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Title: Sea Captains, Young or Old

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 4, 1873

Whitman Archive ID: per.00131

Source: New York Daily Graphic 4 April 1873: 2. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy 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, and Susan Belasco

image 1


To-day a rude brief recitative,
Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or
Of unnamed heroes in the ships—of waves spreading
and spreading, far as the eye can reach;
Of dashing spray, and the winds piping and plowing
—and out of these a chant,
Fitful, like a surge.
Of sea-captains young or old, and the mates;
Of him on the Northfleet—of the intrepid sailors of
all nations;
Of the few, very choice, taciturn, whom fate can
never surprise, nor death dismay,
Pick'd sparingly, without noise, by thee, old Ocean
—chosen by thee,
(Thou Sea, that pickest and cullest the race, in Time,
and unitest nations;)
Suckled by thee, old husky Nurse—embodying thee,
Indomitable, untamed as thee.
Ever the heroes, on water or on land, by ones or twos
Ever the stock preserved, and never lost though
rare, (enough for seed preserved.)
Flaunt out to sea, your separate flags of nations!
Flaunt out, visible as ever, the various ship-signals;
But do thou reserve especially for thyself, O sea,
and for the soul of man, one flag above all the
A spiritual woven signal, for all nations, emblem of
man elate above death,
Token of all brave captains, and all intrepid sailors
and mates,
And all that went down doing their duty;
Reminiscent of them—twined from all intrepid cap-
tains, young or old;
A pennant universal, subtly waving, all time, o'er all
brave sailors,
All seas, all ships.


1. Reprinted as "Song for All Seas, All Ships" in Two Rivulets (1876). [back]


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