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Title: As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: June 26, 1872

Publication information: New York Herald 26 June 1872: 3.

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

Whitman Archive ID: per.00090

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, April Lambert, and Susan Belasco




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As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free.1

COMMENCEMENT POEM, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE, N.H., JUNE 26, 1872, RECITED BY WALT WHITMAN, ON INVITATION OF PUBLIC LITERARY SOCIETIES.

1.

AS a strong bird, on pinions free,
Joyous, the amplest spaces heavenward cleaving,
Such be the thought I'd think to-day of thee,
America;
Such be the recitative I'd bring to-day for thee.
The conceits of the poets of other lands I bring thee
not,
Nor the compliments that have served their turn so
long,
Nor rhyme—nor the classics—nor perfume of for-
eign court or indoor library;
But an odor I'd bring to-day as from forests of pine
in the north, in Maine—or breath of an Illinois
prairie,
With open airs of Virginia, or Georgia or Tennes-
see—or from Texas uplands or Florida's
glades;
With presentment of Yellowstone's scenes or Yo-
semite;
And murmuring under, pervading all, I'd bring the
restling sea sound,
That endlessly sounds from the two great seas of
the world.
And for thy subtler sense, subtler refrains, O
Union!
Preludes of intellect tallying these and thee—
mind-formulas fitted for thee—real and sane
and large as these and thee;
Thou, mounting higher, diving deeper than we
knew—thou transcendental Union!
By thee Fact to be justified—blended with Thought;
Thought of Man justified—blended with God:
Through thy Idea—lo! the immortal Reality!
Through thy Reality—lo! the immortal idea!

2.

Brain of the New World! what a task is thine!
To formulate the Modern * * * Out of the peer-
less grandeur of the modern.
Out of Thyself—comprising Science—to recast
Poems, Churches, Art.
(Recast, may-be discard them, end them. May-be
their work is done—who knows?)
By vision, hand, conception, on the background of
the mighty past, the dead,
To limn, with absolute faith, the mighty living
present.
And yet, thou living, present brain! heir of the
dead, the Old World brain!
Thou that lay folded, like an unborn babe, within
its folds so long!
Thou carefully prepared by it so long!—haply thou
but unfoldest it—only maturest it;
It to eventuate in thee—the essence of the by-gone
time contained in thee;
Its poems, churches arts, unwitting to themselves,
destined with reference to thee,
The fruit of all the Old, ripening to-day in thee.

3.

Sail, sail thy best, Ship of Democracy!
Of value is thy freight—'tis not the present only,
The past is also stored in thee!
Thou holdest not the venture of thyself alone—not
of thy Western Continent alone;
Earth's résumé entire floats on thy keel, O ship!—is
steadied in thy spars;
With thee Time voyages in trust—the antecedent
nations sink or swim with thee;
With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes,
epics, wars, though hear'st the other continents;
Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination-
port triumphant;
Steer, steer with good strong hand and wary eye, O
helmsman! thou carryest great companions,
Venerable, priestly Asia sails this day with thee,
And royal, feudal Europe sails with thee.

4.

Beautiful world of new, superber birth, that rises to
my eyes,
Like a limitless, golden cloud, filling the western
sky;
Emblem of general Maternity, lifted above all;
Sacred shape of the bearer of daughters and sons;
Out of thy teeming womb, thy giant babes in cease-
less procession issuing,
Acceding from such gestation, taking and giving
continual strength and life;
World of the Real! world of the twain in one!
World of the Soul—born by the world of the real
alone—led to identity, body, by it alone;
Yet in beginning only—incalculable masses of com-
posite, precious materials,
By history's cycles forwarded—by every nation,
language, hither sent,
Ready, collected here—a freer, vast, electric World,
to be constructed here
(The true New World—the world of orbic Science,
Morals, Literatures to come),
Thou Wonder World, yet undefined, unform'd—
neither do I define thee;
How can I pierce the impenetrable blank of the
future?
I feel thy ominous greatness, evil as well as good:
I watch thee, advancing, absorbing the present,
transcending the past.
I see thy light lighting and they shadow shadow-
ing, as if the entire globe;
But I do not undertake to define thee—hardly to
comprehend thee;
I but thee name—thee prophesy—as now
I merely thee ejaculate.
Thee in thy future!
Thee in thy only permanent life, career—thy own
unloosened mind—thy soaring spirit;
Thee as another, equally needed sun, America—
radiant, ablaze, swift-moving, fructifying all;
Thee, risen in they potent cheerfulness and joy—thy
endless, great hilarity
(Scattering for good the cloud that hung so long,
that weighed so long, upon the mind of man,
The doubt, suspicion, dread of gradual, certain de-
cadence of man);
Thee in they larger, saner breeds of female, male—
thee in thy athletes, moral spiritual, south,
north, west, east,
(To thy immortal breasts, Mother of All, thy every
daughter, son, endear'd alike, forever equal);
Thee in thy own musicians, singers, artists, unborn
yet, but certain;
Thee in thy moral wealth and civilization (until
which thy proudest material wealth and civi-
lization must remain in vain);
Thee in thy all-supplying, all-enclosing worship—
thee in no single Bible, Saviour, merely,
Thy Saviours countless, latent within thyself—thy
Bibles incessant, within thyself, equal to any,
divine as any;
Thee in an education grown of thee—in teachers,
studies, students, born of thee;
Thee in thy democratic fetes, en masse—thy high
original festivals, operas, lecturers, preach-
ers;
Thee in thy ultimata (the preparations only now
completed—the edifice on sure foundations
tied),
Thee in thy pinnacles, intellect, thought—thy top-
most rational joys—thy love and God-like as-
piration,
In thy resplendent coming literati—thy full-lunged
orators—thy sacerdotal bards—cosmic savans,
These! these in thee (certain to come), today I pro-
phesy.

5.

Land tolerating all—accepting all—not for the good
alone—all good for thee;
Land in the realms of God to be a realm unto thy-
self;
Under the rule of God to be a rule unto thyself.
(Lo! where arise three peerless stars,
To be thy natal stars, my country—Ensemble—Evo-
lution—Freedom,
Set in the sky of Law.)
Land of unprecedented faith—God's faith!
Thy soil, thy very subsoil, all upheav'd;
The general inner earth, so long, so sedulously
draped over, now and hence for it is
boldly laid bare,
Open'd by thee to heaven's light, for benefit or bale.
Not for success alone;
Not to fair-sail unintermitted always;
The storm shall dash thy face—the murk of war,
and worse than war, shall cover thee all over
(Wert capable of war, its tags and trials? Be capa-
ble of peace, its trials;
For the tug and mortal straits of nations come at
last in peace, not war);
In many a smiling mask death shall approach, be-
guiling thee—thou in disease shalt swelter;
The liv'd cancer spread its hideous claws, clinging
upon thy breasts, seeking to strike thee deep
within;
Consumption of the worst—moral consumption—
shall rouge thy face with hectic;
But thou shalt face thy fortunes, thy diseases, and
surmount them all,
Whatever they are to-day, and whatever through
time they may be,
They each and all shall lift, and pass away, and
cease from thee;
While thou, Time's spirals rounding—out of thyself,
thyself still extricating, fusing,
Equable, natural, mystical Union thou (the mortal
with immortal blent),
Shalt soar toward the fulfilment of the future—the
spirit of the body and the mind,
The Soul—its destinies.
The Soul, its destinies—the real real
(Purport of all these apparitions of the real);
In thee, America, the Soul, its destinies;
Thou globe of globes! thou wonder nebulous!
By many a throe of heat and cold convulsed (by
these thyself solidfying);
Thou mental, moral orb! thou New, indeed new,
Spiritual World!
The Present holds thee not—for such vast growth as
thine—for such unparalleled flight as thine,
The Future only holds thee, and can hold thee.

Notes:

1. This poem was later published with seven other poems in a pamphlet, As a Strong Bird on Pinions Free (1872). It was later included as a supplement bound with Two Rivulets (1876). Later, Whitman changed the title to "Thou Mother with Thy Equal Brood," added a new opening stanza, and additional revisions, and incorporated the poem into Leaves of Grass (1881-82). Extracts from this poem also appeared in the Washington Evening Star on the same date, within a larger article on the commencement exercises at Dartmouth College. [back]


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