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Cluster: Leaves of Grass. (1871)

Table of Contents (1871)

Poems in this cluster




1SOMETHING startles me where I thought I was safest; I withdraw from the still woods I loved; I will not go now on the pastures to walk; I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my  
 lover the sea;
I will not touch my flesh to the earth, as to other flesh,  
 to renew me.
2O how can it be that the ground does not sicken? How can you be alive, you growths of spring? How can you furnish health, you blood of herbs, roots,  
 orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses  
 within you?
Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour  
3Where have you disposed of their carcasses? Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations; Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat; I do not see any of it upon you to-day—or perhaps I am  
I will run a furrow with my plough—I will press my  
 spade through the sod, and turn it up under- 
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.
  [ begin page 342 ]ppp.00270.344.jpg


4Behold this compost! behold it well! Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick per- 
 son—Yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies, The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the  
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward, The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches, The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage  
 out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mul 
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings, while the  
 birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch'd eggs, The new-born of animals appear—the calf is dropt from  
 the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark  
 green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk—the lilacs  
 bloom in the door-yards;
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above  
 all those strata of sour dead.
5What chemistry! That the winds are really not infectious, That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of  
 the sea, which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over  
 with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have  
 deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever, That the cool drink from the well tastes so good, That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy, That the fruits of the apple-orchard, and of the orange- 
 orchard—that melons, grapes, peaches, plums,  
 will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any  
  [ begin page 343 ]ppp.00270.345.jpg Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what  
 was once a catching disease.


6Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and  
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions, It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such  
 endless successions of diseas'd corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor, It renews with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, an- 
 nual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such  
 leavings from them at last.


1NATIONS ten thousand years before These States, and  
 many times ten thousand years before These  
Garner'd clusters of ages, that men and women like us  
 grew up and travel'd their course, and pass'd on;
What vast-built cities—what orderly republics—what  
 pastoral tribes and nomads;
What histories, rulers, heroes, perhaps transcending all  
What laws, customs, wealth, arts, traditions; What sort of marriage—what costumes—what physi- 
 ology and phrenology;
What of liberty and slavery among them—what they  
 thought of death and the soul;
Who were witty and wise—who beautiful and poetic—  
 who brutish and undevelop'd;
Not a mark, not a record remains—And yet all remains.
2O I know that those men and women were not for  
 nothing, any more than we are for nothing;
  [ begin page 344 ]ppp.00270.346.jpg I know that they belong to the scheme of the world  
 every bit as much as we now belong to it, and as  
 all will henceforth belong to it.
3Afar they stand—yet near to me they stand, Some with oval countenances, learn'd and calm, Some naked and savage—Some like huge collections of  
Some in tents—herdsmen, patriarchs, tribes, horsemen, Some prowling through woods—Some living peaceably  
 on farms, laboring, reaping, filling barns,
Some traversing paved avenues, amid temples, palaces,  
 factories, libraries, shows, courts, theatres, won- 
 derful monuments.
4Are those billions of men really gone? Are those women of the old experience of the earth  
Do their lives, cities, arts, rest only with us? Did they achieve nothing for good, for themselves?
5I believe of all those billions of men and women that  
 fill'd the unnamed lands; every one exists this  
 hour, here or elsewhere, invisible to us, in exact  
 proportion to what he or she grew from in life,  
 and out of what he or she did, felt, became, loved,  
 sinn'd, in life.
6I believe that was not the end of those nations, or any  
 person of them, any more than this shall be the  
 end of my nation, or of me;
Of their languages, governments, marriage, literature,  
 products, games, wars, manners, crimes, prisons,  
 slaves, heroes, poets, I suspect their results  
 curiously await in the yet unseen world—coun- 
 terparts of what accrued to them in the seen  
I suspect I shall meet them there, I suspect I shall there find each old particular of those  
 unnamed lands.
  [ begin page 345 ]ppp.00270.347.jpg


1I WAS asking for something specific and perfect for  
 my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
2Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid,  
 sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;
I see that the word of my city is that word up there, Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays,  
 superb, with tall and wonderful spires,
Rich, hemm'd thick all around with sailships and  
 steamships—an island sixteen miles long, solid- 
Numberless crowded streets—high growths of iron,  
 slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising to- 
 ward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sun- 
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger ad- 
 joining islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the light- 
 ers, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers, well- 
The down-town streets, the jobbers' houses of business  
 —the houses of business of the ship-merchants,  
 and money-brokers—the river-streets;
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a  
The carts hauling goods—the manly race of drivers of  
 horses—the brown-faced sailors;
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sail- 
 ing clouds aloft;
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells—the broken ice in  
 the river, passing along, up or down, with the  
 flood-tide or ebb-tide;
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form'd,  
 beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes;
Trottoirs throng'd—vehicles—Broadway—the women—  
 the shops and shows,
  [ begin page 346 ]ppp.00270.348.jpg The parades, processions, bugles playing, flags flying,  
 drums beating;
A million people—manners free and superb—open  
 voices—hospitality—the most courageous and  
 friendly young men;
The free city! no slaves! no owners of slaves! The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling  
 waters! the city of spires and masts!
The city nested in bays! my city! The city of such women, I am mad to be with them!  
 I will return after death to be with them!
The city of such young men, I swear I cannot live  
 happy, without I often go talk, walk, eat, drink,  
 sleep, with them!


1FAR hence, amid an isle of wondrous beauty, Crouching over a grave, an ancient sorrowful mother, Once a queen—now lean and tatter'd, seated on the  
Her old white hair drooping dishevel'd round her shoul- 
At her feet fallen an unused royal harp, Long silent—she too long silent—mourning her shroud- 
 ed hope and heir;
Of all the earth her heart most full of sorrow, because  
 most full of love.
2Yet a word, ancient mother; You need crouch there no longer on the cold ground,  
 with forehead between your knees;
O you need not sit there, veil'd in your old white hair,  
 so dishevel'd;
For know you, the one you mourn is not in that grave; It was an illusion—the heir, the son you love, was not  
 really dead;
  [ begin page 347 ]ppp.00270.349.jpg The Lord is not dead—he is risen again, young and  
 strong, in another country;
Even while you wept there by your fallen harp, by the  
What you wept for, was translated, pass'd from the  
The winds favor'd, and the sea sail'd it, And now with rosy and new blood, Moves to-day in a new country.


1TO ORATISTS—to male or female, Vocalism, measure, concentration, determination, and  
 the divine power to use words.
2Are you full-lung'd and limber-lipp'd from long trial?  
 from vigorous practice? from physique?
Do you move in these broad lands as broad as they? Come duly to the divine power to use words?
3For only at last, after many years—after chastity,  
 friendship, procreation, prudence, and nakedness;
After treading ground and breasting river and lake; After a loosen'd throat—after absorbing eras, tempera- 
 ments, races—after knowledge, freedom, crimes;
After complete faith—after clarifyings, elevations, and  
 removing obstructions;
After these, and more, it is just possible there comes to  
 a man, a woman, the divine power to use words.
4Then toward that man or that woman, swiftly hasten  
 all—None refuse, all attend;
Armies, ships, antiquities, the dead, libraries, paintings,  
 machines, cities, hate, despair, amity, pain, theft,  
 murder, aspiration, form in close ranks;
  [ begin page 348 ]ppp.00270.350.jpg They debouch as they are wanted to march obediently  
 through the mouth of that man, or that woman.
5….O I see arise orators fit for inland America; And I see it is as slow to become an orator as to be- 
 come a man;
And I see that all power is folded in a great vocalism.
6Of a great vocalism, the merciless light thereof shall  
 pour, and the storm rage,
Every flash shall be a revelation, an insult, The glaring flame on depths, on heights, on suns, on  
On the interior and exterior of man and woman, On the laws of Nature—on passive materials, On what you called death—(and what to you therefore  
 was death,
As far as there can be death.)


SOLID, ironical, rolling orb! Master of all, and matter of fact!—at last I accept your  
Bringing to practical, vulgar tests, of all my ideal  
And of me, as lover and hero.

Table of Contents (1871)

Poems in this cluster

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