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When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd



1 WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd, And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the  
I mourn'd…and yet shall mourn with ever-returning  
2O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring; Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west, And thought of him I love.


3O powerful, western, fallen star! O shades of night! O moody, tearful night! O great star disappear'd! O the blank murk that hides the  
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of  
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul!


4In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the  
 white-wash'd palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves  
 of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the  
 perfume strong I love,
  [ begin page 4b ]ppp.00473.414.jpg With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the  
With its delicate-color'd blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves  
 of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.


5In the swamp, in secluded recesses, A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song. 6Solitary, the thrush, The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements, Sings by himself a song. 7Song of the bleeding throat! Death's outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know, If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would'st surely die.)


8Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities, Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the  
 violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray  
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing  
 the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its  
 shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the  
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave, Night and day journeys a coffin.


9Coffin that passes through lanes and streets, Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the  
With the pomp of the inloop'd flags, with the cities draped  
 in black,
  [ begin page 5b ]ppp.00473.415.jpg With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil'd  
 women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of  
 the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, 
 and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre  
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices  
 rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour'd around  
 the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where  
 amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells' perpetual clang; Here! coffin that slowly passes. I give you my sprig of lilac.


10(Nor for you, for one, alone; Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring: For fresh as the morning—thus would I chant a song for  
 you, O sane and sacred death.
11All over bouquets of roses, O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies; But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first, Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes: With loaded arms I come, pouring for you, For you and the coffins all of you, O death.)


12O western orb, sailing the heaven! Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since  
 we walk'd,
As we walk'd up and down in the dark blue so mystic, As we walk'd in silence the transparent shadowy night,   [ begin page 6b ]ppp.00473.416.jpg As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night  
 after night,
As you droop'd from the sky low down, as if to my side, 
 (while the other stars all look'd on;)
As we wander'd together the solemn night, (for something  
 I know not what, kept me from sleep;)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, 
 ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cool  
 transparent night,
As I watch'd where you pass'd and was lost in the nether- 
 ward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, 
 sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.


13Sing on, there in the swamp! O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear  
 your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you; But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain'd  
The star, my comrade, departing, holds and detains me.


14O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I  
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that  
 has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?
15Sea-winds, blown from east and west, Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, 
 till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant, I perfume the grave of him I love.
  [ begin page 7b ]ppp.00473.417.jpg


16O what shall I hang on the chamber walls? And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls, To adorn the burial-house of him I love? 17Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes, With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray-smoke  
 lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, 
 sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green  
 leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, 
 with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against  
 the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks  
 of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the  
 workmen homeward returning.


18Lo! body and soul! this land! Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hur- 
 rying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in  
 the light—Ohio's shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover'd with grass and  
19Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty; The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes: The gentle, soft-born, measureless light; The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill'd noon; The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the  
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
  [ begin page 8b ]ppp.00473.418.jpg


20Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird! Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from  
 the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.
21Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song; Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe. 22O liquid, and free, and tender! O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer! You only I hear……yet the star holds me, (but will soon  
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.


23Now while I sat in the day, and look'd forth, In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of  
 spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes  
 and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb'd winds, 
 and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, 
 and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they  
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields  
 all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each  
 with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb'd, and the cities  
 pent,—lo! then and there,
Falling among them all, and upon them all, enveloping me  
 with the rest,
Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail; And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge  
 of death.
  [ begin page 9b ]ppp.00473.419.jpg


24Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of  
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me, And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the  
 hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not, Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in  
 the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.
25And the singer so shy to the rest receiv'd me; The gray-brown bird I know, receiv'd us comrades three; And he sang what seem'd the song of death, and a verse for  
 him I love.
26From deep secluded recesses, From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still, Came the singing of the bird. 27And the charm of the singing rapt me, As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night; And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.


28Come, lovely and soothing Death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, In the day, in the night, to all, to each, Sooner or later, delicate Death. 29Prais'd be the fathomless universe, For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious; And for love, sweet love—But praise! O praise and praise, For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death. 30Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet, Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?   [ begin page 10b ]ppp.00473.420.jpg Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all; I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come  
31Approach, encompassing Death—strong Deliveress! When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing  
 the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee, Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.
32From me to thee glad serenades, Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and  
 feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread  
 sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
33The night, in silence, under many a star; The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose  
 voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil'd Death, And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
34Over the tree-tops I float thee a song! Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, 
 and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack'd cities all, and the teeming wharves  
 and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!


35To the tally of my soul, Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird, With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night. 36Loud in the pines and cedars dim, Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume; And I with my comrades there in the night.   [ begin page 11b ]ppp.00473.421.jpg 37While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed, As to long panoramas of visions.


38I saw the vision of armies; And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags; Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc'd with  
 missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn  
 and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds of the flags left on the staffs, 
 (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter'd and broken.
39I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them, And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them; I saw the debris and debris of all dead soldiers; But I saw they were not as was thought; They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer'd not; The living remain'd and suffer'd—the mother suffer'd, And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suf- 
And the armies that remain'd suffer'd.


40Passing the visions, passing the night; Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades' hands; Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song  
 of my soul,
Victorious song, death's outlet song, (yet varying, ever- 
 altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, 
 flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and  
 yet again bursting with joy,)
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven, As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses.
  [ begin page 12b ]ppp.00473.422.jpg


41Must I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves? Must I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, return- 
 ing with spring?
42Must I pass from my song for thee; From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, com- 
 muning with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night?


43Yet each I keep, and all; The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird, I keep, And the tallying chant, the echo arous'd in my soul, I keep, With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance  
 full of woe;
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor; Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever  
 I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands…  
 and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul, With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the  
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.
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