Leaves of Grass (1881-82)

contents   |  previous   |  next



ALWAYS our old feuillage!
Always Florida's green peninsula—always the priceless delta of
         Louisiana—always the cotton-fields of Alabama and Texas,
Always California's golden hills and hollows, and the silver moun-
         tains of New Mexico—always soft-breath'd Cuba,
Always the vast slope drain'd by the Southern sea, inseparable with
         the slopes drain'd by the Eastern and Western seas,
The area the eighty-third year of these States, the three and a half
         millions of square miles,
The eighteen thousand miles of sea-coast and bay-coast on the
         main, the thirty thousand miles of river navigation,
The seven millions of distinct families and the same number of
         dwellings—always these, and more, branching forth into
         numberless branches,
Always the free range and diversity—always the continent of
Always the prairies, pastures, forests, vast cities, travelers, Kanada,
         the snows;
Always these compact lands tied at the hips with the belt stringing
         the huge oval lakes;
Always the West with strong native persons, the increasing density
         there, the habitans, friendly, threatening, ironical, scorning
All sights, South, North, East—all deeds, promiscuously done at
         all times,
All characters, movements, growths, a few noticed, myriads unno-
Through Mannahatta's streets I walking, these things gathering,

View Page 139
View Page 139

On interior rivers by night in the glare of pine knots, steamboats
         wooding up,
Sunlight by day on the valley of the Susquehanna, and on the
         valleys of the Potomac and Rappahannock, and the valleys
         of the Roanoke and Delaware,
In their northerly wilds beasts of prey haunting the Adirondacks
         the hills, or lapping the Saginaw waters to drink,
In a lonesome inlet a sheldrake lost from the flock, sitting on the
         water rocking silently,
In farmers' barns oxen in the stable, their harvest labor done, they
         rest standing, they are too tired,
Afar on arctic ice the she-walrus lying drowsily while her cubs play
The hawk sailing where men have not yet sail'd, the farthest polar
         sea, ripply, crystalline, open, beyond the floes,
White drift spooning ahead where the ship in the tempest dashes,
On solid land what is done in cities as the bells strike midnight
In primitive woods the sounds there also sounding, the howl of the
         wolf, the scream of the panther, and the hoarse bellow of
         the elk,
In winter beneath the hard blue ice of Moosehead lake, in summer
         visible through the clear waters, the great trout swimming,
In lower latitudes in warmer air in the Carolinas the large black
         buzzard floating slowly high beyond the tree tops,
Below, the red cedar festoon'd with tylandria, the pines and
         cypresses growing out of the white sand that spreads far
         and flat,
Rude boats descending the big Pedee, climbing plants, parasites
         with color'd flowers and berries enveloping huge trees,
The waving drapery on the live-oak trailing long and low, noise-
         lessly waved by the wind,
The camp of Georgia wagoners just after dark, the supper-fires
         and the cooking and eating by whites and negroes,
Thirty or forty great wagons, the mules, cattle, horses, feeding
         from troughs,
The shadows, gleams, up under the leaves of the old sycamore-
         trees, the flames with the black smoke from the pitch-pine
         curling and rising;
Southern fishermen fishing, the sounds and inlets of North Caro-
         lina's coast, the shad-fishery and the herring-fishery, the
         large sweep-seines, the windlasses on shore work'd by
         horses, the clearing, curing, and packing-houses;
Deep in the forest in piney woods turpentine dropping from the
         incisions in the trees, there are the turpentine works,

View Page 140
View Page 140

There are the negroes at work in good health, the ground in all
         directions is cover'd with pine straw;
In Tennessee and Kentucky slaves busy in the coalings, at the
         forge, by the furnace-blaze, or at the corn-shucking,
In Virginia, the planter's son returning after a long absence, joy-
         fully welcom'd and kiss'd by the aged mulatto nurse,
On rivers boatmen safely moor'd at nightfall in their boats under
         shelter of high banks,
Some of the younger men dance to the sound of the banjo or
         fiddle, others sit on the gunwale smoking and talking;
Late in the afternoon the mocking-bird, the American mimic,
         singing in the Great Dismal Swamp,
There are the greenish waters, the resinous odor, the plenteous
         moss, the cypress-tree, and the juniper-tree;
Northward, young men of Mannahatta, the target company from
         an excursion returning home at evening, the musket-muz-
         zles all bear bunches of flowers presented by women;
Children at play, or on his father's lap a young boy fallen asleep,
         (how his lips move! how he smiles in his sleep!)
The scout riding on horseback over the plains west of the Missis-
         sippi, he ascends a knoll and sweeps his eyes around;
California life, the miner, bearded, dress'd in his rude costume,
         the stanch California friendship, the sweet air, the graves
         one in passing meets solitary just aside the horse-path;
Down in Texas the cotton-field, the negro-cabins, drivers driving
         mules or oxen before rude carts, cotton bales piled on
         banks and wharves;
Encircling all, vast-darting up and wide, the American Soul, with
         equal hemispheres, one Love, one Dilation or Pride;
In arriere the peace-talk with the Iroquois the aborigines, the
         calumet, the pipe of good-will, arbitration, and indorse-
The sachem blowing the smoke first toward the sun and then
         toward the earth,
The drama of the scalp-dance enacted with painted faces and
         guttural exclamations,
The setting out of the war-party, the long and stealthy march,
The single file, the swinging hatchets, the surprise and slaughter
         of enemies;
All the acts, scenes, ways, persons, attitudes of these States,
         reminiscences, institutions,
All these States compact, every square mile of these States without
         excepting a particle;
Me pleas'd, rambling in lanes and country fields, Paumanok's

View Page 141
View Page 141

Observing the spiral flight of two little yellow butterflies shuffling
         between each other, ascending high in the air,
The darting swallow, the destroyer of insects, the fall traveler
         southward but returning northward early in the spring,
The country boy at the close of the day driving the herd of cows
         and shouting to them as they loiter to browse by the road-
The city wharf, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, New
         Orleans, San Francisco,
The departing ships when the sailors heave at the capstan;
Evening—me in my room—the setting sun,
The setting summer sun shining in my open window, showing the
         swarm of flies, suspended, balancing in the air in the centre
         of the room, darting athwart, up and down, casting swift
         shadows in specks on the opposite wall where the shine is;
The athletic American matron speaking in public to crowds of
Males, females, immigrants, combinations, the copiousness, the
         individuality of the States, each for itself—the money-
Factories, machinery, the mechanical forces, the windlass, lever,
         pulley, all certainties,
The certainty of space, increase, freedom, futurity,
In space the sporades, the scatter'd islands, the stars—on the
         firm earth, the lands, my lands,
O lands! all so dear to me—what you are, (whatever it is,) I
         putting it at random in these songs, become a part of that,
         whatever it is,
Southward there, I screaming, with wings slow flapping, with the
         myriads of gulls wintering along the coasts of Florida,
Otherways there atwixt the banks of the Arkansaw, the Rio
         Grande, the Nueces, the Brazos, the Tombigbee, the Red
         River, the Saskatchawan or the Osage, I with the spring
         waters laughing and skipping and running,
Northward, on the sands, on some shallow bay of Paumanok, I
         with parties of snowy herons wading in the wet to seek
         worms and aquatic plants,
Retreating, triumphantly twittering, the king-bird, from piercing
         the crow with its bill, for amusement—and I triumphantly
The migrating flock of wild geese alighting in autumn to refresh
         themselves, the body of the flock feed, the sentinels out-
         side move around with erect heads watching, and are from
         time to time reliev'd by other sentinels—and I feeding
         and taking turns with the rest,

View Page 142
View Page 142

In Kanadian forests the moose, large as an ox, corner'd by
         hunters, rising desperately on his hind-feet, and plunging
         with his fore-feet, the hoofs as sharp as knives—and I,
         plunging at the hunters, corner'd and desperate,
In the Mannahatta, streets, piers, shipping, store-houses, and the
         countless workmen working in the shops,
And I too of the Mannahatta, singing thereof—and no less in
         myself than the whole of the Mannahatta in itself,
Singing the song of These, my ever-united lands—my body no
         more inevitably united, part to part, and made out of a
         thousand diverse contributions one identity, any more than
         my lands are inevitably united and made ONE IDENTITY;
Nativities, climates, the grass of the great pastoral Plains,
Cities, labors, death, animals, products, war, good and evil—
         these me,
These affording, in all their particulars, the old feuillage to me
         and to America, how can I do less than pass the clew of
         the union of them, to afford the like to you?
Whoever you are! how can I but offer you divine leaves, that you
         also be eligible as I am?
How can I but as here chanting, invite you for yourself to collect
         bouquets of the incomparable feuillage of these States?

contents   |  previous   |  next