Skip to main content

Cluster: Inscriptions. (1871)

Table of Contents (1871)

Poems in this cluster



1ONE'S-SELF I sing—a simple, separate Person; Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse. 2Of Physiology from top to toe I sing; Not physiognomy alone, nor brain alone, is worthy for  
 the muse—I say the Form complete is worthier  
The Female equally with the male I sing.
3Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power, Cheerful—for freest action form'd, under the laws di- 
The Modern Man I sing.



AS I ponder'd in silence, Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long, A Phantom arose before me, with distrustful aspect, Terrible in beauty, age, and power,   [ begin page 8 ]ppp.00270.010.jpgThe genius of poets of old lands, As to me directing like flame its eyes, With finger pointing to many immortal songs, And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said; Knowest thou not, there is but one theme for ever-enduring  
And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles, The making of perfect soldiers?


Be it so, then I answer'd, I too, haughty Shade, also sing war—and a longer and  
  greater one than any,
Waged in my book with varying fortune—with fight, ad- 
 vance, and retreat—Victory deferr'd and wavering,
(Yet, methinks, certain, or as good as certain, at the last,)  
  —The field the world;
For life and death—for the Body, and for the eternal Soul, Lo! I too am come, chanting the chant of battles, I, above all, promote brave soldiers.



IN cabin'd ships, at sea, The boundless blue on every side expanding, With whistling winds and music of the waves—the  
 large imperious waves—In such,
Or some lone bark, buoy'd on the dense marine, Where, joyous, full of faith, spreading white sails, She cleaves the ether, mid the sparkle and the foam of  
 day, or under many a star at night,
By sailors young and old, haply will I, a reminiscence  
 of the land, be read,
In full rapport at last.
  [ begin page 9 ]ppp.00270.011.jpg


Here are our thoughts—voyagers' thoughts, Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by  
 them be said;
The sky o'erarches here—we feel the undulating deck be- 
 neath our feet,
We feel the long pulsation—ebb and flow of endless mo- 
The tones of unseen mystery—the vague and vast sugges- 
 tions of the briny world—the liquid-flowing sylla- 
The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melan- 
 choly rhythm,
The boundless vista, and the horizon far and dim, are all  
And this is Ocean's poem.


Then falter not, O book! fulfil your destiny! You, not a reminiscence of the land alone, You too, as a lone bark, cleaving the ether—purpos'd I  
 know not whither—yet ever full of faith,
Consort to every ship that sails—sail you! Bear forth to them, folded, my love —(Dear mariners!  
 for you I fold it here, in every leaf;)
Speed on, my Book! spread your white sails, my little  
 bark, athwart the imperious waves!
Chant on—sail on—bear o'er the boundless blue, from  
 me, to every shore,
This song for mariners and all their ships.


I HEARD that you ask'd for something to prove this  
 puzzle, the New World,
And to define America, her athletic Democracy; Therefore I send you my poems, that you behold in  
 them what you wanted.
  [ begin page 10 ]ppp.00270.012.jpg


YOU who celebrate bygones! Who have explored the outward, the surfaces of the  
 races—the life that has exhibited itself;
Who have treated of man as the creature of politics,  
 aggregates, rulers and priests;
I, habitan of the Alleghanies, treating of him as he is  
 in himself, in his own rights,
Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited  
 itself, (the great pride of man in himself;)
Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be, I project the history of the future.


FOR him I sing, I raise the Present on the Past, (As some perennial tree, out of its roots, the present on  
 the past:)
With time and space I him dilate—and fuse the im- 
 mortal laws,
To make himself, by them, the law unto himself.


WHEN I read the book, the biography famous, And is this, then, (said I,) what the author calls a  
 man's life?
And so will some one, when I am dead and gone, write  
 my life?
  [ begin page 11 ]ppp.00270.013.jpg (As if any man really knew aught of my life; Why, even I myself, I often think, know little or noth- 
 ing of my real life;
Only a few hints—a few diffused, faint clues and indi- 
I seek, for my own use, to trace out here.)


BEGINNING my studies, the first step pleas'd me so  
The mere fact, consciousness—these forms—the power  
 of motion,
The least insect or animal—the senses—eyesight—  
The first step, I say, aw'd me and pleas'd me so much, I have hardly gone, and hardly wish'd to go, any far- 
But stop and loiter all the time, to sing it in extatic  


1To thee, old Cause! Thou peerless, passionate, good cause! Thou stern, remorseless, sweet Idea! Deathless throughout the ages, races, lands! After a strange, sad war—great war for thee, (I think all war through time was really fought, and  
 ever will be really fought, for thee;)
These chants for thee—the eternal march of thee.
2Thou orb of many orbs! Thou seething principle! Thou well-kept, latent germ! Thou centre!   [ begin page 12 ]ppp.00270.014.jpg Around the idea of thee the strange sad war revolv- 
With all its angry and vehement play of causes, (With yet unknown results to come, for thrice a thou- 
 sand years,)
These recitatives for thee—my Book and the War are  
Merged in its spirit I and mine—as the contest hinged  
 on thee,
As a wheel on its axis turns, this Book, unwitting to  
Around the Idea of thee.

Table of Contents (1871)

Poems in this cluster

Back to top