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Title: After All, Not to Create Only

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: September 7, 1871

Publication information: New York Evening Post 7 September 1871: [2].

Source: Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00005

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Nicole Gray, Brett Barney, April Lambert, and Susan Belasco




image 1

THE FAIR OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE.

———

WALT WHITMAN'S POEM.

———

The fortieth annual exhibition of the American Institute opened at noon to-day. A full report of the proceedings will be given in a later edition of this paper. The most novel feature was the recitation, by Walt Whitman, of the following lines, written by him for the occasion:

AFTER ALL, NOT TO CREATE ONLY.1

1.

After all, not to create only, or found only,
But to bring, perhaps from afar, what is already
founded,
To give it our own identity, average, limitless, free;
To fill the gross, the torpid bulk with vital religious
fire;
Not to repel or destroy, so much as accept, fuse, reha-
bilitate;
To obey, as well as command—to follow, more than to
lead;
These also are the lessons of our New World;
—While how little the New, after all—how much the
Old, Old World!
Long, long, long, has the grass been growing,
Long and long has the rain been falling,
Long has the globe been rolling round.

2.

Come, Muse, migrate from Greece and Ionia;
Cross out, please, those immensely overpaid accounts,
That matter of Troy, and Achilles' wrath, and Eneas',
Odysseus' wanderings;
Placard "Removed" and "To Let" on the rocks of
your snowy Parnassus;
Repeat at Jerusalem—place the notice high on Jaffa's
gate, and on Mount Moriah;
The same on the walls of your Gothic European Cathe-
drals, German, French and Spanish Castles;
For know a better, fresher, busier sphere—a wide, un-
tried domain awaits, demands you.

3.

Responsive to our summons,
Or Rather to her long-nurs'd inclination,
Join'd with an irresistible, natural gravitation,
She comes! this famous Female—as was indeed to be
expected;
(For who, so ever-youthful, 'cute and handsome, would
wish to stay in mansions such as those,
When offer'd quarters with all the modern improve-
ments,
With all the fun that's going—and all the best so-
ciety?)
She comes! I hear the rustling of her gown;
I scent the odor of her breath's delicious fragrance;
I mark her step divine—her curious eyes a-turning,
rolling,
Upon this very scene.
The Dame of Dames! can I believe then,
Those ancient temples classic, and castles strong and
feudalistic, could none of them restrain her?
Nor shades of Virgil and Dante—nor myriad memories,
poems, old associations, magnetize and hold on to
her?
But that she's left them all—and here?
Yes, if you will allow me to say so,
I, my friends, if you do not, can plainly see Her,
The same Undying Soul of Earth's, activity's, beauty's,
heroism's Expression,
Out from her evolutions hither come—submerged the
strata of her former themes,
Hidden and covered by to-day's—foundation of to-day's;
Ended, deceased, through time, her voice by Castaly's
fountain,
Silent through time the broken-lipp'd Sphynx in Egypt
—silent those century-baffling tombs;
Closed for aye the epics of Asia's, Europe's helmeted
warriors;
Calliope's call forever closed—Clio, Melpomene, Thalia
closed and dead;
Seal'd the stately rhythmus of Una and Oriana—ended
the quest of the Holy Graal;
Jerusalem a handful of ashes blown by the wind—ex-
tinct;
The Crusaders' streams of shadowy, midnight troops,
sped with the sunrise;
Amadis, Tancred, utterly gone—Charlemagne, Roland,
Oliver gone,
Palmerin, ogre, departed—vanish'd the turrets that Usk
reflected,
Arthur vanish'd with all his knights—Merlin and Lan-
celot and Galahad—all gone—dissolv'd utterly,
like an exhalation;
Pass'd! pass'd! for us, forever pass'd! that once so
mighty World—now void, inanimate, phantom
World!
Embroider'd, dazzling World! with all its gorgeous
legends, myths.
Its kings and barons proud—its priest, and warlike lords,
and courtly dames;
Pass'd to its charnel vault—laid on the shelf—coffin'd
with Crown and Armour on,
Blazon'd with Shakespeare's purple page.
And dirged by Tennyson's sweet, sad rhyme.
I say I see, my friends, if you do not, the Animus of all
that World,
Escaped, bequeath'd, vital, fugacious as ever, leaving
those dead remains, and now this spot approach-
ing, filling;
—And I can hear what may-be you do not—a terrible
esthetical commotion,
With howling desperate gulp of "flower" and "bower,"
With "Sonnet to Matilda's Eyebrow," quite, quite
frantic;
With gushing, sentimental reading circles turned to ice
or stone;
With many a squeak (in metre choice), from Boston,
New York, Philadelphia, London;
As she, the illustrious Emigré (having, it is true, in her
day, although the same, changed, journey'd con-
siderable),
Making directly for this rendezvous—vigorously clear-
ing a path for herself—striding through the con-
fusion,
By thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle undis-
may'd,
Bluff'd not a bit by drain-pipe, gasometers, artificial fer-
tilizers,
Smiling and pleased, with palpable intent to stay,
She's here, install'd amid the kitchen ware!

4.

But hold—don't I forget my manners?
To introduce the Stranger (what else indeed have I
come for?) to thee, Columbia;
In Liberty's name, welcome, Immortal! clasp hands,
And ever henceforth Sisters dear be both.
Fear not, O Muse! truly new ways and days receive,
surround you,
(I candidly confess a queer, queer race, of novel
fashion.)
And yet the same old human race—the same within,
without,
Faces and hearts the same—feelings the same—yearn-
ings the same,
The same old love—beauty and use the same.

5.

We do not blame thee, Elder World—nor separate our-
selves from thee;
(Would the son separate himself from the Father?)
Looking back on thee—seeing thee to thy duties, gran-
deurs, through past ages bending, building,
We build to ours to-day.
Mightier than Egypt's tomb,
Fairer than Grecia's, Roma's temples,
Prouder than Milan's statued, spired Cathedral,
More picturesque than Rhenish castle-keeps,
We plan, even now, to raise, beyond them all,
Thy great Cathedral, sacred Industry—no tomb,
A Keep for life for practical invention.
As in a waking vision,
E'en while I chant, I see it rise—I scan and prophesy
outside and in,
Its manifold ensemble.

6.

Around a Palace,
Loftier, fairer, ampler than any yet,
Earth's modern Wonder, History's Seven outstripping,
High rising tier on tier, with glass and iron façades,
Gladdening the sun and sky—enhued in cheerfullest
hues,
Bronze, lilac, robin's-egg, marine and crimson,
Over whose golden roof shall flaunt, beneath thy ban-
ner, Freedom,
The banners of The States, the flags of every land,
A brood of lofty, fair, but lesser Palaces shall cluster.
Somewhere within the walls of all,
Shall all that forwards perfect human life be started,
Tried, taught, advanced, visibly exhibited,
Here shall you trace in flowing operation,
In every state of practical, busy movement,
The rills of Civilization.
Materials here, under your eye, shall change their shape,
as if by magic;
The cotton shall be pick'd almost in the very field,
Shall be dried, clean'd, ginn'd, baled, spun into thread
and cloth, before you;
You shall see hands at work at all the old processes, and
all the new ones;
You shall see the various grains, and how flour is made,
and then bread baked by the bakers;
You shall see the crude ores of California and Nevada
passing on and on till they come bullion;
You shall watch how the printer sets type, and learn
what a composing stick is;
You shall mark, in amazement, the Hoe press whirling
its cylinders, shedding the printed leaves steady
and fast;
The photograph, model, watch, pin, nail, shall be creat-
ed before you.
In large calm halls, a stately Museum shall teach you
the infinite, solemn lessons of Minerals;
In another, woods, plants, Vegetation shall be illus-
trated—in another Animals, animal life and de-
velopment.
One stately house shall be the Music House;
Others for other Arts—Learning, the Sciences, shall all
be here,
None shall be slighted—none but shall here be honor'd,
help'd, exampled.

7.

This, this and these, America, shall be your Pyramids
and Obelisks,
Your Alexandrian Pharos, gardens of Babylon,
Your temple at Olympia.
The male and female many laboring not,
Shall ever here confront the laboring many,
With precious benefits to both—glory to all,
To thee, America—and thee, Eternal Muse.
And here shall ye inhabit, Powerful Matrons!
In your vast state, vaster than all the old;
Echoed through long, long centuries to come,
To sound of different, prouder songs, with stronger
themes,
Practical, peaceful life—the people's life—the People
themselves,
Lifted, illumin'd, bathed in peace—elate, secure in
peace.

8.

Away with themes of war! away with War itself!
Hence from my shuddering sight, to never more return,
that show of blacken'd, mutilated corpses!
That hell unpent, and raid of blood—fit for wild tigers,
or for lop-ear'd wolves—not reasoning men!
And in its stead speed Industry's campaigns!
With thy undaunted armies, Engineering!
Thy pennants, Labor, loosen'd to the breeze!
Thy bugles sounding loud and clear!
Away with old romance!
Away with novels, plots, and plays of foreign courts!
Away with love-verses, sugar'd in rhyme—the intrigues,
amours of idlers,
Fitted for only banquets of the night, where dancers to
late music slide;
The unhealthy pleasures, extravagant dissipations of the
few,
With perfumes, heat and wine, beneath the dazzling
chandeliers.

9.

To you, ye Reverent, sane Sisters,
To this resplendent day, the present scene,
These eyes and ears that like some broad parterre bloom
uparound, before me,
I raise a voice for far superber themes for poets and for
Art,
To exalt the present and the real,
To teach the average man the glory of his daily walk
and trade,
To sing, in songs, how exercise and chemical life are
never to be baffled;
Boldly to thee, America, to-day! and thee, Immortal
Muse!
To practical, manual work, for each and all—to plough,
hoe, dig,
To plant and tend the tree, the berry, vegetables, flowers,
For every man to see to it that he really do something—
for every woman too;
To use the hammer, and the saw, (rip or cross-cut,)
To cultivate a turn for carpentering, plastering, painting,
To work as tailor, tailoress, nurse, hostler, porter,
To invent a little—something ingenious—to aid the
washing, cooking, cleaning,
And hold it no disgrace to take a hand at them them-
selves.
I say I bring thee, Muse, to-day and here,
All occupations, duties, broad and close,
Toil, healthy toil and sweat, endless, without cessation,
The old, old general burdens, interests, joys,
The family, parentage, childhood, husband and wife,
The house-comforts—the house itself, and all its belong-
ings,
Food and its preservations—chemistry applied to it;
Whatever forms the average strong, complete, sweet-
blooded Man or Woman—the perfect longeve Per-
sonality,
And helps its present life to health and happiness—and
shapes its Soul.
For the eternal Real Life to come.
With latest materials, works,
Steam-power, the great Express lines, gas, petroleum,
These triumphs of our time, the Atlantic's delicate cable,
The Pacific Railroad, the Suez canal, the Mont Cenis
tunnel;
Science advanced, in grandeur and reality, analyzing
everything,
This world all spann'd with iron rails—with lines of
steamships threading every sea,
Our own Rondure, the current globe I bring.

10.

And thou, high towering One—America!
Thy swarm of offspring towering high—yet higher thee
above all towering,
With Victory on thy left, and at thy right hand Law;
Thou Union, holding all—fusing, absorbing, tolerating
all,
Thee, ever thee, I bring.
Thou—also thou, a world!
With all thy wide geographies, manifold, different, dis-
tant,
Rounded by thee in one—one common orbic language,
One common indivisible destiny and Union.

11.

And by the spells which ye vouchsafe,
To those, your ministers in earnest,
I here personify and call my themes,
To make them pass before ye.
Behold, America! (And thou, ineffable Guest and Sis-
ter!)
For thee come trooping up thy waters and thy lands;
Behold! thy fields and farms, thy far-off woods and
mountains,
As in procession coming.
Behold! the sea itself!
And on its limitless, heaving breast, the ships:
See! Where their white sails, bellying in the wind,
speckle the green and blue!
See! the steamers coming and going, steaming in or out
of port!
See! dusky and undulating, the long pennants of smoke!
Behold, in Oregon, far in the north and west,
Or in Maine, far in the north and east, thy cheerful axe-
men,
Wielding all day their axes!
Behold, on the lakes, thy pilots at their wheels—thy
oarsmen!
Behold how the ash writhes under those muscular arms!
There by the furnace, and there by the anvil,
Behold thy sturdy blacksmiths, swinging their sledges,
Overhand so steady—overhand they turn and fall with
joyous clank,
Like a tumult of laughter.
Behold! (for still the procession moves,)
Behold, Mother of All, thy countless sailors, boatmen,
coasters!
The myriads of thy young and old mechanics!
Mark—Mark the spirit of invention everywhere—thy
rapid patents,
Thy continual workshops, foundries, risen or rising;
See, from their chimneys, how the tall flame-fires
stream!
Mark thy interminable farms, North, South,
Thy wealthy Daughter-States, Eastern and Western,
The varied products of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri,
Georgia, Texas, and the rest;
Thy limitless crops—grass, wheat, sugar, corn, rice,
hemp, hops,
Thy barns all fill'd—thy endless freight-trains and thy
bulging storehouses,
The grapes that ripen on thy vines—the apples in thy
orchards,
Thy incalculable lumber, beef, pork, potatoes—thy
coal—thy gold and silver,
The inexhaustible iron in thy mines.

12.

All thine, O sacred Union!
Ship, farm, shop, barns, factories, mines,
City and State—North, South, item and aggregate,
We dedicate, dread Mother, all to thee!
Protectress absolute, thou! Bulwark of all!
For well we know that while thou givest each and all,
(generous as God,)
Without thee neither all nor each, nor land, home,
Ship, nor mine—nor any here, this day secure,
Nor aught, nor any day, secure.

13.

And thou, thy Emblem, waving over all!
Delicate beauty! a word to thee, (it may be salutary;)
Remember, thou hast not always been, as here to-day,
so comfortably ensovereign'd;
In other scenes than these have I observ'd thee, flag;
Not quite so trim and whole, and freshly blooming, in
folds of stainless silk;
But I have seen thee, bunting, to tatters torn, upon thy
splintered staff,
Or clutch'd to some young color-bearer's breast, with
desperate hands,
Savagely struggled for, for life or death—fought over
long,
'Mid cannon's thunder-crash, and many a curse, and
groan and yell—and rifle-volleys cracking sharp,
And moving masses, as wild demons surging—and lives
as nothing risk'd,
For thy mere remnant, grimed with dirt and smoke,
and sopped in blood;
For sake of that, my beauty—and that thou might'st
daily, as now, secure up there,
Many a good man have I seen go under.

14.

Now here, and these, and hence, in peace, all thine, O
Flag!
And here, and hence, for thee, O universal Muse! and
thou for them!
And here and hence, O Union, all the work and work-
men thine!
The poets, women, sailors, soldiers, farmers, miners,
students thine!
None separate from Thee—henceforth one only, we and
Thou;
(For the blood of the children—what is it only the blood
maternal?
And lives and works—what are they all at last except
the roads to Faith and Death?)
While we rehearse our measureless wealth, it is for
thee, dear Mother!
We own it all and several to-day indissoluble in Thee;
—Think not our chant, our show, merely for products
gross, or lucre—it is for Thee, the Soul, electric,
spiritual!
Our farms, inventions, crops, we own in Thee! Cities
and States in Thee!
Our freedom all in Thee! our very lives in Thee!

Notes:

1. This poem was printed on the same day in the New York Commercial Advertiser 7 September 1871: [3]. It was reprinted in several newspapers and as a pamphlet, After All, Not to Create Only (1871); as "Song of the Exposition" in Two Rivulets (1876); and with some revisions in Leaves of Grass (1881–82). [back]


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