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Song of the Broad-Axe



1 WEAPON, 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 lean'd, and to lean on.
2Strong 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.


3Welcome 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; Welcome the cotton-lands—welcome those of the white  
 potato and sweet potato;
Welcome are mountains, flats, sands, forests, prairies; Welcome the rich borders of rivers, table-lands, 
  [ begin page 170 ]ppp.00473.170.jpg Welcome the measureless grazing-lands—welcome 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; 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!


4The log at the wood-pile, the axe supported by it; The sylvan hut, the vine over the doorway, the space  
 clear'd for a garden,
The irregular tapping of rain down on the leaves, 
 after the storm is lull'd,
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-fashion'd  
 houses and barns;
The remember'd print or narrative, the voyage at a  
 venture of men, families, goods,
The disembarkation, the founding of a new city, The voyage of those who sought a New England and  
 found it—the outset anywhere,
The settlements of the Arkansas, Colorado, Ottawa, 
The slow progress, the scant fare, the axe, rifle, saddle- 
The beauty of all adventurous and daring persons, The beauty of wood-boys and wood-men, with their  
 clear untrimm'd faces,
The beauty of independence, departure, actions that  
 rely on themselves,
The American contempt for statutes and ceremonies, 
 the boundless impatience of restraint,
  [ begin page 171 ]ppp.00473.171.jpg The loose drift of character, the inkling through ran- 
 dom types, the solidification;
The butcher in the slaughter-house, the hands aboard  
 schooners and sloops, the raftsman, the pioneer,
Lumbermen in their winter camp, day-break in the  
 woods, stripes of snow on the limbs of trees, 
 the occasional snapping,
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, mortising, The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their  
 places, laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises, ac- 
 cording as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes of  
 the men, their curv'd limbs,
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in pins, 
 holding on by posts and braces,
The hook'd arm over the plate, the other arm wielding  
 the axe,
The floor-men forcing the planks close, to be nail'd, 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,
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 striking the bricks,
  [ begin page 172 ]ppp.00473.172.jpg The bricks, one after another, each laid so workman- 
 like in its place, and set with a knock of the  
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar- 
 boards, and the steady replenishing by the hod- 
—Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row of  
 well-grown apprentices,
The swing of their axes on the square-hew'd log, 
 shaping it toward the shape of a mast,
The brisk short crackle of the steel driven slantingly  
 into the pine,
The butter-color'd chips flying off in great flakes and  
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 fireman—the fire that suddenly bursts forth  
 in the close-pack'd square,
The arriving engines, the hoarse shouts, the nimble  
 stepping and daring,
The strong command through the fire-trumpets, the  
 falling in line, the rise and fall of the arms  
 forcing the water,
The slender, spasmic blue-white jets—the bringing to  
 bear of the hooks and ladders, and their  
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,
  [ begin page 173 ]ppp.00473.173.jpg 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 combat, The uplifted arm, the clatter of blows on the helmeted  
The death-howl, the limpsey tumbling body, the rush  
 of friend and foe thither,
The seige of revolted lieges determin'd for liberty, 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 tumultuously  
 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 un- 
The power of personality, just or unjust.


5Muscle and pluck forever! What invigorates life, invigorates death, And the dead advance as much as the living advance, And the future is no more uncertain than the present, And the roughness of the earth and of man encloses  
 as much as the delicatesse of the earth and of  
And nothing endures but personal qualities.
  [ begin page 174 ]ppp.00473.174.jpg 6What do you think endures? Do you think the great city endures? Or a teeming manufacturing state? or a prepared con- 
 stitution? or the best built steamships?
Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chef-d'eouvres of  
 engineering, forts, armaments?
7Away! These are not to be cherish'd for themselves; They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musicians  
 play for them;
The show passes, all does well enough of course, All does very well till one flash of defiance.
8The great city is that which has the greatest man or  
If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in  
 the whole world.


9The place where the great city stands is not the  
 place of stretch'd wharves, docks, manufactures, 
 deposits 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 buildings, 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,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.
10Where 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 them;
Where no monuments exist to heroes, but in the  
 common words and deeds;
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its  
  [ begin page 175 ]ppp.00473.175.jpg Where the men and women think lightly of the laws; Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases; Where the populace rise at once against the never- 
 ending audacity 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 pre- 
 cedence of inside authority;
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal—and  
 President, Mayor, Governor, and what not, are  
 agents for pay;
Where children are taught 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;
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands; Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands; Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands; Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands, There the great city stands.


11How beggarly appear arguments, before a defiant  
How the floridness of the materials of cities shrivels  
 before a man's or woman's look!
12All waits, or goes by default, till a strong being ap- 
A strong being is the proof of the race, and of the  
 ability of the universe;
When he or she appears, materials are overaw'd, The dispute on the Soul stops,   [ begin page 176 ]ppp.00473.176.jpg The old customs and phrases are confronted, turn'd  
 back, or laid away.
13What is your money-making now? What can it do  
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?
14Was that your best? Were those your vast and  
Riches, opinions, politics, institutions, to part obedi- 
 ently 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!


15A sterile landscape covers the ore—there is as good  
 as the best, for all the forbidding appearance;
There is the mine, there are the miners; The forge-furnace is there, the melt is accomplish'd;  
 the hammers-men are at hand with their tongs  
 and hammers;
What always served and always serves, is at hand.
16Than this nothing has better served—it has served  
Served the fluent-tongued and subtle-sensed Greek, 
 and long ere the Greek:
Served in building the buildings that last longer than  
Served the Hebrew, the Persian, the most ancient  
Served the mound-raiser on the Mississippi—served  
 those whose relics remain in Central America;
  [ begin page 177 ]ppp.00473.177.jpg Served Albic temples in woods or on plains, with un- 
 hewn pillars, and the druids;
Served the artificial clefts, vast, high, silent, on the  
 snow-cover'd 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 long, long distant Kelt—served the hardy  
 pirates of the Baltic;
Served before any of those, the venerable and harm- 
 less men of Ethiopia;
Served the making of helms for the galleys of plea- 
 sure, and the making of those for war;
Served all great works on land, and all great works on  
 the sea;
For the mediæval ages, and before the mediæval ages; Served not the living only, then as now, but served the  


17I see the European headsman; He stands mask'd, clothed in red, with huge legs, and  
 strong naked arms,
And leans on a ponderous axe.
18Whom have you slaughter'd lately, European heads- 
Whose is that blood upon you, so wet and sticky?
19I see the clear sunsets of the martyrs; I see from the scaffolds the descending ghosts, Ghosts of dead lords, uncrown'd ladies, impeach'd  
 ministers, rejected kings,
Rivals, traitors, poisoners, disgraced chieftains, and  
 the rest.
  [ begin page 178 ]ppp.00473.178.jpg 20I see those who in any land have died for the  
 good cause;
The seed is spare, nevertheless the crop shall never run  
(Mind you, O foreign kings, O priests, the crop shall  
 never run out.)
21I see the blood wash'd entirely away from the axe; Both blade and helve are clean; They spirt no more the blood of European nobles—  
 they clasp no more the necks of queens.
22I see the headsman withdraw and become useless; 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.


23& America! I do not vaunt my love for you; I have what I have. 24The 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, gable, Citadel, ceiling, saloon, academy, organ, exhibition- 
 house, library,
Cornice, trellis, pilaster, balcony, window, shutter, tur- 
 ret, porch,
Hoe, rake, pitch-fork, pencil, wagon, staff, saw, jack- 
 plane, mallet, wedge, rounce,
Chair, tub, hoop, table, wicket, vane, sash, floor, Work-box, chest, string'd instrument, boat, frame, and  
 what not,
Capitols of States, and capitol of the nation of States,   [ begin page 179 ]ppp.00473.179.jpg Long stately rows in avenues, hospitals for orphans, or  
 for the poor or sick,
Manhattan steamboats and clippers, taking the meas- 
 ure of all seas.
25The 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 Penob- 
 scot or Kennebec,
Dwellers in cabins among the Californian mountains, 
 or by the little lakes, or on the Columbia,
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 Yellow- 
 stone river—dwellers on coasts and off coasts,
Seal-fishers, whalers, arctic seamen breaking passages  
 through the ice.
26The shapes arise! Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets; Shapes of the two-threaded tracks of railroads; Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frameworks, 
 girders, arches;
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake craft, river  
27The shapes arise! Ship-yards and dry-docks along the Eastern and West- 
 ern Seas, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars, the  
 hackmatack-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of scaf- 
 folds, the workmen busy outside and inside,
The tools lying around, the great auger and little au- 
 ger, the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge, and bead- 
  [ begin page 180 ]ppp.00473.180.jpg


28The shapes arise! The shape measur'd, saw'd, jack'd, join'd, stain'd, 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 cradle;
The shape of the floor-planks, the floor-planks for  
 dancers' feet;
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 cook'd by the chaste  
 wife, and joyously eaten by the chaste husband, 
 content after his day's work.
29The 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 liquor-bar lean'd 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 un- 
 wholesome couple;
The shape of the gambling-board with its devilish  
 winnings and losings;
The shape of the step-ladder for the convicted and  
 sentenced murderer, the murderer with hag- 
 gard face and pinion'd arms,
The sheriff at hand with his deputies, the silent and  
 white-lipp'd crowd, the sickening dangling of  
 the rope.
  [ begin page 181 ]ppp.00473.181.jpg 30The shapes arise! Shapes of doors giving many exits and entrances; The door passing the dissever'd friend, flush'd and in  
The door that admits good news and bad news; The door whence the son left home, confident and  
 puff'd up;
The door he enter'd again from a long and scandalous  
 absence, diseas'd, broken down, without inno- 
 cence, without means.


31Her shape arises, She, less guarded than ever, yet more guarded than  
The gross and soil'd she moves among do not make  
 her gross and soil'd;
She knows the thoughts as she passes—nothing is con- 
 ceal from her;
She is none the less considerate or friendly therefor; She is the best-beloved—it is without exception—she  
 has no reason to fear, and she does not fear;
Oaths, quarrels, hiccupp'd songs, smutty expressions, 
 are idle to her as she passes;
She is silent—she is possess'd 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 stronger  
 than she is.


32The main shapes arise! Shapes of Democracy, total—result of centuries; Shapes, ever projecting other shapes; Shapes of a hundred Free States, begetting another  
Shapes of turbulent manly cities; Shapes of the women fit for These States, G2   [ begin page 182 ]ppp.00473.182.jpg Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the whole  
Shapes bracing the earth, and braced with the whole  
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