Skip to main content

As I Sat Alone by Blue Ontario's Shore.

Part of the cluster MARCHES NOW THE WAR IS OVER.



1As I sat alone, by blue Ontario's shore, As I mused of these mighty days, and of peace return'd,  
 and the dead that return no more,
A Phantom, gigantic, superb, with stern visage, accosted  
Chant me the poem, it said, that comes from the soul of  
  America—chant me the carol of victory;
And strike up the marches of Libertad—marches more  
  powerful yet;
And sing me before you go, the song of the throes of  
2(Democracy—the destin'd conqueror—yet treacherous  
 lip-smiles everywhere,
And Death and infidelity at every step.)


3A Nation announcing itself, I myself make the only growth by which I can be ap- 
I reject none, accept all, then reproduce all in my own  
  [ begin page 310 ]ppp.00270.312.jpg 4A breed whose proof is in time and deeds; What we are, we are—nativity is answer enough to  
We wield ourselves as a weapon is wielded, We are powerful and tremendous in ourselves, We are executive in ourselves—We are sufficient in the  
 variety of ourselves,
We are the most beautiful to ourselves, and in ourselves; We stand self-pois'd in the middle, branching thence  
 over the world;
From Missouri, Nebraska, or Kansas, laughing attacks  
 to scorn.
5Nothing is sinful to us outside of ourselves, Whatever appears, whatever does not appear, we are  
 beautiful or sinful in ourselves only.
6(O mother! O sisters dear! If we are lost, no victor else has destroy'd us; It is by ourselves we go down to eternal night.)


7Have you thought there could be but a single  
There can be any number of Supremes—One does not  
 countervail another, any more than one eyesight  
 countervails another, or one life countervails  
8All is eligible to all, All is for individuals—All is for you, No condition is prohibited—not God's, or any. 9All comes by the body—only health puts you rapport  
 with the universe.
10Produce great persons, the rest follows.
  [ begin page 311 ]ppp.00270.313.jpg


11America isolated I sing; I say that works made here in the spirit of other lands,  
 are so much poison in The States.
12(How dare such insects as we see assume to write  
 poems for America?
For our victorious armies, and the offspring following  
 the armies?)
13Piety and conformity to them that like! Peace, obesity, allegiance, to them that like! I am he who tauntingly compels men, women, nations, Crying, Leap from your seats, and contend for your  
14I am he who walks the States with a barb'd tongue,  
 questioning every one I meet;
Who are you, that wanted only to be told what you  
 knew before?
Who are you, that wanted only a book to join you in  
 your nonsense?
15(With pangs and cries, as thine own, O bearer of  
 many children!
These clamors wild, to a race of pride I give.)
16O lands! would you be freer than all that has ever  
 been before!
If you would be freer than all that has been before,  
 come listen to me.
17Fear grace—Fear elegance, civilization, delicatesse, Fear the mellow sweet, the sucking of honey-juice; Beware the advancing mortal ripening of nature, Beware what precedes the decay of the ruggedness of  
 states and men.
  [ begin page 312 ]ppp.00270.314.jpg


18Ages, precedents, have long been accumulating undi- 
 rected materials,
America brings builders, and brings its own styles.
19The immortal poets of Asia and Europe have done  
 their work, and pass'd to other spheres,
A work remains, the work of surpassing all they have  
20America, curious toward foreign characters, stands  
 by its own at all hazards,
Stands removed, spacious, composite, sound—initiates  
 the true use of precedents,
Does not repel them, or the past, or what they have  
 produced under their forms,
Takes the lesson with calmness, perceives the corpse  
 slowly borne from the house,
Perceives that it waits a little while in the door—that  
 it was fittest for its days,
That its life has descended to the stalwart and well- 
 shaped heir who approaches,
And that he shall be fittest for his days.
21Any period, one nation must lead, One land must be the promise and reliance of the  
22These States are the amplest poem, Here is not merely a nation, but a teeming nation of  
Here the doings of men correspond with the broadcast  
 doings of the day and night,
Here is what moves in magnificent masses, careless of  
Here are the roughs, beards, friendliness, combative- 
 ness, the Soul loves,
Here the flowing trains—here the crowds, equality,  
 diversity, the Soul loves.
  [ begin page 313 ]ppp.00270.315.jpg


23Land of lands, and bards to corroborate! Of them, standing among them, one lifts to the light his  
 west-bred face,
To him the hereditary countenance bequeath'd, both  
 mother's and father's,
His first parts substances, earth, water, animals, trees, Built of the common stock, having room for far and  
Used to dispense with other lands, incarnating this  
Attracting it Body and Soul to himself, hanging on its  
 neck with incomparable love,
Plunging his seminal muscle into its merits and de- 
Making its cities, beginnings, events, diversities, wars,  
 vocal in him,
Making its rivers, lakes, bays, embouchure in him, Mississippi with yearly freshets and changing chutes—  
 Columbia, Niagara, Hudson, spending them- 
 selves lovingly in him,
If the Atlantic coast stretch, or the Pacific coast stretch,  
 he stretching with them north or south,
Spanning between them, east and west, and touching  
 whatever is between them,
Growths growing from him to offset the growth of  
 pine, cedar, hemlock, live-oak, locust, chestnut,  
 hickory, cotton-wood, orange, magnolia,
Tangles as tangled in him as any cane-brake or swamp, He likening sides and peaks of mountains, forests  
 coated with northern transparent ice,
Off him pasturage sweet and natural as savanna, up- 
 land, prairie,
Through him flights, whirls, screams, answering those  
 of the fish-hawk, mocking-bird, night-heron, and  
His spirit surrounding his country's spirit, unclosed to  
 good and evil,
Surrounding the essences of real things, old times and  
 present times,
  [ begin page 314 ]ppp.00270.316.jpg Surrounding just found shores, islands, tribes of red  
Weather-beaten vessels, landings, settlements, embryo  
 stature and muscle,
The haughty defiance of the Year 1—war, peace, the  
 formation of the Constitution,
The separate States, the simple, elastic scheme, the im- 
The Union, always swarming with blatherers, and  
 always sure and impregnable,
The unsurvey'd interior, log-houses, clearings, wild  
 animals, hunters, trappers;
Surrounding the multiform agriculture, mines, tem- 
 perature, the gestation of new States,
Congress convening every Twelfth-month, the mem- 
 bers duly coming up from the uttermost parts;
Surrounding the noble character of mechanics and  
 farmers, especially the young men,
Responding their manners, speech, dress, friendships—  
 the gait they have of persons who never knew  
 how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors,
The freshness and candor of their physiognomy, the  
 copiousness and decision of their phrenology,
The picturesque looseness of their carriage, their fierce- 
 ness when wrong'd,
The fluency of their speech, their delight in music, their  
 curiosity, good temper, and open-handedness—  
 the whole composite make,
The prevailing ardor and enterprise, the large amative- 
The perfect equality of the female with the male, the  
 fluid movement of the population,
The superior marine, free commerce, fisheries, whaling,  
Wharf-hemm'd cities, railroad and steamboat lines, in- 
 tersecting all points,
Factories, mercantile life, labor-saving machinery, the  
 north-east, north-west, south-west,
Manhattan firemen, the Yankee swap, southern planta- 
 tion life,
  [ begin page 315 ]ppp.00270.317.jpg Slavery—the murderous, treacherous conspiracy to raise  
 it upon the ruins of all the rest;
On and on to the grapple with it—Assassin! then your  
 life or ours be the stake—and respite no more.


24(Lo! high toward heaven, this day, Libertad! from the conqueress' field return'd, I mark the new aureola around your head; No more of soft astral, but dazzling and fierce, With war's flames, and the lambent lightnings playing, And your port immovable where you stand; With still the inextinguishable glance, and the clench'd  
 and lifted fist,
And your foot on the neck of the menacing one, the  
 scorner, utterly crush'd beneath you;
The menacing, arrogant one, that strode and advanced  
 with his senseless scorn, bearing the murderous  
—Lo! the wide swelling one, the braggart, that would  
 yesterday do so much!
To-day a carrion dead and damn'd, the despised of all  
 the earth!
An offal rank, to the dunghill maggots spurn'd.)


25Others take finish, but the Republic is ever construc- 
 tive, and ever keeps vista;
Others adorn the past—but you, O days of the present,  
 I adorn you!
O days of the future, I believe in you! I isolate myself  
 for your sake;
O America, because you build for mankind, I build for  
O well-beloved stone-cutters! I lead them who plan with  
 decision and science,
I lead the present with friendly hand toward the fu- 
  [ begin page 316 ]ppp.00270.318.jpg 26Bravas to all impulses sending sane children to the  
 next age!
But damn that which spends itself, with no thought of  
 the stain, pains, dismay, feebleness, it is be- 


27I listened to the Phantom on Ontario's shore, I heard the voice arising, demanding bards; By them all native and grand—by them alone can The  
 States be fused into the compact organism of a  
28To hold men together by paper and seal, or by com- 
 pulsion, is no account;
That only holds men together which aggregates all in a  
 living principle, as the hold of the limbs of the  
 body, or the fibres of plants.
29Of all races and eras, These States, with veins full of  
 poetical stuff, most need poets, and are to have  
 the greatest, and use them the greatest;
Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so  
 much as their poets shall.
30(Soul of love, and tongue of fire! Eye to pierce the deepest deeps, and sweep the world! —Ah, mother! prolific and full in all besides—yet how  
 long barren, barren?)


31Of These States, the poet is the equable man, Not in him, but off from him, things are grotesque,  
 eccentric, fail of their full returns,
Nothing out of its place is good, nothing in its place is  
He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportion,  
 neither more nor less,
He is the arbiter of the diverse, he is the key, He is the equalizer of his age and land,   [ begin page 317 ]ppp.00270.319.jpg He supplies what wants supplying—he checks what  
 wants checking,
In peace, out of him speaks the spirit of peace, large,  
 rich, thrifty, building populous towns, encour- 
 aging agriculture, arts, commerce, lighting the  
 study of man, the Soul, health, immortality, gov- 
In war, he is the best backer of the war—he fetches  
 artillery as good as the engineer's—he can make  
 every word he speaks draw blood;
The years straying toward infidelity, he withholds by  
 his steady faith,
He is no arguer, he is judgment—(Nature accepts him  
He judges not as the judge judges, but as the sun fall- 
 ing round a helpless thing;
As he sees the farthest, he has the most faith, His thoughts are the hymns of the praise of things, In the dispute on God and eternity he is silent, He sees eternity less like a play with a prologue and  
He sees eternity in men and women—he does not see  
 men and women as dreams or dots.
32For the great Idea, the idea of perfect and free indi- 
For that idea the bard walks in advance, leader of  
The attitude of him cheers up slaves, and horrifies  
 foreign despots.
33Without extinction is Liberty! without retrograde is  
They live in the feelings of young men, and the best  
Not for nothing have the indomitable heads of the earth  
 been always ready to fall for Liberty.


34For the great Idea! That, O my brethren—that is the mission of Poets.   [ begin page 318 ]ppp.00270.320.jpg 35Songs of stern defiance, ever ready, Songs of the rapid arming, and the march, The flag of peace quick-folded, and instead, the flag we  
Warlike flag of the great Idea.
36(Angry cloth I saw there leaping! I stand again in leaden rain, your flapping folds saluting; I sing you over all, flying, beckoning through the fight  
 —O the hard-contested fight!
O the cannons ope their rosy-flashing muzzles! the  
 hurtled balls scream!
The battle-front forms amid the smoke—the volleys  
 pour incessant from the line;
Hark! the ringing word, Charge!—now the tussle, and  
 the furious maddening yells;
Now the corpses tumble curl'd upon the ground, Cold, cold in death, for precious life of you, Angry cloth I saw there leaping.)


37Are you he who would assume a place to teach, or be  
 a poet here in The States?
The place is August—the terms obdurate.
38Who would assume to teach here, may well prepare  
 himself, body and mind,
He may well survey, ponder, arm, fortify, harden, make  
 lithe, himself,
He shall surely be question'd beforehand by me with  
 many and stern questions.
39Who are you, indeed, who would talk or sing to  
Have you studied out the land, its idioms and men? Have you learn'd the physiology, phrenology, politics,  
 geography, pride, freedom, friendship, of the  
 land? its substratums and objects?
  [ begin page 319 ]ppp.00270.321.jpg Have you consider'd the organic compact of the first day  
 of the first year of Independence, sign'd by the  
 Commissioners, ratified by The States, and  
 read by Washington at the head of the army?
Have you possess'd yourself of the Federal Constitution? Do you see who have left all feudal processes and poems  
 behind them, and assumed the poems and pro- 
 cesses of Democracy?
Are you faithful to things? do you teach as the land  
 and sea, the bodies of men, womanhood, ama- 
 tiveness, angers, teach?
Have you sped through fleeting customs, popularities? Can you hold your hand against all seductions, follies,  
 whirls, fierce contentions? are you very strong?  
 are you really of the whole people?
Are you not of some coterie? some school or mere  
Are you done with reviews and criticisms of life? ani- 
 mating now to life itself?
Have you vivified yourself from the maternity of These  
Have you too the old, ever-fresh forbearance and im- 
Do you hold the like love for those hardening to ma- 
 turity; for the last-born? little and big? and  
 for the errant?
40What is this you bring my America? Is it uniform with my country? Is it not something that has been better told or done  
Have you not imported this, or the spirit of it, in some  
Is it not a mere tale? a rhyme? a prettiness? is the  
 good old cause in it?
Has it not dangled long at the heels of the poets, poli 
 ticians, literats, of enemies' lands?
Does it not assume that what is notoriously gone is still  
Does it answer universal needs? will it improve man- 
  [ begin page 320 ]ppp.00270.322.jpg Does it sound, with trumpet-voice, the proud victory of  
 the Union, in that secession war?
Can your performance face the open fields and the sea- 
Will it absorb into me as I absorb food, air—to appear  
 again in my strength, gait, face?
Have real employments contributed to it? original  
 makers—not mere amanuenses?
Does it meet modern discoveries, calibers, faces, face to  
What does it mean to me? to American persons, pro- 
 gresses, cities? Chicago, Kanada, Arkansas? the  
 planter, Yankee, Georgian, native, immigrant,  
 sailors, squatters, old States, new States?
Does it encompass all The States, and the unexcep- 
 tional rights of all the men and woman of the  
 earth? (the genital impulse of These States;)
Does it see behind the apparent custodians, the real  
 custodians, standing, menacing, silent—the me- 
 chanics, Manhattanese, western men, southerners,  
 significant alike in their apathy, and in the  
 promptness of their love?
Does it see what finally befalls, and has always finally  
 befallen, each temporizer, patcher, outsider, par- 
 tialist, alarmist, infidel, who has ever ask'd any- 
 thing of America?
What mocking and scornful negligence? The track strew'd with the dust of skeletons; By the roadside others disdainfully toss'd.


41Rhymes and rhymers pass away—poems distill'd  
 from foreign poems pass away,
The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and leave  
Admirers, importers, obedient persons, make but the  
 soil of literature;
America justifies itself, give it time—no disguise can  
 deceive it, or conceal from it—it is impassive  
  [ begin page 321 ]ppp.00270.323.jpg Only towards the likes of itself will it advance to meet  
If its poets appear, it will in due time advance to meet  
 them—there is no fear of mistake,
(The proof of a poet shall be sternly deferr'd, till his  
 country absorbs him as affectionately as he has  
 absorb'd it.)
42He masters whose spirit masters—he tastes sweetest  
 who results sweetest in the long run;
The blood of the brawn beloved of time is unconstraint; In the need of poems, philosophy, politics, manners,  
 engineering, an appropriate native grand-opera,  
 shipcraft, any craft, he or she is greatest who  
 contributes the greatest original practical ex- 
43Already a nonchalant breed, silently emerging, ap- 
 pears on the streets,
People's lips salute only doers, lovers, satisfiers, positive  
There will shortly be no more priests—I say their work  
 is done.
Death is without emergencies here, but life is perpet- 
 ual emergencies here,
Are your body, days, manners, superb? after death  
 you shall be superb;
Justice, health, self-esteem, clear the way with irresist- 
 ible power;
How dare you place anything before a man?


44Fall behind me, States! A man before all—myself, typical, before all. 45Give me the pay I have served for! Give me to sing the song of the great Idea! take all  
 the rest;
I have loved the earth, sun, animals—I have despised  
  [ begin page 322 ]ppp.00270.324.jpg I have given alms to every one that ask'd, stood up for  
 the stupid and crazy, devoted my income and  
 labor to others,
I have hated tyrants, argued not concerning God, had  
 patience and indulgence toward the people,  
 taken off my hat to nothing known or unknown,
I have gone freely with powerful uneducated persons,  
 and with the young, and with the mothers of  
I have read these leaves to myself in the open air—I  
 have tried them by trees, stars, rivers,
I have dismiss'd whatever insulted my own Soul or  
 defiled my Body,
I have claim'd nothing to myself which I have not  
 carefully claim'd for others on the same terms,
I have sped to the camps, and comrades found and  
 accepted from every State;
(In war of you, as well as peace, my suit is good, Amer- 
 ica—sadly I boast;
Upon this breast has many a dying soldier lean'd, to  
 breathe his last;
This arm, this hand, this voice, have nourish'd, rais'd,  
To life recalling many a prostrate form:) —I am willing to wait to be understood by the growth  
 of the taste of myself,
I reject none, I permit all.
46(Say, O mother! have I not to your thought been  
Have I not, through life, kept you and yours before  


47I swear I begin to see the meaning of these things! It is not the earth, it is not America, who is so great, It is I who am great, or to be great—it is you up there,  
 or any one;
It is to walk rapidly through civilizations, governments,  
  [ begin page 323 ]ppp.00270.325.jpg Through poems, pageants, shows, to form great indi- 
48Underneath all, individuals! I swear nothing is good to me now that ignores indi- 
The American compact is altogether with individuals, The only government is that which makes minute of  
The whole theory of the universe is directed to one  
 single individual—namely, to You.
49(Mother! with subtle sense severe—with the naked  
 sword in your hand,
I saw you at last refuse to treat but directly with indi- 


50Underneath all, nativity, I swear I will stand by my own nativity—pious or im- 
 pious, so be it;
I swear I am charm'd with nothing except nativity, Men, women, cities, nations, are only beautiful from  
51Underneath all is the need of the expression of love  
 for men and women,
I swear I have seen enough of mean and impotent  
 modes of expressing love for men and women,
After this day I take my own modes of expressing love  
 for men and women.
52I swear I will have each quality of my race in my- 
(Talk as you like, he only suits These States whose  
 manners favor the audacity and sublime turbu- 
 lence of The States.)
53Underneath the lessons of things, spirits, Nature,  
 governments, ownerships, I swear I perceive  
 other lessons,
  [ begin page 324 ]ppp.00270.326.jpg Underneath all, to me is myself—to you, yourself—(the  
 same monotonous old song.)


54O I see now, flashing, that this America is only you  
 and me,
Its power, weapons, testimony, are you and me Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, slavery, are you and  
Its Congress is you and me—the officers, capitols, ar- 
 mies, ships, are you and me,
Its endless gestations of new States are you and me, The war—that war so bloody and grim—the war I will  
 henceforth forget—was you and me,
Natural and artificial are you and me, Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you and  
Past, present, future, are you and me.


55I swear I dare not shirk any part of myself, Not any part of America, good or bad, Not the promulgation of Liberty—not to cheer up slaves  
 and horrify foreign despots,
Not to build for that which builds for mankind, Not to balance ranks, complexions, creeds, and the  
Not to justify science, nor the march of equality, Nor to feed the arrogant blood of the brawn beloved  
 of time.
56I swear I am for those that have never been mas- 
For men and women whose tempers have never been  
For those whom laws, theories, conventions, can never  
  [ begin page 325 ]ppp.00270.327.jpg 57I swear I am for those who walk abreast with the  
 whole earth!
Who inaugurate one, to inaugurate all.
58I swear I will not be outfaced by irrational things! I will penetrate what it is in them that is sarcastic upon  
I will make cities and civilizations defer to me! This is what I have learnt from America—it is the  
 amount—and it I teach again.
59(Democracy! while weapons were everywhere aim'd  
 at your breast,
I saw you serenely give birth to immortal children—  
 saw in dreams your dilating form;
Saw you with spreading mantle covering the world.)


60I will confront these shows of the day and night! I will know if I am to be less than they! I will see if I am not as majestic as they! I will see if I am not as subtle and real as they! I will see if I am to be less generous than they! 61I will see if I have no meaning, while the houses and  
 ships have meaning!
I will see if the fishes and birds are to be enough for  
 themselves, and I am not to be enough for my- 


62I match my spirit against yours, you orbs, growths,  
 mountains, brutes,
Copious as you are, I absorb you all in myself, and be- 
 come the master myself.
63America isolated, yet embodying all, what is it finally  
 except myself?
These States—what are they except myself?
  [ begin page 326 ]ppp.00270.328.jpg 64I know now why the earth is gross, tantalizing,  
 wicked—it is for my sake,
I take you to be mine, you beautiful, terrible, rude  
65(Mother! bend down, bend close to me your face! I know not what these plots and wars, and deferments  
 are for;
I know not fruition's success—but I know that through  
 war and peace your work goes on, and must yet  
 go on.)


66………Thus, by blue Ontario's shore, While the winds fann'd me, and the waves came troop- 
 ing toward me,
I thrill'd with the Power's pulsations—and the charm  
 of my theme was upon me,
Till the tissues that held me, parted their ties upon  
67And I saw the free Souls of poets; The loftiest bards of past ages strode before me, Strange, large men, long unwaked, undisclosed, were  
 disclosed to me.


68O my rapt verse, my call—mock me not! Not for the bards of the past—not to invoke them have  
 I launch'd you forth,
Not to call even those lofty bards here by Ontario's  
Have I sung, so capricious and loud, my savage song.
69Bards for my own land, only, I invoke; (For the war, the war is over—the field is clear'd,) Till they strike up marches henceforth triumphant and  
To cheer, O mother, your boundless, expectant soul.
  [ begin page 327 ]ppp.00270.329.jpg 70Bards grand as these days so grand! Bards of the great Idea! Bards of the peaceful inven- 
 tions! (for the war, the war is over!)
Yet Bards of the latent armies—a million soldiers wait- 
 ing ever-ready,
Bards towering like hills—(no more these dots, these  
 pigmies, these little piping straws, these gnats,  
 that fill the hour, to pass for poets;)
Bards with songs as from burning coals, or the light- 
 ning's fork'd stripes!
Ample Ohio's bards—bards for California! inland  
 bards—bards of the war;)
(As a wheel turns on its axle, so I find my chants turn- 
 ing finally on the war;)
Bards of pride! Bards tallying the ocean's roar, and  
 the swooping eagle's scream!
You, by my charm, I invoke!

Part of the cluster MARCHES NOW THE WAR IS OVER.

Back to top