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Elemental Drifts



1ELEMENTAL drifts! O I wish I could impress others as you and the waves  
 have just been impressing me.
2As I ebb'd with an ebb of the ocean of life, As I wended the shores I know, As I walk'd where the sea-ripples wash you, Pau- 
Where they rustle up, hoarse and sibilant, Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her  
I, musing, late in the autumn day, gazing off south- 
Alone, held by this eternal self of me, out of the pride  
 of which I have utter'd my poems,
Was seiz'd by the spirit that trails in the lines under- 
In the rim, the sediment, that stands for all the water  
 and all the land of the globe.
3Fascinated, my eyes, reverting from the south, 
 drop't, to follow those slender winrows,
Chaff, straw, splinters of wood, weeds, and the sea- 
Scum, scales from shining rocks, leaves of salt-lettuce, 
 left by the tide;
Miles walking, the sound of breaking waves the other  
 side of me,
Paumanok, there and then, as I thought the old  
 thought of likenesses,
  [ begin page 332 ]ppp.00473.332.jpg These you presented to me, you fish-shaped island, As I wended the shores I know, As I walk'd with that eternal self of me, seeking  


4As I wend to the shores I know not, As I list to the dirge, the voices of men and women  
As I inhale the impalpable breezes that set in upon  
As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer  
 and closer,
I, too, but signify, at the utmost, a little wash'd-up  
A few sands and dead leaves to gather, Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and  
5O baffled, balk'd, bent to the very earth, Opprest with myself that I have dared to open my  
Aware now, that, amid all the blab whose echoes re- 
 coil upon me, I have not once had the least  
 idea who or what I am,
But that before all my insolent poems, the real ME  
 stands yet untouch'd, untold, altogether un- 
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratu- 
 latory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word  
 I have written,
Pointing in silence to all these songs, and then to  
 the sand beneath.
6Now I perceive I have not understood anything—  
 not a single object—and that no man ever  
  [ begin page 333 ]ppp.00473.333.jpg 7I perceive Nature, here in sight of the sea, is taking  
 advantage of me, to dart upon me, and sting  
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at  


8You oceans both! I close with you; These little shreds shall, indeed, stand for all. 9You friable shore, with trails of debris! You fish-shaped island! I take what is underfoot; What is yours is mine, my father. 10I too Paumanok, I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, 
 and been wash'd on your shores;
I too am but a trail of drift and debris, I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped  
11I throw myself upon your breast, my father, I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me, I hold you so firm, till you answer me something. 12Kiss me, my father, Touch me with your lips, as I touch those I love, Breathe to me, while I hold you close, the secret of  
 the wondrous murmuring I envy.


13Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,) Cease not your moaning, you fierce old mother, Endlessly cry for your castaways—but fear not, deny  
 not me,
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feet, as  
 I touch you, or gather from you.
  [ begin page 334 ]ppp.00473.334.jpg 14I mean tenderly by you, I gather for myself, and for this phantom, looking  
 down where we lead, and following me and  
15Me and mine! We, loose winrows, little corpses, Froth, snowy white, and bubbles, (See! from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last! See—the prismatic colors, glistening and rolling!) Tufts of straw, sands, fragments, Buoy'd hither from many moods, one contradicting  
From the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the  
Musing, pondering, a breath, a briny tear, a dab of  
 liquid or soil;
Up just as much out of fathomless workings fer- 
 mented and thrown;
A limp blossom or two, torn, just as much over waves  
 floating, drifted at random;
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of Nature; Just as much, whence we come, that blare of the  
We, capricious, brought hither, we know not whence, 
 spread out before you,
You, up there, walking or sitting, Whoever you are—we too lie in drifts at your feet.
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