Skip to main content

Brother of All, with Generous Hand




BROTHER of all, with generous hand, Of thee, pondering on thee, as o'er thy tomb, I and my Soul, A thought to launch in memory of thee, A burial verse for thee. What may we chant, O thou within this tomb? What tablets, pictures, hang for thee, O millionaire? The life thou lived'st we know not, But that thou walk'dst thy years in barter, 'mid the haunts of brokers; Nor heroism thine, nor war, nor glory. Yet lingering, yearning, joining soul with thine, If not thy past we chant, we chant the future, Select, adorn the future.


Lo, Soul, the graves of heroes! The pride of lands—the gratitudes of men, The statues of the manifold famous dead, Old World and New, The kings, inventors, generals, poets, (stretch wide thy vision, Soul,) The giants of the races, great discoverers, sailors, Marble and brass select from them, with pictures, scenes, (The histories of the lands, the races, bodied there, In what they've built for, graced and graved, Monuments to their heroes.)


Silent, my Soul, With drooping lids, as waiting, pondered, Turning from all the samples, all the monuments of heroes. While through the interior vistas, Noiseless uprose, phantasmic, (as, by night, Auroras of the north,) Lambent tableaux, prophetic, bodiless scenes, Spiritual projections. In one, among the city streets, a laborer's home appear'd, After his day's work done, cleanly, sweet-air'd, the gas-light burning, The carpet swept, and a fire in the cheerful stove. In one, the sacred parturition scene, A happy, painless mother birth'd a perfect child. In one, at a bounteous morning meal, Sat peaceful parents, with contented sons. In one, by twos and threes, young people, Hundreds concentering, walk'd the paths and streets and roads, Toward a tall-domed school. In one a trio, beautiful, Grandmother, loving daughter, loving daughter's daughter sat, Chatting and sewing. In one, along a suite of noble rooms, 'Mid plenteous books and journals, paintings on the walls, fine statuettes, Were groups of friendly journeymen, mechanics, young and old, Reading, conversing. All, all the shows of laboring life, City and country, women's and men's and children's, Their wants provided for, hued in the sun, and tinged for once with joy, Marriage, the street, the factory, farm, the house-room, lodging-room, Labor and toil, the bath, gymnasium, play-ground, library, college, The student, boy or girl, led forward to be taught; The sick cared for, the shoeless shod—the orphan father'd and mother'd, The hungry fed, the houseless hous'd; (The intentions perfect and divine, The workings, details, haply human.)


O thou within this tomb, From thee, such scenes—thou unstinted, lavish Giver, Tallying the gifts of Earth—large as the Earth, Thy name an Earth, with mountains, fields and rivers. Nor by your streams alone, you rivers, By you, your banks, Connecticut, By you, and all your teeming life, Old Thames, By you, Potomac, laving the ground Washington trod—by you Patapsco, You, Hudson—you, endless Mississippi—not by you alone, But to the high seas launch, my thought, his memory.


Lo, Soul, by this tomb's lambency, The darkness of the arrogant wisdom of the world, With all its flaunting aims, ambitions, pleasures. (Old, commonplace, and rusty saws, The rich, the gay, the supercilious, smiled at long, Now, piercing to the marrow in my bones, Fused with each drop of blood my heart's blood jets, Swim in ineffable meaning.) Lo, Soul, the sphere requireth, portioneth, To each his share, his measure, The moderate to the moderate, the ample to the ample. Lo, Soul, see'st thou not, plain as the sun, The only real wealth of wealth in generosity, The only life of life in goodness.


1. Reprinted in Passage to India (1871), in the group "Passage to India" of Leaves of Grass (1872) and Two Rivulets (1876), and, after some revision, under the new title "Outlines for a Tomb" in Leaves of Grass (1881–82). [back]

Back to top