having already had their publish'd expression, as well as I can expect
to give it, in "Leaves of Grass," the present and any future pieces
from me are really but the surplusage forming after that volume,
or the wake eddying behind it. I fulfill'd in that an imperious
conviction, and the commands of my nature as total and irresistible
as those which make the sea flow, or the globe revolve. But of this
supplementary volume, I confess I am not so certain. Having from early
manhood abandon'd the business pursuits and applications usual in my
time and country, and obediently yielded myself up ever since to the
impetus mention'd, and to the work of expressing those ideas, it may
be that mere habit has got dominion of me, when there is no real need
of saying anything further. But what is life but an experiment? and
mortality but an exercise? with reference to results beyond. And so
shall my poems be. If incomplete here, and superfluous there, _n'
importe_--the earnest trial and persistent exploration shall at least
be mine, and other success failing shall be success enough. I have
been more anxious, anyhow, to suggest the songs of vital endeavor and
manly evolution, and furnish something for races of outdoor athletes,
than to make perfect rhymes, or reign in the parlors. I ventur'd
from the beginning my own way, taking chances--and would keep on

I will therefore not conceal from any persons, known or unknown to
me, who take an interest in the matter, that I have the ambition of
devoting yet a few years to poetic composition. The mighty present
age! To absorb and express in poetry, anything of it--of its world
--America--cities and States--the years, the events of our Nineteeth
century--the rapidity of movement--the violent contrasts, fluctuations
of light and shade, of hope and fear--the entire revolution made by
science in the poetic method--these great new underlying facts and new
ideas rushing and spreading everywhere;--truly a mighty age! As if in
some colossal drama, acted again like those of old under the open sun,
the Nations of our time, and all the characteristics of Civilization,
seem hurrying, stalking across, flitting from wing to wing, gathering,
closing up, toward some long-prepared, most tremendous denouement.
Not to conclude the infinite scenas of the race's life and toil and
happiness and sorrow, but haply that the boards be clear'd from
oldest, worst incumbrances, accumulations, and Man resume the eternal
play anew, and under happier, freer auspices. To me, the United States
are important because in this colossal drama they are unquestionably
designated for the leading parts, for many a century to come. In them
history and humanity seem to seek to culminate. Our broad areas are
even now the busy theatre of plots, passions, interests, and suspended
problems, compared to which the intrigues of the past of Europe, the
wars of dynasties, the scope of kings and kingdoms, and even the
development of peoples, as hitherto, exhibit scales of measurement
comparatively narrow and trivial. And on these areas of ours, as on a
stage, sooner or later, something like an _eclairissement_ of all the
past civilization of Europe and Asia is probably to be evolved.

The leading parts. Not to be acted, emulated here, by us again, that
role till now foremost in history--not to become a conqueror nation,
or to achieve the glory of mere military, or diplomatic, or commercial
superiority--but to become the grand producing land of nobler men and
women--of copious races, cheerful, healthy, tolerant, free--to become
the most friendly nation, (the United States indeed)--the modern
composite nation, form'd from all, with room for all, welcoming all
immigrants--accepting the work of our own interior development, as
the work fitly filling ages and ages to come;--the leading nation of
peace, but neither ignorant nor incapable of being the leading nation
of war;--not the man's nation only, but the woman's nation--a land of
splendid mothers, daughters, sisters, wives.

Our America to-day I consider in many respects as but indeed a vast
seething mass of _materials_, ampler, better, (worse also,) than
previously known--eligible to be used to carry towards its crowning
stage, and build for good, the great ideal nationality of the future,
the nation of the body and the soul,[32]--no limit here to land,
help, opportunities, mines, products, demands, supplies, etc.;--with
(I think) our political organization, National, State, and Municipal,
permanently establish'd, as far ahead as we can calculate--but, so
far, no social, literary, religious, or esthetic organizations,
consistent with our politics, or becoming to us--which organizations
can only come, in time, through great democratic ideas,
religion--through science, which now, like a new sunrise, ascending,
begins to illuminate all--and through our own begotten poets and
literatuses. (The moral of a late well-written book on civilization
seems to be that the only real foundation-walls and bases--and also
_sine qua non_ afterward--of true and full civilization, is the
eligibility and certainty of boundless products for feeding, clothing,
sheltering everybody--perennial fountains of physical and domestic
comfort, with intercommunication, and with civil and ecclesiastical
freedom--and that then the esthetic and mental business will take care
of itself. Well, the United States have establish'd this basis, and
upon scales of extent, variety, vitality, and continuity, rivaling
those of Nature; and have now to proceed to build an edifice upon
it. I say this edifice is only to be fitly built by new literatures,
especially the poetic. I say a modern image-making creation is
indispensable to fuse and express the modern political and scientific
creations--and then the trinity will be complete.)

When I commenced, years ago, elaborating the plan of my poems, and
continued turning over that plan, and shifting it in my mind
through many years, (from the age of twenty-eight to thirty-five,)
experimenting much, and writing and abandoning much, one deep purpose
underlay the others, and has underlain it and its execution ever
since--and that has been the religious purpose. Amid many changes,
and a formulation taking far different shape from what I at first
supposed, this basic purpose has never been departed from in the
composition of my verses. Not of course to exhibit itself in the old
ways, as in writing hymns or psalms with an eye to the church-pew, or
to express conventional pietism, or the sickly yearnings of devotees,
but in new ways, and aiming at the widest sub-bases and inclusions
of humanity, and tallying the fresh air of sea and land. I will see,
(said I to myself,) whether there is not, for my purposes as poet, a
religion, and a sound religious germenancy in the average human race,
at least in their modern development in the United States, and in
the hardy common fiber and native yearnings and elements, deeper and
larger, and affording more profitable returns, than all mere sects
or churches--as boundless, joyous, and vital as Nature itself--a
germenancy that has too long been unencouraged, unsung, almost
unknown. With science, the old theology of the East, long in its
dotage, begins evidently to die and disappear. But (to my mind)
science--and may-be such will prove its principal service--as
evidently prepares the way for One indescribably grander--Time's young
but perfect offspring--the new theology--heir of the West--lusty and
loving, and wondrous beautiful. For America, and for today, just the
same as any day, the supreme and final science is the science of
God--what we call science being only its minister--as Democracy is, or
shall be also. And a poet of America (I said) must fill himself with
such thoughts, and chant his best out of them. And as those were the
convictions and aims, for good or bad, of "Leaves of Grass," they are
no less the intention of this volume. As there can be, in my opinion,
no sane and complete personality, nor any grand and electric
nationality, without the stock element of religion imbuing all the
other elements, (like heat in chemistry, invisible itself, but the
life of all visible life,) so there can be no poetry worthy the name
without that element behind all. The time has certainly come to begin
to discharge the idea of religion, in the United States, from mere
ecclesiasticism, and from Sundays and churches and church-going, and
assign it to that general position, chiefest, most indispensable, most
exhilarating, to which the others are to be adjusted, inside of all
human character, and education, and affairs. The people, especially
the young men and women of America, must begin to learn that religion,
(like poetry,) is something far, far different from what they
supposed. It is, indeed, too important to the power and perpetuity of
the New World to be consign'd any longer to the churches, old or
new, Catholic or Protestant--Saint this, or Saint that. It must be
consign'd henceforth to democracy _en masse_, and to literature. It
must enter into the poems of the nation. It must make the nation.

The Four Years' War is over--and in the peaceful, strong, exciting,
fresh occasions of to-day, and of the future, that strange, sad war is
hurrying even now to be forgotten. The camp, the drill, the lines of
sentries, the prisons, the hospitals--(ah! the hospitals!)--all have
passed away--all seem now like a dream. A new race, a young and lusty
generation, already sweeps in with oceanic currents, obliterating the
war, and all its scars, its mounded graves, and all its reminiscences
of hatred, conflict, death. So let It be obliterated. I say the life
of the present and the future makes undeniable demands upon us each
and all, south, north, east, west. To help put the United States (even
if only in imagination) hand in hand, in one unbroken circle in a
chant--to rouse them to the unprecedented grandeur of the part they
are to play, and are even now playing--to the thought of their great
future, and the attitude conform'd to it--especially their great
esthetic, moral, scientific future, (of which their vulgar material
and political present is but as the preparatory tuning of instruments
by an orchestra,) these, as hitherto, are still, for me, among my
hopes, ambitions.

"Leaves of Grass," already publish'd, is, in its intentions, the song
of a great composite _democratic individual_, male or female. And
following on and amplifying the same purpose, I suppose I have in my
mind to run through the chants of this volume, (if ever completed,)
the thread-voice, more or less audible, of an aggregated, inseparable,
unprecedented, vast, composite, electric _democratic nationality_.

Purposing, then, to still fill out, from time to time through years
to come, the following volume, (unless prevented,) I conclude this
preface to the first instalment of it, pencil'd in the open air, on
my fifty-third birth-day, by wafting to you, dear reader, whoever you
are, (from amid the fresh scent of the grass, the pleasant coolness
of the forenoon breeze, the lights and shades of tree-boughs silently
dappling and playing around me, and the notes of the cat-bird for
undertone and accompaniment,) my true good-will and love. W. W.
_Washington, D. C., May_ 31, 1872.


[32] The problems of the achievements of this crowning stage through
future first-class National Singers, Orators, Artists, and others--of
creating in literature an _imaginative_ New World, the correspondent
and counterpart of the current Scientific and Political New
Worlds,--and the perhaps distant, but still delightful prospect, (for
our children, if not in our own day,) of delivering America, and,
indeed, all Christian lands everywhere, from the thin moribund and
watery, but appallingly extensive nuisance of conventional poetry--by
putting something really alive and substantial in its place--I have
undertaken to grapple with, and argue, in the preceding "Democratic

PREFACE, 1876 _To the two-volume Centennial Edition of_ Leaves of
Grass _and_ Two Rivulets.

At the eleventh hour, under grave illness, I gather up the pieces of
prose and poetry left over since publishing, a while since, my first
and main volume, "Leaves or Grass"--pieces, here, some new, some old--
nearly all of them (sombre as many are, making this almost death's
book) composed in by-gone atmospheres of perfect health--and preceded
by the freshest collection, the little "Two Rivulets," now send them
out, embodied in the present melange, partly as my contribution and
outpouring to celebrate, in some sort, the feature of the time, the
first centennial of our New World nationality--and then as chyle and
nutriment to that moral, indissoluble union, equally representing all,
and the mother of many coming centennials.

And e'en for flush and proof of our America--for reminder, just as
much, or more, in moods of towering pride and joy, I keep my special
chants of death and immortality[33] to stamp the coloring-finish of
all, present and past. For terminus and temperer to all, they were
originally written; and that shall be their office at the last.

For some reason--not explainable or definite to my own mind, yet
secretly pleasing and satisfactory to it--I have not hesitated to
embody in, and run through the volume, two altogether distinct veins,
or strata--politics for one, and for the other, the pensive thought of
immortality. Thus, too, the prose and poetic, the dual forms of
the present book. The volume, therefore, after its minor episodes,
probably divides into these two, at first sight far diverse, veins of
topic and treatment. Three points, in especial, have become very dear
to me, and all through I seek to make them again and again, in
many forms and repetitions, as will be seen: 1. That the true
growth-characteristics of the democracy of the New World are
henceforth to radiate in superior literary, artistic and religious
expressions, far more than in its republican forms, universal
suffrage, and frequent elections, (though these are unspeakably
important.) 2. That the vital political mission of the United States
is, to practically solve and settle the problem of two sets of
rights--the fusion, thorough compatibility and junction of individual
State prerogatives, with the indispensable necessity of centrality and
Oneness--the national identity power--the sovereign Union, relentless,
permanently comprising all, and over all, and in that never yielding
an inch: then 3d. Do we not, amid a general malaria of fogs and
vapors, our day, unmistakably see two pillars of promise, with
grandest, indestructible indications--one, that the morbid facts of
American politics and society everywhere are but passing incidents and
flanges of our unbounded impetus of growth? weeds, annuals, of the
rank, rich soil--not central, enduring, perennial things? The other,
that all the hitherto experience of the States, their first century,
has been but preparation, adolescence--and that this Union is only now
and henceforth, (_i.e._, since the secession war,) to enter on its
full democratic career?

Of the whole, poems and prose, (not attending at all to chronological
order, and with original dates and passing allusions in the heat and
impression of the hour, left shuffled in, and undisturb'd,) the chants
of "Leaves of Grass," my former volume, yet serve as the indispensable
deep soil, or basis, out of which, and out of which only, could come
the roots and stems more definitely indicated by these later pages.
(While that volume radiates physiology alone, the present one, though
of the like origin in the main, more palpably doubtless shows the
pathology which was pretty sure to come in time from the other.)

In that former and main volume, composed in the flush of my health and
strength, from the age of 30 to 50 years, I dwelt on birth and life,
clothing my ideas in pictures, days, transactions of my time, to give
them positive place, identity--saturating them with that vehemence
of pride and audacity of freedom necessary to loosen the mind
of still-to-be-form'd America from the accumulated folds,
the superstitions, and all the long, tenacious and stifling
anti-democratic authorities of the Asiatic and European past--my
enclosing purport being to express, above all artificial regulation
and aid, the eternal bodily composite, cumulative, natural character
of one's self.[34]

Estimating the American Union as so far, and for some time to come, in
its yet formative condition, I bequeath poems and essays as nutriment
and influences to help truly assimilate and harden, and especially to
furnish something toward what the States most need of all, and which
seems to me yet quite unsupplied in literature, namely, to show them,
or begin to show them, themselves distinctively, and what they are
for. For though perhaps the main points of all ages and nations
are points of resemblance, and, even while granting evolution, are
substantially the same, there are some vital things in which this
Republic, as to its individualities, and as a compacted Nation, is to
specially stand forth, and culminate modern humanity. And these
are the very things it least morally and mentally knows--(though,
curiously enough, it is at the same time faithfully acting upon them.)

I count with such absolute certainty on the great future of the United
States--different from, though founded on, the past--that I have
always invoked that future, and surrounded myself with it, before or
while singing my songs. (As ever, all tends to followings--America,
too, is a prophecy. What, even of the best and most successful, would
be justified by itself alone? by the present, or the material ostent
alone? Of men or States, few realize how much they live in the future.
That, rising like pinnacles, gives its main significance to all You
and I are doing to-day. Without it, there were little meaning in lands
or poems--little purport in human lives. All ages, all Nations and
States, have been such prophecies. But where any former ones with
prophecy so broad, so clear, as our times, our lands--as those of the

Without being a scientist, I have thoroughly adopted the conclusions
of the great savants and experimentalists of our time, and of the last
hundred years, and they have interiorly tinged the chyle of all my
verse, for purposes beyond. Following the modern spirit, the real
poems of the present, ever solidifying and expanding into the future,
must vocalize the vastness and splendor and reality with which
scientism has invested man and the universe, (all that is called
creation) and must henceforth launch humanity into new orbits,
consonant, with that vastness, splendor, and reality, (unknown to
the old poems,) like new systems of orbs, balanced upon themselves,
revolving in limitless space, more subtle than the stars. Poetry, so
largely hitherto and even at present wedded to children's tales, and
to mere amorousness, upholstery and superficial rhyme, will have to
accept, and, while not denying the past, nor the themes of the past,
will be revivified by this tremendous innovation, the kosmic spirit,
which must henceforth, in my opinion, be the background and underlying
impetus, more or less visible, of all first-class songs.

Only, (for me, at any rate, in all my prose and poetry,) joyfully
accepting modern science, and loyally following it without the
slightest hesitation, there remains ever recognized still a higher
flight, a higher fact, the eternal soul of man, (of all else too,) the
spiritual, the religious--which it is to be the greatest office of
scientism, in my opinion, and of future poetry also, to free from
fables, crudities and superstitions, and launch forth in renew'd faith
and scope a hundred fold. To me, the worlds of religiousness, of the
conception of the divine, and of the ideal, though mainly latent,
are just as absolute in humanity and the universe as the world of
chemistry, or anything in the objective worlds. To me

The prophet and the bard,
Shall yet maintain themselves--in higher circles yet,
Shall mediate to the modern, to democracy--interpret yet to them,
God and eidolons.

To me, the crown of savantism is to be, that it surely opens the way
for a more splendid theology, and for ampler and diviner songs. No
year, nor even century, will settle this. There is a phase of the
real, lurking behind the real, which it is all for. There is also
in the intellect of man, in time, far in prospective recesses, a
judgment, a last appellate court, which will settle it.

In certain parts in these flights, or attempting to depict or suggest
them, I have not been afraid of the charge of obscurity, in either of
my two volumes-because human thought, poetry or melody, must leave dim
escapes and outlets-must possess a certain fluid, aerial
character, akin to space itself, obscure to those of little or no
imagination,--but indispensable to the highest purposes. Poetic style,
when address'd to the soul, is less definite form, outline, sculpture,
and becomes vista, music, half-tints, and even less than half-tints.
True, it may be architecture; but again it may be the forest
wild-wood, or the best effect thereof, at twilight, the waving oaks
and cedars in the wind, and the impalpable odor.

Finally, as I have lived in fresh lands, inchoate, and in a
revolutionary age, future-founding, I have felt to identify the points
of that age, these lands, in my recitatives, altogether in my own way.
Thus my form has strictly grown from my purports and facts, and is the
analogy of them. Within my time the United States have emerged from
nebulous vagueness and suspense, to full orbic, (though varied,)
decision--have done the deeds and achiev'd the triumphs of half a
score of centuries--and are henceforth to enter upon their real
history the way being now, (_i.e._ since the result of the secession
war,) clear'd of death-threatening impedimenta, and the free areas
around and ahead of us assured and certain, which were not so
before--(the past century being but preparations, trial voyages and
experiments of the ship, before her starting out upon deep water.)

In estimating my volumes, the world's current times and deeds, and
their spirit, must be first profoundly estimated. Out of the hundred
years just ending, (1776-1876,) with their genesis of inevitable
wilful events, and new experiments and introductions, and many
unprecedented things of war and peace, (to be realized better, perhaps
only realized, at the remove of a century hence;) out of that stretch
of time, and especially out of the immediately preceding twenty-five
years, (1850-'75,) with all their rapid changes, innovations,
and audacious movements-and bearing their own inevitable wilful
birth-marks--the experiments of my poems too have found genesis.

W. W.


[33] PASSAGE TO INDIA.--As in some ancient legend-play, to close the
plot and the hero's career, there is a farewell gathering on ship's
deck and on shore, a loosing of hawsers and ties, a spreading of sails
to the wind--a starting out on unknown seas, to fetch up no one knows
whither--to return no more--and the curtain falls, and there is the
end of it--so I have reserv'd that poem, with its cluster, to finish
and explain much that, without them, would not be explain'd, and to
take leave, and escape for good, from all that has preceded them.
(Then probably "Passage to India," and its cluster, are but freer vent
and fuller expression to what, from the first, and so on throughout,
more or less lurks in my writings, underneath every page, every line,

I am not sure but the last inclosing sublimation of race or poem is,
what it thinks of death. After the rest has been comprehended and
said, even the grandest--after those contributions to mightiest
nationality, or to sweetest song, or to the best personalism, male or
female, have been glean'd from the rich and varied themes of tangible
life, and have been fully accepted and sung, and the pervading fact
of visible existence, with the duty it devolves, is rounded and
apparently completed, it still remains to be really completed by
suffusing through the whole and several, that other pervading
invisible fact, so large a part, (is it not the largest part?) of life
here, combining the rest, and furnishing, for person or State, the
only permanent and unitary meaning to all, even the meanest life,
consistently with the dignity of the universe, in Time. As from the
eligibility to this thought, and the cheerful conquest of this fact,
flash forth the first distinctive proofs of the soul, so to me,
(extending it only a little further,) the ultimate Democratic
purports, the ethereal and spiritual ones, are to concentrate here,
and as fixed stars, radiate hence. For, in my opinion, it is no less
than this idea of immortality, above all other ideas, that is to enter
into, and vivify, and give crowning religious stamp, to democracy in
the New World.

It was originally my intention, after chanting in "Leaves of Grass"
the songs of the body and existence, to then compose a further,
equally needed volume, based on those convictions of perpetuity and
conservation which, enveloping all precedents, make the unseen soul
govern absolutely at last. I meant, while in a sort continuing the
theme of my first chants, to shift the slides, and exhibit the problem
and paradox of the same ardent and fully appointed personality
entering the sphere of the resistless gravitation of spiritual law,
and with cheerful face estimating death, not at all as the cessation,
but as somehow what I feel it must be, the entrance upon by far the
greatest part of existence, and something that life is at least as
much for, as it is for itself. But the full construction of such a
work is beyond my powers, and must remain for some bard in the future.
The physical and the sensuous, in themselves or in their immediate
continuations, retain holds upon me which I think are never entirely
releas'd; and those holds I have not only not denied, but hardly
wish'd to weaken.

Meanwhile, not entirely to give the go-by to my original plan, and far
more to avoid a mark'd hiatus in it, than to entirely fulfil it, I
end my books with thoughts, or radiations from thoughts, on death,
immortality, and a free entrance into the spiritual world. In those
thoughts, in a sort, I make the first steps or studies toward the
mighty theme, from the point of view necessitated by my foregoing
poems, and by modern science. In them I also seek to set the key-stone
to my democracy's enduring arch. I recollate them now, for the press,
in order to partially occupy and offset days of strange sickness,
and the heaviest affliction and bereavement of my life; and I fondly
please myself with the notion of leaving that cluster to you, O
unknown reader of the future, as "something to remember me by," more
especially than all else. Written in former days of perfect health,
little did I think the pieces had the purport that now, under present
circumstances, opens to me.

[As I write these lines, May 31, 1875, it is again early summer,
--again my birth-day--now my fifty-sixth. Amid the outside beauty and
freshness, the sunlight and verdure of the delightful season, O how
different the moral atmosphere amid which I now revise this Volume,
from the jocund influence surrounding the growth and advent of "Leaves
of Grass." I occupy myself, arranging these pages for publication,
still envelopt in thoughts of the death two years since of my
dear Mother, the most perfect and magnetic character, the rarest
combination of practical, moral and spiritual, and the least selfish,
of all and any I have ever known--and by me O so much the most deeply
loved--and also under the physical affliction of a tedious attack of
paralysis, obstinately lingering and keeping its hold upon me, and
quite suspending all bodily activity and comfort.]

Under these influences, therefore, I still feel to keep "Passage to
India" for last words even to this centennial dithyramb. Not as, in
antiquity, at highest festival of Egypt, the noisome skeleton of death
was sent on exhibition to the revelers, for zest and shadow to the
occasion's joy and light--but as the marble statue of the normal
Greeks at Elis, suggesting death in the form of a beautiful and
perfect young man, with closed eyes, leaning on an inverted
torch--emblem of rest and aspiration after action--of crown and point
which all lives and poems should steadily have reference to, namely,
the justified and noble termination of our identity, this grade of it,
and outlet-preparation to another grade.

[34] Namely, a character, making most of common and normal elements,
to the superstructure of which not only the precious accumulations of
the learning and experiences of the Old World, and the settled
social and municipal necessities and current requirements, so long
a-building, shall still faithfully contribute, but which at its
foundations and carried up thence, and receiving its impetus from the
democratic spirit, and accepting its gauge in all departments from
the democratic formulas, shall again directly be vitalized by the
perennial influences of Nature at first hand, and the old heroic
stamina of Nature, the strong air of prairie and mountain, the dash of
the briny sea, the primary antiseptics--of the passions, in all their
fullest heat and potency, of courage, rankness, amativeness, and
of immense pride. Not to lose at all, therefore, the benefits of
artificial progress and civilization, but to re-occupy for Western
tenancy the oldest though ever-fresh fields, and reap from them the
savage and sane nourishment indispensable to a hardy nation, and the
absence of which, threatening to become worse and worse, is the most
serious lack and defect to-day of our New World literature.

Not but what the brawn of "Leaves of Grass" is, I hope, thoroughly
spiritualized everywhere, for final estimate, but, from the very
subjects, the direct effect is a sense of the life, as it should be,
of flesh and blood, and physical urge, and animalism. While there
are other themes, and plenty of abstract thoughts and poems in the
volume--while I have put in it passing and rapid but actual glimpses
of the great struggle between the nation and the slave-power,
(1861-'65,) as the fierce and bloody panorama of that contest unroll'd
itself: while the whole book, indeed, revolves around that four years'
war, which, as I was in the midst of it, becomes, in "Drum-Taps,"
pivotal to the rest entire--and here and there, before and afterward,
not a few episodes and speculations--_that_--namely, to make a
type-portrait for living, active, worldly, healthy personality,
objective as well as subjective, joyful and potent, and modern and
free, distinctively for the use of the United States, male and
female, through the long future--has been, I say, my general object.
(Probably, indeed, the whole of these varied songs, and all my
writings, both volumes, only ring changes in some sort, on the
ejaculation, How vast, how eligible, how joyful, how real, is a human
being, himself or herself.)

Though from no definite plan at the time, I see now that I have
unconsciously sought, by indirections at least as much as directions,
to express the whirls and rapid growth and intensity of the United
States, the prevailing tendency and events of the Nineteenth century,
and largely the spirit of the whole current world, my time; for I feel
that I have partaken of that spirit, as I have been deeply interested
in all those events, the closing of long-stretch'd eras and ages, and,
illustrated in the history of the United States, the opening of
larger ones. (The death of President Lincoln, for instance, fitly,
historically closes, in the civilization of feudalism, many old
influences--drops on them, suddenly, a vast, gloomy, as it were,
separating curtain.)

Since I have been ill, (1873-'74-'75,) mostly without serious pain,
and with plenty of time and frequent inclination to judge my poems,
(never composed with eye on the book-market, nor for fame, nor for any
pecuniary profit,) I have felt temporary depression more than once,
for fear that in "Leaves of Grass" the _moral_ parts were not
sufficiently pronounced. But in my clearest and calmest moods I have
realized that as those "Leaves," all and several, surely prepare the
way for, and necessitate morals, and are adjusted to them, just the
same as Nature does and is, they are what, consistently with my plan,
they must and probably should be. (In a certain sense, while the
Moral is the purport and last intelligence of all Nature, there is
absolutely nothing of the moral in the works, or laws, or shows of
Nature. Those only lead inevitably to it--begin and necessitate it.)

Then I meant "Leaves of Grass," as publish'd, to be the Poem of
average Identity, (of _yours_, whoever you are, now reading these
lines.) A man is not greatest as victor in war, nor inventor or
explorer, nor even in science, or in his intellectual or artistic
capacity, or exemplar in some vast benevolence. To the highest
democratic view, man is most acceptable in living well the practical
life and lot which happens to him as ordinary farmer, sea-farer,
mechanic, clerk, laborer, or driver--upon and from which position as a
central basis or pedestal, while performing its labors, and his duties
as citizen, son, husband, father and employ'd person, he preserves his
physique, ascends, developing, radiating himself in other regions--and
especially where and when, (greatest of all, and nobler than the
proudest mere genius or magnate in any field,) he fully realizes
the conscience, the spiritual, the divine faculty, cultivated well,
exemplified in all his deeds and words, through life, uncompromising
to the end--a flight loftier than any of Homer's or Shakspere's--broader
than all poems and bibles--namely, Nature's own, and in the midst of it,
Yourself, your own Identity, body and soul. (All serves, helps--but in
the centre of all, absorbing all, giving, for your purpose, the only
meaning and vitality to all, master or mistress of all, under the law,
stands Yourself.) To sing the Song of that law of average Identity, and
of Yourself, consistently with the divine law of the universal, is a
main intention of those "Leaves."

Something more may be added--for, while I am about it, I would make a
full confession. I also sent out "Leaves of Grass" to arouse and set
flowing in men's and women's hearts, young and old, endless streams of
living, pulsating love and friendship, directly from them to myself,
now and ever. To this terrible, irrepressible yearning, (surely more
or less down underneath in most human souls)--this never-satisfied
appetite for sympathy, and this boundless offering of sympathy--this
universal democratic comradeship-this old, eternal, yet ever-new
interchange of adhesiveness, so fitly emblematic of America--I have
given in that book, undisguisedly, declaredly, the openest expression.
Besides, important as they are in my purpose as emotional expressions
for humanity, the special meaning of the "Calamus" cluster of "Leaves
of Grass," (and more or less running through the book, and cropping
out in "Drum-Taps,") mainly resides in its political significance. In
my opinion, it is by a fervent, accepted development of comradeship,
the beautiful and sane affection of man for man, latent in all the
young fellows, north and south, east and west--it is by this, I say,
and by what goes directly and indirectly along with it, that the
United States of the future, (I cannot too often repeat,) are to be
most effectually welded together, intercalated, anneal'd into a living

Then, for enclosing clue of all, it is imperatively and ever to be
borne in mind that "Leaves of Grass" entire is not to be construed as
an intellectual or scholastic effort or poem mainly, but more as a
radical utterance out of the Emotions and the Physique--an utterance
adjusted to, perhaps born of, Democracy and the Modern--in its very
nature regardless of the old conventions, and, under the great laws,
following only its own impulses.



Strange as it may seem, the topmost proof of a race is its own born
poetry. The presence of that, or the absence, each tells its story. As
the flowering rose or lily, as the ripened fruit to a tree, the apple
or the peach, no matter how fine the trunk, or copious or rich the
branches and foliage, here waits _sine qua non_ at last. The stamp of
entire and finished greatness to any nation, to the American Republic
among the rest, must be sternly withheld till it has put what
it stands for in the blossom of original, first-class poems. No
imitations will do.

And though no _esthetik_ worthy the present condition or future
certainties of the New World seems to have been outlined in men's
minds, or has been generally called for, or thought needed, I am
clear that until the United States have just such definite and native
expressers in the highest artistic fields, their mere political,
geographical, wealth-forming, and even intellectual eminence, however
astonishing and predominant, will constitute but a more and more
expanded and well-appointed body, and perhaps brain, with little or no
soul. Sugar-coat the grim truth as we may, and ward off with outward
plausible words, denials, explanations, to the mental inward
perception of the land this blank is plain; a barren void exists.
For the meanings and maturer purposes of these States are not the
constructing of a new world of politics merely, and physical comforts
for the million, but even more determinedly, in range with science and
the modern, of a new world of democratic sociology and imaginative
literature. If the latter were not establish'd for the States, to form
their only permanent tie and hold, the first-named would be of little

With the poems of a first-class land are twined, as weft with warp,
its types of personal character, of individuality, peculiar, native,
its own physiognomy, man's and woman's, its own shapes, forms, and
manners, fully justified under the eternal laws of all forms, all
manners, all times. The hour has come for democracy in America to
inaugurate itself in the two directions specified--autochthonic poems
and personalities--born expressers of itself, its spirit alone,
to radiate in subtle ways, not only in art, but the practical and
familiar, in the transactions between employers and employed persons,
in business and wages, and sternly in the army and navy, and
revolutionizing them. I find nowhere a scope profound enough, and
radical and objective enough, either for aggregates or individuals.
The thought and identity of a poetry in America to fill, and worthily
fill, the great void, and enhance these aims, electrifying all and
several, involves the essence and integral facts, real and spiritual,
of the whole land, the whole body. What the great sympathetic is to
the congeries of bones, joints, heart, fluids, nervous system and
vitality, constituting, launching forth in time and space a human
being--aye, an immortal soul--such relation, and no less, holds true
poetry to the single personality, or to the nation.

Here our thirty-eight States stand to-day, the children of past
precedents, and, young as they are, heirs of a very old estate. One or
two points we will consider, out of the myriads presenting themselves.
The feudalism, of the British Islands, illustrated by Shakspere--and
by his legitimate followers, Walter Scott and Alfred Tennyson--with
all its tyrannies, superstitions, evils, had most superb and heroic
permeating veins, poems, manners; even its errors fascinating. It
almost seems as if only that feudalism in Europe, like slavery in our
own South, could outcrop types of tallest, noblest personal character
yet--strength and devotion and love better than elsewhere--invincible
courage, generosity, aspiration, the spines of all. Here is where
Shakspere and the others I have named perform a service incalculably
precious to our America. Politics, literature, and everything else,
centers at last in perfect _personnel_, (as democracy is to find the
same as the rest;) and here feudalism is unrival'd--here the rich and
highest-rising lessons it bequeaths us--a mass of foreign nutriment,
which we are to work over, and popularize and enlarge, and present
again in our own growths.

Still there are pretty grave and anxious drawbacks, jeopardies, fears.
Let us give some reflections on the subject, a little fluctuating, but
starting from one central thought, and returning there again. Two or
three curious results may plow up. As in the astronomical laws, the
very power that would seem most deadly and destructive turns out to be
latently conservative of longest, vastest future births and lives. We
will for once briefly examine the just-named authors solely from a
Western point of view. It may be, indeed, that we shall use the sun
of English literature, and the brightest current stars of his system,
mainly as pegs to hang some cogitations on, for home inspection.

As depicter and dramatist of the passions at their stormiest
outstretch, though ranking high, Shakspere (spanning the arch wide
enough) is equaled by several, and excelled by the best old Greeks,
(as Eschylus.) But in portraying mediaeval European lords and barons,
the arrogant port, so dear to the inmost human heart, (pride! pride!
dearest, perhaps, of all--touching us, too, of the States closest of
all--closer than love,) he stands alone, and I do not wonder he so
witches the world.

From first to last, also, Walter Scott and Tennyson, like Shakspere,
exhale that principle of caste which we Americans have come on earth
to destroy. Jefferson's verdict on the Waverley novels was that they
turned and condensed brilliant but entirely false lights and glamours
over the lords, ladies, and aristocratic institutes of Europe,
with all their measureless infamies, and then left the bulk of the
suffering, down-trodden people contemptuously in the shade. Without
stopping to answer this hornet-stinging criticism, or to repay any
part of the debt of thanks I owe, in common with every American, to
the noblest, healthiest, cheeriest romancer that ever lived, I pass on
to Tennyson, his works.

Poetry here of a very high (perhaps the highest) order of verbal
melody, exquisitely clean and pure, and almost always perfumed, like
the tuberose, to an extreme of sweetness--sometimes not, however, but
even then a camellia of the hot-house, never a common flower--the
verse of inside elegance and high-life; and yet preserving amid all
its super-delicatesse a smack of outdoors and outdoor folk. The old
Norman lordhood quality here, too, crossed with that Saxon fiber from
which twain the best current stock of England springs--poetry that
revels above all things in traditions of knights and chivalry, and
deeds of derring-do. The odor of English social life in its
highest range--a melancholy, affectionate, very manly, but dainty
breed--pervading the pages like an invisible scent; the idleness, the
traditions, the mannerisms, the stately _ennui_; the yearning of love,
like a spinal marrow, inside of all; the costumes brocade and satin;
the old houses and furniture--solid oak, no mere veneering--the moldy
secrets everywhere; the verdure, the ivy on the walls, the moat, the
English landscape outside, the buzzing fly in the sun inside the
window pane. Never one democratic page; nay, not a line, not a
word; never free and _naive_ poetry, but involved, labored, quite
sophisticated--even when the theme is ever so simple or rustic, (a
shell, a bit of sedge, the commonest love-passage between a lad
and lass,) the handling of the rhyme all showing the scholar and
conventional gentleman; showing the laureate too, the _attache_ of the
throne, and most excellent, too; nothing better through the volumes
than the dedication "to the Queen" at the beginning, and the other
fine dedication, "these to his memory" (Prince Albert's,) preceding
"Idylls of the King."

Such for an off-hand summary of the mighty three that now, by the
women, men, and young folk of the fifty millions given these States
by their late census, have been and are more read than all others put

We hear it said, both of Tennyson and another current leading
literary illustrator of Great Britain, Carlyle--as of Victor Hugo in
France--that not one of them is personally friendly or admirant toward
America; indeed, quite the reverse. _N'importe_. That they (and more
good minds than theirs) cannot span the vast revolutionary arch
thrown by the United States over the centuries, fixed in the present,
launched to the endless future; that they cannot stomach the
high-life-below-stairs coloring all our poetic and genteel social
status so far--the measureless viciousness of the great radical
Republic, with its ruffianly nominations and elections; its loud,
ill-pitched voice, utterly regardless whether the verb agrees with the
nominative; its fights, errors, eructations, repulsions, dishonesties,
audacities; those fearful and varied and long-continued storm and
stress stages (so offensive to the well-regulated college-bred mind)
wherewith Nature, history, and time block out nationalities more
powerful than the past, and to upturn it and press on to the
future;--that they cannot understand and fathom all this, I say, is
it to be wondered at? Fortunately, the gestation of our thirty-eight
empires (and plenty more to come) proceeds on its course, on scales
of area and velocity immense and absolute as the globe, and, like the
globe itself, quite oblivious even of great poets and thinkers. But we
can by no means afford to be oblivious of them.

The same of feudalism, its castles, courts, etiquettes, personalities.
However they, or the spirits of them hovering in the air, might scowl
and glower at such removes as current Kansas or Kentucky life and
forms, the latter may by no means repudiate or leave out the former.
Allowing all the evil that it did, we get, here and today, a balance
of good out of its reminiscence almost beyond price.

Am I content, then, that the general interior chyle of our republic
should be supplied and nourish'd by wholesale from foreign and
antagonistic sources such as these? Let me answer that question

Years ago I thought Americans ought to strike out separate, and have
expressions of their own in highest literature. I think so still,
and more decidedly than ever. But those convictions are now strongly
temper'd by some additional points, (perhaps the results of advancing
age, or the reflection of invalidism.) I see that this world of the
West, as part of all, fuses inseparably with the East, and with all,
as time does--the ever new yet old, old human race--"the same
subject continued," as the novels of our grandfathers had it for
chapter-heads. If we are not to hospitably receive and complete the
inaugurations of the old civilizations, and change their small scale
to the largest, broadest scale, what on earth are we for?

The currents of practical business in America, the rude, coarse,
tussling facts of our lives, and all their daily experiences, need
just the precipitation and tincture of this entirely different fancy
world of lulling, contrasting, even feudalistic, anti-republican
poetry and romance. On the enormous outgrowth of our unloos'd
individualities, and the rank, self-assertion of humanity here, may
well fall these grace-persuading, _recherche_ influences. We first
require that individuals and communities shall be free; then surely
comes a time when it is requisite that they shall not be too free.
Although to such results in the future I look mainly for a great
poetry native to us, these importations till then will have to be
accepted, such as they are, and thankful they are no worse. The inmost
spiritual currents of the present time curiously revenge and check
their own compell'd tendency to democracy, and absorption in it, by
mark'd leanings to the past--by reminiscences in poems, plots, operas,
novels, to a far-off, contrary, deceased world, as if they dreaded the
great vulgar gulf-tides of to-day. Then what has been fifty centuries
growing, working in, and accepted as crowns and apices for our kind,
is not going to be pulled down and discarded in a hurry.

It is, perhaps, time we paid our respects directly to the honorable
party, the real object of these preambles. But we must make
_reconnaissance_ a little further still. Not the least part of our
lesson were to realize the curiosity and interest of friendly foreign
experts,[35] and how our situation looks to them. "American poetry,"
says the London "Times,"[36] is the poetry of apt pupils, but it is
afflicted from first to last with a fatal want of raciness. Bryant has
been long passed as a poet by Professor Longfellow; but in Longfellow,
with all his scholarly grace and tender feeling, the defect is more
apparent than it was in Bryant. Mr. Lowell can overflow with American
humor when politics inspire his muse; but in the realm of pure poetry
he is no more American than a Newdigate prize-man. Joaquin Miller's
verse has fluency and movement and harmony, but as for the thought,
his songs of the sierras might as well have been written in Holland."

Unless in a certain very slight contingency, the "Times" says:
"American verse, from its earliest to its latest stages, seems an
exotic, with an exuberance of gorgeous blossom, but no principle of
reproduction. That is the very note and test of its inherent want.
Great poets are tortured and massacred by having their flowers of
fancy gathered and gummed down in the _hortus siccus_ of an anthology.
American poets show better in an anthology than in the collected
volumes of their works. Like their audience they have been unable to
resist the attraction of the vast orbit of English literature. They
may talk of the primeval forest, but it would generally be very hard
from internal evidence to detect that they were writing on the banks
of the Hudson rather than on those of the Thames. ....In fact, they
have caught the English tone and air and mood only too faithfully, and
are accepted by the superficially cultivated English intelligence as
readily as if they were English born. Americans themselves confess to
a certain disappointment that a literary curiosity and intelligence
so diffused [as in the United States] have not taken up English
literature at the point at which America has received it, and carried
it forward and developed it with an independent energy. But like
reader like poet. Both show the effects of having come into an estate
they have not earned. A nation of readers has required of its poets a
diction and symmetry of form equal to that of an old literature like
that of Great Britain, which is also theirs. No ruggedness, however
racy, would be tolerated by circles which, however superficial their
culture, read Byron and Tennyson."

The English critic, though a gentleman and a scholar, and friendly
withal, is evidently not altogether satisfied, (perhaps he is
jealous,) and winds up by saying: "For the English language to have
been enriched with a national poetry which was not English but
American, would have been a treasure beyond price." With which, as
whet and foil, we shall proceed to ventilate more definitely certain
no doubt willful opinions.

Leaving unnoticed at present the great masterpieces of the antique, or
anything from the middle ages, the prevailing flow of poetry for the
last fifty or eighty years, and now at its height, has been and is
(like the music) an expression of mere surface melody, within narrow
limits, and yet, to give it its due, perfectly satisfying to the
demands of the ear, of wondrous charm, of smooth and easy delivery,
and the triumph of technical art. Above all things it is fractional
and select. It shrinks with aversion from the sturdy, the universal,
and the democratic.

The poetry of the future, (a phrase open to sharp criticism, and not
satisfactory to me, but significant, and I will use it)--the poetry of
the future aims at the free expression of emotion, (which means far,
far more than appears at first,) and to arouse and initiate, more than
to define or finish. Like all modern tendencies, it has direct or
indirect reference continually to the reader, to you or me, to the
central identity of everything, the mighty Ego. (Byron's was a
vehement dash, with plenty of impatient democracy, but lurid and
introverted amid all its magnetism; not at all the fitting, lasting
song of a grand, secure, free, sunny race.) It is more akin, likewise,
to outside life and landscape, (returning mainly to the antique
feeling,) real sun and gale, and woods and shores--to the elements
themselves--not sitting at ease in parlor or library listening to a
good tale of them, told in good rhyme. Character, a feature far above
style or polish--a feature not absent at any time, but now first
brought to the fore--gives predominant stamp to advancing poetry. Its
born sister, music, already responds to the same influences. "The
music of the present, Wagner's, Gounod's, even the later Verdi's, all
tends toward this free expression of poetic emotion, and demands a
vocalism totally unlike that required for Rossini's splendid roulades,
or Bellini's suave melodies."

Is there not even now, indeed, an evolution, a departure from the
masters? Venerable and unsurpassable after their kind as are the old
works, and always unspeakably precious as studies, (for Americans more
than any other people,) is it too much to say that by the shifted
combinations of the modern mind the whole underlying theory of
first-class verse has changed? "Formerly, during the period term'd
classic," says Sainte-Beuve, "when literature was govern'd by
recognized rules, he was considered the best poet who had composed the
most perfect work, the most beautiful poem, the most intelligible,
the most agreeable to read, the most complete in every respect,--the
Aeneid, the Gerusalemme, a fine tragedy. To-day, something else
is wanted. For us the greatest poet is he who in his works most
stimulates the reader's imagination and reflection, who excites him
the most himself to poetize. The greatest poet is not he who has done
the best; it is he who suggests the most; he, not all of whose meaning
is at first obvious, and who leaves you much to desire, to explain, to
study, much to complete in your turn."

The fatal defects our American singers labor under are subordination
of spirit, an absence of the concrete and of real patriotism, and in
excess that modern esthetic contagion a queer friend of mine calls
the _beauty disease_. "The immoderate taste for beauty and art," says
Charles Baudelaire, "leads men into monstrous excesses. In minds
imbued with a frantic greed for the beautiful, all the balances of
truth and justice disappear. There is a lust, a disease of the art
faculties, which eats up the moral like a cancer."

Of course, by our plentiful verse-writers there is plenty of service
perform'd, of a kind. Nor need we go far for a tally. We see, in
every polite circle, a class of accomplished, good-natured persons,
("society," in fact, could not get on without them,) fully eligible
for certain problems, times, and duties--to mix egg-nog, to mend the
broken spectacles, to decide whether the stewed eels shall precede

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