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Proud Music of the Storm




PROUD music of the sea-storm! Blast that careers so free, whistling across the prairies! Strong hum of forest tree-tops! wind of the mountains! Personified dim shapes! you hidden orchestras! You serenades of phantoms, with instruments alert, Blending, with Nature's rhythmus, all the tongues of nations; You chords left as by vast composers! you choruses! You formless, free, religious dances! you from the Orient! You undertone of rippling waters, rivers, pouring cataracts; You sounds from distant guns, with galloping cavalry! Echoes of camps, with all the different bugle-calls! Trooping tumultuous, filling the midnight late, bending me powerless, Entering my lonesome slumber-chamber—why have you seized me?


Come forward, O my Soul, and let the rest retire; Listen—lose not—it is toward thee they tend; Parting the midnight, entering my slumber-chamber, For thee they sing and dance, O Soul. A festival song! The duet of the bridegroom and the bride—a marriage-march, With joyous voices—lips of love, and hearts of lovers, fill'd to the brim with 
The red flush'd cheeks, and perfumes—the cortege swarming, full of friendly 
  faces, young and old,
To flutes' clear notes and sounding harps' cantabile.


Now loud approaching drums! Victoria! see'st thou in powder-smoke the banners torn but flying? the rout 
  of the baffled?
Hearest those shouts of a conquering army?
(Ah, Soul, the sobs of women—the wounded groaning in agony, The hiss and crackle of flames—the blacken'd ruins—the embers of cities, The dirge and desolation of mankind.)


Now the great organ sounds, Tremulous—while underneath, (as the hid footholds of the earth, On which arising, rest, and leaping forth, depend, All shapes of beauty, grace and strength—all hues we know, Green blades of grass, and warbling birds—children that gambol and play— 
  the clouds of heaven above,)
The strong base stands, and its pulsations intermits not, Bathing, supporting, merging all the rest—maternity of all the rest; And with it every instrument in multitudes, The players playing—all the world's musicians, The solemn hymns and masses, rousing adoration, All passionate love-chants, sorrowful appeals, The measureless sweet vocalists of ages, And for their solvent setting, Earth's own diapason, Of winds and woods and mighty ocean waves; A new composite orchestra—binder of years and climes—tenfold renewer, As of the far-back days the poets tell—the Paradiso, The straying thence, the separation long, but now the wandering done, The journey done, the Journeyman come home, And Man and Art, with Nature fused again.


Tutti! for Earth and Heaven! The Almighty Leader now for me, for once, has signall'd with his wand. The manly strophe of the husbands of the world, And all the wives responding. The tongues of violins! (I think O tongues, ye tell this heart, that cannot tell itself; This brooding, yearning heart, that cannot tell itself.)


Ah, from a little child, Thou knowest, Soul, how to me all sounds became music; My mother's voice, in lullaby or hymn; (The voice—O tender voices—memory's loving voices! Last miracle of all—O dearest mother's, sister's, voices;) The rain, the growing corn, the breeze among the long-leav'd corn, The measur'd sea-wave beating on the sand, The twittering bird, the hawk's sharp scream, The wild-fowl's notes at night, as flying low, migrating north or south, The psalm in the country church, or mid the clustering trees, The fiddler in the tavern—the glee, the long-strung sailor-song, The lowing cattle, bleating sheep—the crowing cock at dawn.


Now airs antique and mediæval fill me! I see and hear old harpers with their harps, at Welsh festivals; I hear the minnesingers, and their lays of love, I hear the minstrels, gleemen, troubadours, of the feudal ages.


Above, below, the songs of current lands; The German airs of friendship, wine and love, The plaintive Irish ballads, merry jigs and dances—English warbles, Chansons of France, Scotch tunes—and over all, Italia's peerless compositions. Across the stage, with pallor on her face, yet lurid passion, Stalks Norma, brandishing the dagger in her hand. I see poor crazed Lucia's eyes' unnatural gleam; Her hair down her back falls loose and dishevell'd. I see where Ernani, walking the bridal garden, Amid perfumes of night-roses, radiant, holding his bride by the hand, Hears the infernal call, the death-pledge of the horn. To crossing swords, and gray hairs bared to heaven, The clear, electric base and baritone of the world, The trombone duo—Libertad forever! From Spanish chestnut-trees' dense shade, By old and heavy convent walls, a wailing song, Song of lost love—the torch of youth and life quench'd in despair, Song of the dying swan—Fernando's heart is breaking. Awaking from her woes at last, retriev'd Amina sings; Copious as stars, and glad as morning light, the torrents of her joy. (The teeming lady comes! The lustrous orb—Venus contralto—the blooming mother, Sister of loftiest gods—Alboni's self I hear.)


I hear those odes, symphonies, operas; I hear in the William Tell, the music of an arous'd and angry people; I hear Meyerbeer's Huguenots, the Prophet or Robert; Gounod's Faust, or Mozart's Don Juan.


I hear the dance-music of all nations, The waltz, (some delicious measure, lapsing, bathing me in bliss;) The bolero, to tinkling guitars and clattering castanets. I see religious dances old and new, I hear the sound of the Hebrew lyre, I see the Crusaders marching, bearing the cross on high, to the martial clang 
  of cymbals;
I hear dervishes monotonously chanting, interspersed with frantic shouts, as 
  they spin around, turning always towards Mecca;
I see the rapt religious dances of the Persians and the Arabs; Again at Eleusis, home of Ceres, I see the modern Greeks dancing, I hear them clapping their hands, as they bend their bodies, I hear the metrical shuffling of their feet.
I see again the wild old Corybantian dance, the performers wounding each other; I see the Roman youth, to the shrill sound of flageolets, throwing and catch- 
 ing their weapons,
As they fall on their knees, and rise again.
I hear from the Mussulman mosque the muezzin calling; I see the worshippers within, (nor form, nor sermon, argument, nor word, But rhapsodes, silent, devout—rais'd, glowing heads—ecstatic faces.)


The instruments, chants, of far-off climes resume themselves, The Egyptian harp of many strings, The primitive chants of the Nile boatmen; The sacred imperial hymns of China, To the delicate sounds of the king, (the stricken wood and stone;) Or to Hindu flutes, and the fretting twang of the Vina, A band of bayaderes.


Now Asia, Africa leave me—Europe, seizing, inflates me; To organs huge, and bands, I hear as from vast concourses of voices, Luther's strong hymn, Eine feste Burg ist unser Gott; Rossini's Stabat Maler dolorosa; Or, floating in some high cathedral dim, with gorgeous color'd windows, The passionate Agnus De, or Gloria in Excelsis.


Mighty maestros! And you, sweet singers of old lands—Soprani! Tenori! To you a new bard, carolling free in the west, Obeisant, sends his love. Such led me thee, O Soul! (All senses, shows and objects lead to thee, But now it seems to me, sound leads o'er all the rest.)


I hear the annual singing of the children in St. Paul's Cathedral; Or, under the high roof of some colossal hall, the symphonies, oratorios of 
  Beethoven, Handel, or Haydn;
The Creation, in billows of godhood laves me.
Give me to hold all sounds, (I, madly struggling, cry,) Fill me with all the voices of the universe, Endow me with their throbbings—Nature's also, The tempests, waters, winds—operas and chants—marches and dances, Utter—pour in—for I would take them all.


Then I woke softly, And pausing, questioning awhile the music of my dream, And questioning all those reminiscences—the tempest on the sea, And all the songs of sopranos and tenors, And those rapt oriental dances, of religious fervor, And the sweet varied instruments, and the diapason of organs, And all the artless plaints of love, and grief and death, I said to my silent, curious Soul, out of the bed of the slumber-chamber, Come, for I have found the clew I sought so long, Let us go forth refresh'd amid the day, Cheerfully tallying life, walking the world, the real, Nourish'd henceforth by our celestial dream. And I said, moreover, Haply, what thou hast heard, O Soul, was not the sound of winds, Nor dream of stormy waves, nor sea-hawk's flapping wings, nor harsh scream, Nor vocalism of sun-bright Italy, Nor German organ majestic—nor vast concourse of voices—nor layers of 
Nor strophes of husbands and wives—nor sound of marching soldiers, Nor flutes, nor harps, nor the different bugle-calls of camps; But, to a new rhythmus fitted for thee, Poems, vaguely wafted in night air, uncaught, unwritten, Which, let us go forth in the bold day, and write.


1. This poem was slightly revised and reprinted as "Proud Music of the Storm" in Passage to India (1871), Two Rivulets (1876), and in Leaves of Grass (1881–82). [back]

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