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Broad-Axe Poem.

5 — Broad-Axe Poem.

BROAD-AXE, shapely, naked, wan! Head from the mother's bowels drawn! Wooded flesh and metal bone! limb only one and  
 lip only one!
Gray-blue leaf by red-heat grown! helve produced  
 from a little seed sown!
Resting, the grass amid and upon, To be leaned, and to lean on.
Strong shapes, and attributes of strong shapes,  
 masculine trades, sights and sounds,
Long varied train of an emblem, dabs of music, Fingers of the organist skipping staccato over the  
 keys of the great organ.
Welcome are all earth's lands, each for its kind, Welcome are lands of pine and oak, Welcome are lands of the lemon and fig, Welcome are lands of gold, Welcome are lands of wheat and maize—welcome  
 those of the grape,
Welcome are lands of sugar and rice,   [ begin page 141 ]ppp.00237.149.jpg Welcome the cotton-lands—welcome those of the  
 white potato and sweet potato,
Welcome are mountains, flats, sands, forests, prai- 
Welcome the rich borders of rivers, table-lands,  
Welcome the measureless grazing lands—wel- 
 come the teeming soil of orchards, flax,  
 honey, hemp,
Welcome just as much the other more hard-faced  
Lands rich as lands of gold, or wheat and fruit  
Lands of mines, lands of the manly and rugged ores, Lands of coal, copper, lead, tin, zinc, Lands of iron! lands of the make of the axe!
The log at the wood-pile, the axe supported by it, The sylvan hut, the vine over the doorway, the  
 space cleared for a garden,
The irregular tapping of rain down on the leaves,  
 after the storm is lulled,
The wailing and moaning at intervals, the thought  
 of the sea,
The thought of ships struck in the storm, and put  
 on their beam-ends, and the cutting away of  
The sentiment of the huge timbers of old-fashioned  
 houses and barns;
  [ begin page 142 ]ppp.00237.150.jpg The remembered print or narrative, the voyage at  
 a venture of men, families, goods,
The disembarcation, the founding of a new city, The voyage of those who sought a New England  
 and found it,
The Year 1 of These States, the weapons that year  
 began with, scythe, pitch-fork, club, horse- 
The settlements of the Arkansas, Colorado, Ottawa,  
The slow progress, the scant fare, the axe, rifle,  
The beauty of all adventurous and daring per- 
The beauty of wood-boys and wood-men, with  
 their clear untrimmed faces,
The beauty of independence, departure, actions  
 that rely on themselves,
The American contempt for statutes and cere- 
 monies, the boundless impatience of restraint,
The loose drift of character, the inkling through  
 random types, the solidification;
The butcher in the slaughter-house, the hands  
 aboard schooners and sloops, the rafts-man,  
 the pioneer,
Lumber-men in their winter camp, day-break in the  
 woods, stripes of snow on the limbs of trees,  
 the occasional snapping,
  [ begin page 143 ]ppp.00237.151.jpg The glad clear sound of one's own voice, the  
 merry song, the natural life of the woods, the  
 strong day's work,
The blazing fire at night, the sweet taste of supper,  
 the talk, the bed of hemlock boughs, and the  
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere, The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mor- 
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their  
 places, laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises,  
 according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes  
 of the men, their curved limbs,
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in  
 pins, holding on by posts and braces,
The hooked arm over the plate, the other arm  
 wielding the axe,
The floor-men forcing the planks close, to be  
Their postures bringing their weapons downward  
 on the bearers,
The echoes resounding through the vacant building; The huge store-house carried up in the city, well  
 under way,
The six framing-men, two in the middle and two  
 at each end, carefully bearing on their  
 shoulders a heavy stick for a cross-beam,
  [ begin page 144 ]ppp.00237.152.jpg The crowded line of masons with trowels in their  
 right hands rapidly laying the long side-wall,  
 two hundred feet from front to rear,
The flexible rise and fall of backs, the continual  
 click of the trowels and bricks,
The bricks, one after another, each laid so work- 
 man-like in its place, and set with a knock of  
 the trowel-handle,
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar- 
 boards, and the steady replenishing by the  
Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row  
 of well-grown apprentices,
The swing of their axes on the square-hewed  
 log, shaping it toward the shape of a  
The brisk short crackle of the steel driven slant- 
 ingly into the pine,
The butter-colored chips flying off in great flakes  
 and slivers,
The limber motion of brawny young arms and hips  
 in easy costumes;
The constructor of wharves, bridges, piers, bulk- 
 heads, floats, stays against the sea;
The city fire-man—the fire that suddenly bursts  
 forth in the close-packed square,
The arriving engines, the hoarse shouts, the  
 nimble stepping and daring,
  [ begin page 145 ]ppp.00237.153.jpg The strong command through the fire-trumpets,  
 the forming in line, the echoed rise and fall  
 of the arms forcing the water,
The slender, spasmic blue-white jets—the bring- 
 ing to bear of the hooks and ladders, and  
 their execution,
The crash and cut away of connecting wood-work,  
 or through floors, if the fire smoulders under  
The crowd with their lit faces, watching—the  
 glare and dense shadows;
The forger at his forge-furnace, and the user of  
 iron after him,
The maker of the axe large and small, and the  
 welder and temperer,
The chooser breathing his breath on the cold  
 steel and trying the edge with his thumb,
The one who clean-shapes the handle and sets it  
 firmly in the socket,
The shadowy processions of the portraits of the  
 past users also,
The primal patient mechanics, the architects and  
The far-off Assyrian edifice and Mizra edifice, The Roman lictors preceding the consuls, The antique European warrior with his axe in  
The uplifted arm, the clatter of blows on the  
 helmeted head,
7   [ begin page 146 ]ppp.00237.154.jpg The death-howl, the limpsey tumbling, the  
 rush of friend and foe thither,
The siege of revolted lieges determined for lib- 
The summons to surrender, the battering at castle  
 gates, the truce and parley,
The sack of an old city in its time, The bursting in of mercenaries and bigots tumult- 
 uously and disorderly,
Roar, flames, blood, drunkenness, madness, Goods freely rifled from houses and temples,  
 screams of women in the gripe of brigands,
Craft and thievery of camp-followers, men running,  
 old persons despairing,
The hell of war, the cruelties of creeds, The list of all executive deeds and words, just or  
The power of personality, just or unjust.
Muscle and pluck forever! What invigorates life, invigorates death, And the dead advance as much as the living  
And the future is no more uncertain than the  
And the roughness of the earth and of man en- 
 closes as much as the delicatesse of the earth  
 and of man,
And nothing endures but personal qualities.
  [ begin page 147 ]ppp.00237.155.jpg What do you think endures? Do you think the greatest city endures? Or a teeming manufacturing state? or a prepared  
 constitution? or the best built steam-ships?
Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chef- 
 d'oeuvres of engineering, forts, armaments?
Away! These are not to be cherished for them- 
They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musi- 
 cians play for them,
The show passes, all does well enough of course, All does very well till one flash of defiance.
The greatest city is that which has the greatest  
 man or woman,
If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest  
 city in the whole world.
The place where the greatest city stands is not  
 the place of stretched wharves, docks, manu- 
 factures, deposites of produce,
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers,  
 or the anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest build- 
 ings, or shops selling goods from the rest of  
 the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools,  
 nor the place where money is plentiest,
  [ begin page 148 ]ppp.00237.156.jpg Nor the place of the most numerous population. Where the city stands with the brawniest breed  
 of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is beloved by these,  
 and loves them in return, and understands  
Where these may be seen going every day in the  
 streets, with their arms familiar to the shoul- 
 ders of their friends,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the  
 common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its  
Where behavior is the finest of the fine arts, Where the men and women think lightly of the  
Where the slave ceases and the master of slaves  
Where the populace rise at once against the auda- 
 city of elected persons,
Where fierce men and women pour forth as the  
 sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping  
 and unript waves,
Where outside authority enters always after the  
 precedence of inside authority,
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal,  
 and President, Mayor, Governor, and what  
 not, are agents for pay,
  [ begin page 149 ]ppp.00237.157.jpg Where children are taught from the jump that  
 they are to be laws to themselves, and to  
 depend on themselves,
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs, Where speculations on the soul are encouraged, Where women walk in public processions in the  
 streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take  
 places the same as the men, and are appealed  
 to by the orators the same as the men,
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands, Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes  
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands, Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands, There the greatest city stands.
How beggarly appear poems, arguments, orations,  
 before an electric deed!
How the floridness of the materials of cities  
 shrivels before a man's or woman's look!
All waits, or goes by default, till a strong being  
A strong being is the proof of the race, and of the  
 ability of the universe,
When he or she appears, materials are over- 
The dispute on the soul stops,   [ begin page 150 ]ppp.00237.158.jpg The old customs and phrases are confronted,  
 turned back, or laid away.
What is your money-making now? What can it  
 do now?
What is your respectability now? What are your theology, tuition, society, traditions,  
 statute-books now?
Where are your jibes of being now? Where are your cavils about the soul now?
Was that your best? Were those your vast and  
Riches, opinions, politics, institutions, to part obe- 
 diently from the path of one man or woman!
The centuries, and all authority, to be trod under  
 the foot-soles of one man or woman!
—A sterile landscape covers the ore—there is as good as the best, for all the forbidding  
There is the mine, there are the miners, The forge-furnace is there, the melt is accom- 
 plished, the hammers-men are at hand with  
 their tongs and hammers,
What always served and always serves, is at hand. Than this nothing has better served—it has served  
  [ begin page 151 ]ppp.00237.159.jpg Served the fluent-tongued and subtle-sensed  
 Greek, and long ere the Greek,
Served in building the buildings that last longer  
 than any,
Served the Hebrew, the Persian, the most ancient  
Served the mound-raiser on the Mississippi,  
 served those whose relics remain in Central  
Served Albic temples in woods or on plains, with  
 unhewn pillars, and the druids, and the  
 bloody body laid in the hollow of the great  
Served the artificial clefts, vast, high, silent, on  
 the snow-covered hills of Scandinavia,
Served those who, time out of mind, made on the  
 granite walls rough sketches of the sun,  
 moon, stars, ships, ocean-waves,
Served the paths of the irruptions of the Goths,  
 served the pastoral tribes and nomads,
Served the incalculably distant Celt, served the  
 hardy pirates of the Baltic,
Served before any of those, the venerable and  
 harmless men of Ethiopia,
Served the making of helms for the galleys  
 of pleasure, and the making of those for  
Served all great works on land, and all great  
 works on the sea,
  [ begin page 152 ]ppp.00237.160.jpg For the medieval ages, and before the medieval  
Served not the living only, then as now, but  
 served the dead.
I see the European headsman, He stands masked, clothed in red, with huge legs,  
 and strong naked arms,
And leans on a ponderous axe.
Whom have you slaughtered lately, European  
Whose is that blood upon you, so wet and  
I see the clear sun-sets of the martyrs, I see from the scaffolds the descending  
Ghosts of dead princes, uncrowned ladies, im- 
 peached ministers, rejected kings,
Rivals, traitors, poisoners, disgraced chieftains,  
 and the rest.
I see those who in any land have died for the  
 good cause,
The seed is spare, nevertheless the crop shall  
 never run out,
Mind you, O foreign kings, O priests, the crop  
 shall never run out.
  [ begin page 153 ]ppp.00237.161.jpg I see the blood washed entirely away from the  
Both blade and helve are clean, They spirt no more the blood of European nobles,  
 —they clasp no more the necks of queens.
I see the headsman withdraw and become use- 
I see the scaffold untrodden and mouldy, I see no  
 longer any axe upon it,
I see the mighty and friendly emblem of the power  
 of my own race, the newest largest race.
America! I do not vaunt my love for you, I have what I have. The axe leaps! The solid forest gives fluid utterances, They tumble forth, they rise and form, Hut, tent, landing, survey, Flail, plough, pick, crowbar, spade, Shingle, rail, prop, wainscot, jamb, lath, panel,  
Citadel, ceiling, saloon, academy, organ, exhibi- 
 tion-house, library,
Cornice, trellis, pilaster, balcony, window, shutter,  
 turret, porch,
Hoe, rake, pitch-fork, pencil, wagon, staff, saw,  
 jackplane, mallet, wedge, rounce,
7*   [ begin page 154 ]ppp.00237.162.jpg Chair, tub, hoop, table, wicket, vane, sash, floor, Work-box, chest, stringed instrument, boat, frame,  
 and what not,
Capitols of States, and capitol of the nation of  
Long stately rows in avenues, hospitals for or- 
 phans or for the poor or sick,
Manhattan steamboats and clippers, taking the  
 measure of all seas.
The shapes arise! Shapes of the using of axes anyhow, and the  
 users, and all that neighbors them,
Cutters down of wood, and haulers of it to the  
 Penobscot, or St. John's, or Kennebec,
Dwellers in cabins among the Californian moun- 
 tains, or by the little lakes,
Dwellers south on the banks of the Gila or Rio  
 Grande—friendly gatherings, the characters  
 and fun,
Dwellers up north in Minnesota and by the  
 Yellowstone river, dwellers on coasts and  
 off coasts,
Seal-fishers, whalers, arctic seamen breaking pas- 
 sages through the ice.
The shapes arise! Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets, Shapes of the two-threaded tracks of railroads,   [ begin page 155 ]ppp.00237.163.jpg Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frame- 
 works, girders, arches,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake craft,  
 river craft.
The shapes arise! Ship-yards and dry-docks along the Atlantic and  
 Pacific, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars,  
 the hackmatuck-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of  
 scaffolds, the workmen busy outside and in- 
The tools lying around, the great augur and little  
 augur, the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge,  
The shapes arise! The shape measured, sawed, jacked, joined,  
The coffin-shape for the dead to lie within in his  
The shape got out in posts, in the bedstead posts,  
 in the posts of the bride's-bed,
The shape of the little trough, the shape of the  
 rockers beneath, the shape of the babe's  
The shape of the floor-planks, the floor-planks for  
 dancers' feet,
  [ begin page 156 ]ppp.00237.164.jpg The shape of the planks of the family home, the  
 home of the friendly parents and children,
The shape of the roof of the home of the happy  
 young man and woman, the roof over the well- 
 married young man and woman,
The roof over the supper joyously cooked by the  
 chaste wife, and joyously eaten by the chaste  
 husband, content after his day's work.
The shapes arise! The shape of the prisoner's place in the court- 
 room, and of him or her seated in the place,
The shape of the pill-box, the disgraceful oint- 
 ment-box, the nauseous application, and him  
 or her applying it,
The shape of the liquor-bar leaned against by the  
 young rum-drinker and the old rum-drinker,
The shape of the shamed and angry stairs, trod  
 by sneaking footsteps,
The shape of the sly settee, and the adulterous  
 unwholesome couple,
The shape of the gambling board with its devilish  
 winnings and losings,
The shape of the slats of the bed of a corrupted  
 body, the bed of the corruption of gluttony or  
 alcoholic drinks,
The shape of the step-ladder for the convicted  
 and sentenced murderer, the murderer with  
 haggard face and pinioned arms,
  [ begin page 157 ]ppp.00237.165.jpg The sheriff at hand with his deputies, the silent  
 and white-lipped crowd, the sickening dan- 
 gling of the rope.
The shapes arise! Shapes of doors giving so many exits and  
The door passing the dissevered friend, flushed,  
 and in haste,
The door that admits good news and bad news, The door whence the son left home, confident and  
 puffed up,
The door he entered from a long and scandalous  
 absence, diseased, broken down, without in- 
 nocence, without means.
Their shapes arise, the shapes of full-sized men! Men taciturn yet loving, used to the open air, and  
 the manners of the open air,
Saying their ardor in native forms, saying the old  
Take what I have then, (saying fain,) take the pay  
 you approached for,
Take the white tears of my blood, if that is what  
 you are after.
Her shape arises! She, less guarded than ever, yet more guarded  
 than ever,
  [ begin page 158 ]ppp.00237.166.jpg The gross and soiled she moves among do not  
 make her gross and soiled,
She knows the thoughts as she passes, nothing is  
 concealed from her,
She is none the less considerate or friendly there- 
She is the best-beloved, it is without exception,  
 she has no reason to fear, and she does not  
Oaths, quarrels, hiccuped songs, smutty expres- 
 sions, are idle to her as she passes,
She is silent, she is possessed of herself, they do  
 not offend her,
She receives them as the laws of nature receive  
 them, she is strong,
She too is a law of nature, there is no law greater  
 than she is.
His shape arises! Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish, Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, country- 
Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, summer  
 swimmer in rivers or by the sea,
Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his  
 body perfect, free from taint from top to toe,  
 free forever from headache and dyspepsia,  
  [ begin page 159 ]ppp.00237.167.jpg Ample-limbed, a good feeder, weight a hundred  
 and eighty pounds, full-blooded, six feet high,  
 forty inches round the breast and back,
Countenance sun-burnt, bearded, calm, unrefined, Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gen- 
 tleman on equal terms,
Attitudes lithe and erect, costume free, neck open,  
 of slow movement on foot,
Passer of his right arm round the shoulders of his  
 friends, companion of the street,
Persuader always of people to give him their  
 sweetest touches, and never their meanest,
A Manhattanese bred, fond of Brooklyn, fond of  
 Broadway, fond of the life of the wharves  
 and the great ferries,
Enterer everywhere, welcomed everywhere, eas- 
 ily understood after all,
Never offering others, always offering himself,  
 corroborating his phrenology,
Voluptuous, inhabitive, combative, conscientious,  
 alimentive, intuitive, of copious friendship,  
 sublimity, firmness, self-esteem, comparison,  
 individuality, form, locality, eventuality,
Avowing by life, manners, works, to contribute  
 illustrations of results of The States,
Teacher of the unquenchable creed, namely,  
Inviter of others continually henceforth to try  
 their strength against his.
  [ begin page 160 ]ppp.00237.168.jpg The shapes arise! Shapes of America, shapes of centuries, Shapes of those that do not joke with life, but are  
 in earnest with life,
Shapes ever projecting other shapes, Shapes of a hundred Free States, begetting  
 another hundred north and south,
Shapes of the turbulent manly cities, Shapes of the untamed breed of young men and  
 natural persons,
Shapes of women fit for These States, Shapes of the composition of all the varieties of  
 the earth,
Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the  
 whole earth,
Shapes bracing the whole earth, and braced with  
 the whole earth.
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