Published Works

Books by Whitman

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5 — Broad-Axe Poem.

BROAD-AXE, 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 leaned, and to lean on.

Strong 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.

Welcome 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,

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Welcome the cotton-lands—welcome those of the
white potato and sweet potato,
Welcome are mountains, flats, sands, forests, prai-
Welcome the rich borders of rivers, table-lands,
Welcome the measureless grazing lands—wel-
come 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 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!

The log at the wood-pile, the axe supported by it,
The sylvan hut, the vine over the doorway, the
space cleared for a garden,
The irregular tapping of rain down on the leaves,
after the storm is lulled,
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-fashioned
houses and barns;

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The remembered print or narrative, the voyage at
a venture of men, families, goods,
The disembarcation, the founding of a new city,
The voyage of those who sought a New England
and found it,
The Year 1 of These States, the weapons that year
began with, scythe, pitch-fork, club, horse-
The settlements of the Arkansas, Colorado, Ottawa,
The slow progress, the scant fare, the axe, rifle,
The beauty of all adventurous and daring per-
The beauty of wood-boys and wood-men, with
their clear untrimmed faces,
The beauty of independence, departure, actions
that rely on themselves,
The American contempt for statutes and cere-
monies, the boundless impatience of restraint,
The loose drift of character, the inkling through
random types, the solidification;
The butcher in the slaughter-house, the hands
aboard schooners and sloops, the rafts-man,
the pioneer,
Lumber-men in their winter camp, day-break in the
woods, stripes of snow on the limbs of trees,
the occasional snapping,

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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, mor-
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their
places, laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises,
according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes
of the men, their curved limbs,
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in
pins, holding on by posts and braces,
The hooked arm over the plate, the other arm
wielding the axe,
The floor-men forcing the planks close, to be
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,

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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 and bricks,
The bricks, one after another, each laid so work-
man-like in its place, and set with a knock of
the trowel-handle,
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar-
boards, and the steady replenishing by the
Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row
of well-grown apprentices,
The swing of their axes on the square-hewed
log, shaping it toward the shape of a
The brisk short crackle of the steel driven slant-
ingly into the pine,
The butter-colored chips flying off in great flakes
and slivers,
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 fire-man—the fire that suddenly bursts
forth in the close-packed square,
The arriving engines, the hoarse shouts, the
nimble stepping and daring,

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The strong command through the fire-trumpets,
the forming in line, the echoed rise and fall
of the arms forcing the water,
The slender, spasmic blue-white jets—the bring-
ing to bear of the hooks and ladders, and
their execution,
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,
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
The uplifted arm, the clatter of blows on the
helmeted head,

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The death-howl, the limpsey tumbling, the
rush of friend and foe thither,
The siege of revolted lieges determined for lib-
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 tumult-
uously 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
The power of personality, just or unjust.

Muscle and pluck forever!
What invigorates life, invigorates death,
And the dead advance as much as the living
And the future is no more uncertain than the
And the roughness of the earth and of man en-
closes as much as the delicatesse of the earth
and of man,
And nothing endures but personal qualities.

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What do you think endures?
Do you think the greatest city endures?
Or a teeming manufacturing state? or a prepared
constitution? or the best built steam-ships?
Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chef-
d'oeuvres of engineering, forts, armaments?

Away! These are not to be cherished for them-
They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musi-
cians play for them,
The show passes, all does well enough of course,
All does very well till one flash of defiance.

The greatest city is that which has the greatest
man or woman,
If it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest
city in the whole world.

The place where the greatest city stands is not
the place of stretched wharves, docks, manu-
factures, deposites 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 build-
ings, 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,

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Nor the place of the most numerous population.
Where 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
Where these may be seen going every day in the
streets, with their arms familiar to the shoul-
ders of their friends,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the
common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its
Where behavior is the finest of the fine arts,
Where the men and women think lightly of the
Where the slave ceases and the master of slaves
Where the populace rise at once against the auda-
city 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
precedence of inside authority,
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal,
and President, Mayor, Governor, and what
not, are agents for pay,

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Where children are taught from the jump that
they are 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, and are appealed
to by the orators the same as the men,
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,
There the greatest city stands.

How beggarly appear poems, arguments, orations,
before an electric deed!
How the floridness of the materials of cities
shrivels before a man's or woman's look!

All waits, or goes by default, till a strong being
A strong being is the proof of the race, and of the
ability of the universe,
When he or she appears, materials are over-
The dispute on the soul stops,

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The old customs and phrases are confronted,
turned back, or laid away.

What is your money-making now? What can it
do now?
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?

Was that your best? Were those your vast and
Riches, opinions, politics, institutions, to part obe-
diently 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!

—A sterile landscape covers the ore—there is as good as the best, for all the forbidding
There is the mine, there are the miners,
The forge-furnace is there, the melt is accom-
plished, the hammers-men are at hand with
their tongs and hammers,
What always served and always serves, is at hand.
Than this nothing has better served—it has served

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Served the fluent-tongued and subtle-sensed
Greek, and long ere the Greek,
Served in building the buildings that last longer
than any,
Served the Hebrew, the Persian, the most ancient
Served the mound-raiser on the Mississippi,
served those whose relics remain in Central
Served Albic temples in woods or on plains, with
unhewn pillars, and the druids, and the
bloody body laid in the hollow of the great
Served the artificial clefts, vast, high, silent, on
the snow-covered 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 incalculably distant Celt, served the
hardy pirates of the Baltic,
Served before any of those, the venerable and
harmless men of Ethiopia,
Served the making of helms for the galleys
of pleasure, and the making of those for
Served all great works on land, and all great
works on the sea,

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For the medieval ages, and before the medieval
Served not the living only, then as now, but
served the dead.

I see the European headsman,
He stands masked, clothed in red, with huge legs,
and strong naked arms,
And leans on a ponderous axe.

Whom have you slaughtered lately, European
Whose is that blood upon you, so wet and

I see the clear sun-sets of the martyrs,
I see from the scaffolds the descending
Ghosts of dead princes, uncrowned ladies, im-
peached ministers, rejected kings,
Rivals, traitors, poisoners, disgraced chieftains,
and the rest.

I see those who in any land have died for the
good cause,
The seed is spare, nevertheless the crop shall
never run out,
Mind you, O foreign kings, O priests, the crop
shall never run out.

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I see the blood washed entirely away from the
Both blade and helve are clean,
They spirt no more the blood of European nobles,
—they clasp no more the necks of queens.

I see the headsman withdraw and become use-
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.

America! I do not vaunt my love for you,
I have what I have.

The 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,
Citadel, ceiling, saloon, academy, organ, exhibi-
tion-house, library,
Cornice, trellis, pilaster, balcony, window, shutter,
turret, porch,
Hoe, rake, pitch-fork, pencil, wagon, staff, saw,
jackplane, mallet, wedge, rounce,

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Chair, tub, hoop, table, wicket, vane, sash, floor,
Work-box, chest, stringed instrument, boat, frame,
and what not,
Capitols of States, and capitol of the nation of
Long stately rows in avenues, hospitals for or-
phans or for the poor or sick,
Manhattan steamboats and clippers, taking the
measure of all seas.

The 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
Penobscot, or St. John's, or Kennebec,
Dwellers in cabins among the Californian moun-
tains, or by the little lakes,
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
Yellowstone river, dwellers on coasts and
off coasts,
Seal-fishers, whalers, arctic seamen breaking pas-
sages through the ice.

The shapes arise!
Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets,
Shapes of the two-threaded tracks of railroads,

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Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frame-
works, girders, arches,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake craft,
river craft.

The shapes arise!
Ship-yards and dry-docks along the Atlantic and
Pacific, and in many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars,
the hackmatuck-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of
scaffolds, the workmen busy outside and in-
The tools lying around, the great augur and little
augur, the adze, bolt, line, square, gouge,

The shapes arise!
The shape measured, sawed, jacked, joined,
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
The shape of the floor-planks, the floor-planks for
dancers' feet,

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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 cooked by the
chaste wife, and joyously eaten by the chaste
husband, content after his day's work.

The 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 pill-box, the disgraceful oint-
ment-box, the nauseous application, and him
or her applying it,
The shape of the liquor-bar leaned 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
unwholesome couple,
The shape of the gambling board with its devilish
winnings and losings,
The shape of the slats of the bed of a corrupted
body, the bed of the corruption of gluttony or
alcoholic drinks,
The shape of the step-ladder for the convicted
and sentenced murderer, the murderer with
haggard face and pinioned arms,

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The sheriff at hand with his deputies, the silent
and white-lipped crowd, the sickening dan-
gling of the rope.

The shapes arise!
Shapes of doors giving so many exits and
The door passing the dissevered friend, flushed,
and in haste,
The door that admits good news and bad news,
The door whence the son left home, confident and
puffed up,
The door he entered from a long and scandalous
absence, diseased, broken down, without in-
nocence, without means.

Their shapes arise, the shapes of full-sized men!
Men taciturn yet loving, used to the open air, and
the manners of the open air,
Saying their ardor in native forms, saying the old
Take what I have then, (saying fain,) take the pay
you approached for,
Take the white tears of my blood, if that is what
you are after.

Her shape arises!
She, less guarded than ever, yet more guarded
than ever,

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The gross and soiled she moves among do not
make her gross and soiled,
She knows the thoughts as she passes, nothing is
concealed from her,
She is none the less considerate or friendly there-
She is the best-beloved, it is without exception,
she has no reason to fear, and she does not
Oaths, quarrels, hiccuped songs, smutty expres-
sions, are idle to her as she passes,
She is silent, she is possessed 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 greater
than she is.

His shape arises!
Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish,
Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, country-
Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, summer
swimmer in rivers or by the sea,
Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his
body perfect, free from taint from top to toe,
free forever from headache and dyspepsia,

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Ample-limbed, a good feeder, weight a hundred
and eighty pounds, full-blooded, six feet high,
forty inches round the breast and back,
Countenance sun-burnt, bearded, calm, unrefined,
Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gen-
tleman on equal terms,
Attitudes lithe and erect, costume free, neck open,
of slow movement on foot,
Passer of his right arm round the shoulders of his
friends, companion of the street,
Persuader always of people to give him their
sweetest touches, and never their meanest,
A Manhattanese bred, fond of Brooklyn, fond of
Broadway, fond of the life of the wharves
and the great ferries,
Enterer everywhere, welcomed everywhere, eas-
ily understood after all,
Never offering others, always offering himself,
corroborating his phrenology,
Voluptuous, inhabitive, combative, conscientious,
alimentive, intuitive, of copious friendship,
sublimity, firmness, self-esteem, comparison,
individuality, form, locality, eventuality,
Avowing by life, manners, works, to contribute
illustrations of results of The States,
Teacher of the unquenchable creed, namely,
Inviter of others continually henceforth to try
their strength against his.

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The shapes arise!
Shapes of America, shapes of centuries,
Shapes of those that do not joke with life, but are
in earnest with life,
Shapes ever projecting other shapes,
Shapes of a hundred Free States, begetting
another hundred north and south,
Shapes of the turbulent manly cities,
Shapes of the untamed breed of young men and
natural persons,
Shapes of women fit for These States,
Shapes of the composition of all the varieties of
the earth,
Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the
whole earth,
Shapes bracing the whole earth, and braced with
the whole earth.


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