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Title: Song of the Redwood-Tree

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: February 1874

Whitman Archive ID: per.00015

Source: Harper's Monthly Magazine 48 (February 1874): 366-367. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the periodical poems, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, April Lambert, Heather Morton, Leslie Ianno, Ramon Guerra, and Susan Belasco

image 1

image 2




A prophecy and indirection—-a thought impalpable, to breath, as air;
A chorus of dryads, fading, departing—or hamadryads departing;
A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and air,
Voice of a mighty dying tree in the redwood forest dense.
Farewell, my brethren,
Farewell, O earth and sky—farewell, ye neighboring waters;
My time has ended, my term has come.


Along the northern coast,
Just back from the rock-bound shore, and the caves,
In the saline air from the sea, in the Mendocino country,
With the surge for bass and accompaniment low and hoarse,
With crackling blows of axes, sounding musically, driven by strong arms,
Riven deep by the sharp tongues of the axes—there in the redwood forest dense,
I heard the mighty tree its death-chant chanting.
The choppers heard not—the camp shanties echoed not;
The quick-ear'd teamsters, and chain and jack-screw men heard not,
As the wood-spirits came from their haunts of a thousand years, to join the refrain;
But in my soul I plainly heard.
Murmuring out of its myriad leaves,
Down from its lofty top, rising over a hundred feet high,
Out of its stalwart trunk and limbs—out of its foot-thick bark,
That chant of the seasons and time—chant not of the past only, but the future.
You untold life of me,
And all you venerable and innocent joys,
Perennial, hardy life of me, with joys, 'mid rain and many a summer sun,
And the white snows, and night, and the wild winds;
O the great patient, rugged joys! my soul's strong joys, unreck'd by man;
(For know I bear the soul befitting me—I too have consciousness, identity,
And all the rocks and mountains have, and all the earth;)
Joys of the life befitting me and brothers mine,
Our time, our term has come.
Nor yield we mournfully, majestic brothers,
We who have grandly fill'd our time;
With Nature's calm content, and tacit, huge delight,
We welcome what we wrought for through the past,
And leave the field for them.
For them predicted long,
For a superior race—they too to grandly fill their time,
For them we abdicate—in these ourselves, ye forest kings!
In them these skies and airs—these mountain peaks—Shasta—Nevadas,
These huge, precipitous cliffs—this amplitude—these valleys grand—Yosemite,
To be in them absorb'd, assimilated.


Then to a loftier strain,
Still prouder, more ecstatic, rose the chant,
As if the heirs, the Deities of the west,
Joining, with master-tongue, bore part.
Not wan from Asia's fetiches,
Nor red from Europe's old dynastic slaughter-house,
(Area of murder-plots of thrones, with scent left yet of wars and scaffolds every where,)
But come from Nature's long and harmless throes—peacefully builded thence,
These virgin lands—Lands of the Western Shore,
To the new Culminating Man—to you, the Empire New,
You, promis'd long, we pledge, we dedicate.
You occult, deep volitions,
You average Spiritual Manhood, purpose of all, pois'd on yourself—giving, not taking law,
You Womanhood divine, mistress and source of all, whence life and love, and aught that comes
from life and love,
You unseen Moral Essence of all the vast materials of America, (age upon age, working in
Death the same as Life,)
You that, sometimes known, oftener unknown, really shape and mould the New World, adjusting
it to Time and Space,
You hidden National Will, lying in your abysms, conceal'd, but ever alert,
You past and present purposes, tenaciously pursued, maybe unconscious of yourselves,
Unswerv'd by all the passing errors, perturbations of the surface;
You vital, universal, deathless germs, beneath all creeds, arts, statutes, literatures,
Here build your homes for good—establish here—These areas entire, Lands of the Western
We pledge, we dedicate to you.
For man of you—your characteristic race,
Here may he hardy, sweet, gigantic grow—here tower, proportionate to Nature,
Here climb the vast, pure spaces, unconfined, unchek'd by wall or roof,
Here laugh with storm or sun—here joy—here patiently inure,
Here heed himself, unfold himself (not others' formulas heed)—here fill his time,
To duly fall, to aid, unreck'd at last,
To disappear, to serve.
Thus on the northern coast,
In the echo of teamsters' calls, and the clinking chains, and the music of choppers'
The falling trunk and limbs, the crash, the muffled shriek, the groan,
Such words combined from the redwood-tree—as of wood-spirits' voices ecstatic, ancient
and rustling,
The century-lasting, unseen dryads, singing, withdrawing,
All their recesses of forests and mountains leaving,
From the Cascade range to the Wasatch—or Idaho far, or Utah,
To the deities of the modern henceforth yielding,
The chorus and indications, the vistas of coming humanity—the settlements, features
In the Mendocino woods I caught.


The flashing and golden pageant of California!
The sudden and gorgeous drama—the sunny and ample lands;
The long and varied stretch from Puget Sound to Colorado south;
Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air! valleys and mountain cliffs!
The fields of Nature long prepared and fallow—the silent, cyclic chemistry;
The slow and steady ages plodding—the unoccupied surface ripening—the rich ores
forming beneath;
At last the New arriving, assuming, taking possession,
A swarming and busy race settling and organizing every where;
Ships coming in from the whole round world, and going out to the whole world,
To India and China and Australia, and the thousand island paradises of the Pacific;
Populous cities—the latest inventions—the steamers on the rivers—the railroads—with
many a thrifty farm, with machinery,
And wool and wheat and the grape—and diggings of yellow gold.


But more in you than these, Lands of the Western Shore!
(These but the means, the implements, the standing-ground,)
I see in you, certain to come, the promise of thousands of years, till now deferr'd,
Promis'd, to be fullfill'd, our common kind, the race.
The New Society at last, proportionate to Nature;
In Man of you, more than your mountain peaks, or stalwart trees imperial,
In Woman more, far more, than all your gold, or vines, or even vital air.
Fresh come, to a New World indeed, yet long prepared,
I see the Genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,
Clearing the ground for broad Humanity, the true America, heir of the past so grand,
To build a grander future.


1. Reprinted in the "Centennial Songs" section of Two Rivulets (1876). [back]


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