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Title: After All, Not to Create Only

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: September 7, 1871

Publication information: New York Commercial Advertiser 7 September 1871: [3].

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

Whitman Archive ID: per.00151

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




image 1

cropped image 1

"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, and German, French and Spanish Castles;
For know a better, fresher, busier sphere—a wide, untried
domain awaits, demands you.

3.

Responsive to our summons,
Or rather to her long-nurs'd inclination,
Join'd with an irresistable natural gravitation,
She comes! this famous Female—as was indeed to be ex-
pected;
(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 improvements,
With all the fun that's going—and all the best society?)
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 them,
Those ancient temples classic, and castles strong and feuda-
listic, could none of them restrain her?
Nor shades of Virgil and Dante—nor myriad memories,
poems, old associastion, 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,
heroisms's Expression,
Out from her evolutions hither come—submerged the strata
of her former themes,
Hidden and cover'd by to-day's—foundation of to-day's;
Ended, deceas'd, through time, her voice by Castaly's foun-
tain,
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 war-
riors;
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 Haly Graal;
Jerusalem a handful of ashes blown by the wind—extinct;
The Crusaders' streams of shadowy, midnight troops, sped
with the sunrise;
Amadis, Tancred, utterly gone—Charlemagne, Roland, Oli-
ver gone,
Palmerin, ogre, departed—vanish'd the turrets that Usk re-
flected,
Arthur vanish'd with all his knights—Merlin and Lancelot
and Galahad—all gone—dissolv'd utterly, like an ex-
halation;
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 priests, and warlike lords,
and courtly dames;
Pass'd to its charnel vault—laid on the shelf—coffin'd with
Crown and Armor 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 approaching, filling;
—And I can hear what may-be you do not—a terrible es-
thetical commotion.
With howling desperate gulp of "flower" and "bower,"
With "Sonnet to Matilda's Eyebrow" quite, quite frantic;
With gushing, sentimental reading circles turn'd to ice or
stone;
With many a squeak, (in metre choice,) from Boston, New
York, Philadelphia, London;
And she, the illustrious Emigre, (having, it is true, in her
day, although the same, changed, journey'd consid-
erable,)
Making directly for this rendezvous—vigorously clearing a
path for herself—striding through the confusion,
By thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle undismay'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, sur-
round you,
(I candidly confess a queer, queer race, of novel fashion)
And yet the same old human race—the same within, with-
out,
Faces and hearts the same—feelings the same—yearnings
the same,
The same old love—beauty and use the same.

5.

We do not blame thee, Elder World—nor separate ourselves
from thee;
(Would the Son separate himself from the Father?)
Looking back on thee—seeing thee to thy duties, grandeurs,
through past ages bending, building,
We build to ours to-day.
Mightier than Egypt's tombs,
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 Invetnion.
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 facades,
Gladdening the sun and sky—enhued in cheerfulest hues,
Bronze, lilac, robin's-egg, marine and crimson,
Over whose golden roof shall flaunt, beneath thy banner,
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 pass-
ing on and on till they become 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 created
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 illustrated—
in another Animals, animal life and development.
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, extravagent dissipations of the
few,
With perfumes, heat and wine, beneath the dazzling chan-
deliers.

9.

To you, ye Reverent, sane Sisters,
To this resplendent day, the present scene,
These eyes and ears that like some broad parterre bloom up
around, 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
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 to it no disgrace to take a hand at them themselves.
I say I bring thee, Muse, to-day and here,
All occupations, duties broad and close,
Toil, healthy toil and sweet, endless, without cessation,
The old, old general burdens, interests, joys,
The familiy, parentage, childhood, husband and wife,
The house-comforts—the house itself, and all its belongings,
Food and its preservations—chemistry applied to it;
Whatever forms the average strong, complete, sweet-blooded
Man or Woman—the perfect longeve Personality,
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 every-
thing,
This world all spann'd with iron rails—with lines of steam-
ships threading every sea.
Our own Rondure, the current globe I bring.

10.

And thou, high towering One—America!
Thy swarm of offspring towring high—yet higher thee
above all towering,
With Victory on thy left, and at thy right hand Law;
Thou Union, holding all—fusing, absoring, tolerating all,
Thee, ever thee, I bring.
Thou—also thou, a world!
With all thy wide geographies, manifold, different, distant,
Rounded by thee in one—one common orbic language,
One common individual 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 Sister!)
For thee come trooping up thy waters and thy lands;
Behold! thy fields and farms, thy far-off woods and moun-
tains,
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 axemen,
Wielding all day their axes!
Behold, on the lakes, thy pilots at their wheels—thy oars-
men!
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 joy-
ous clank,
Like a tumult of laughter!
Behold! (for still the procession moves,)
Behold, Mother of All, thy countless sailors, boatmen,
coasters!
The myriads of shy 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, Geor-
gia, 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 bulg-
ing storehouses,
Thy grapes that ripen on thy vines—the apples in thy or-
chards,
The incalculable lumber, beef, pork, potates—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 (gener-
ous as God),
Without thee niether 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 has not always been, as here to-day so
comfortably ensovereign'd;
In other scenes than those 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
splinter'd staff,
Or clutch'd to some young color-bearer's breast, with des-
perate 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
sopp'd in blood;
For sake of that, my beauty—and that thou might'st dally,
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 thence, for thee, O universal Muse! and thou
for them!
And here and hence, O Union, all the work and workmen
thine!
The poets, women, sailors, soldiers, farmers, miners, stu-
dents, 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 published on the same day in the New York Evening Post, p. 2. 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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