Leaves of Grass

Page 24 of 72


Song of the Redwood-Tree

  A California song,
  A prophecy and indirection, a thought impalpable to breathe as air,
  A chorus of dryads, fading, departing, or hamadryads departing,
  A murmuring, fateful, giant voice, out of the earth and sky,
  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 base 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 might 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 two 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, with tacit huge delight,
  We welcome what we wrought for through the past,
  And leave the field for them.

  For them predicted long,
  For a superber race, they too to grandly fill their time,
  For them we abdicate, in them ourselves ye forest kings.'
  In them these skies and airs, these mountain peaks, Shasta, Nevadas,
  These huge precipitous cliffs, this amplitude, these valleys, far 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 everywhere,
  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, may-be
      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 shore,
  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, uncheck'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' axes,
  The falling trunk and limbs, the crash, the muffled shriek, the groan,
  Such words combined from the redwood-tree, as of 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 Wahsatch, 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 all,
  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 everywhere,
  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 fulfill'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.


A Song for Occupations

  A song for occupations!
  In the labor of engines and trades and the labor of fields I find
      the developments,
  And find the eternal meanings.

  Workmen and Workwomen!
  Were all educations practical and ornamental well display'd out of
      me, what would it amount to?
  Were I as the head teacher, charitable proprietor, wise statesman,
      what would it amount to?
  Were I to you as the boss employing and paying you, would that satisfy you?

  The learn'd, virtuous, benevolent, and the usual terms,
  A man like me and never the usual terms.

  Neither a servant nor a master I,
  I take no sooner a large price than a small price, I will have my
      own whoever enjoys me,
  I will be even with you and you shall be even with me.

  If you stand at work in a shop I stand as nigh as the nighest in the
      same shop,
  If you bestow gifts on your brother or dearest friend I demand as
      good as your brother or dearest friend,
  If your lover, husband, wife, is welcome by day or night, I must be
      personally as welcome,
  If you become degraded, criminal, ill, then I become so for your sake,
  If you remember your foolish and outlaw'd deeds, do you think I
      cannot remember my own foolish and outlaw'd deeds?
  If you carouse at the table I carouse at the opposite side of the table,
  If you meet some stranger in the streets and love him or her, why
      I often meet strangers in the street and love them.

  Why what have you thought of yourself?
  Is it you then that thought yourself less?
  Is it you that thought the President greater than you?
  Or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you?

  (Because you are greasy or pimpled, or were once drunk, or a thief,
  Or that you are diseas'd, or rheumatic, or a prostitute,
  Or from frivolity or impotence, or that you are no scholar and never
      saw your name in print,
  Do you give in that you are any less immortal?)

  Souls of men and women! it is not you I call unseen, unheard,
      untouchable and untouching,
  It is not you I go argue pro and con about, and to settle whether
      you are alive or no,
  I own publicly who you are, if nobody else owns.

  Grown, half-grown and babe, of this country and every country,
      in-doors and out-doors, one just as much as the other, I see,
  And all else behind or through them.

  The wife, and she is not one jot less than the husband,
  The daughter, and she is just as good as the son,
  The mother, and she is every bit as much as the father.

  Offspring of ignorant and poor, boys apprenticed to trades,
  Young fellows working on farms and old fellows working on farms,
  Sailor-men, merchant-men, coasters, immigrants,
  All these I see, but nigher and farther the same I see,
  None shall escape me and none shall wish to escape me.

  I bring what you much need yet always have,
  Not money, amours, dress, eating, erudition, but as good,
  I send no agent or medium, offer no representative of value, but
      offer the value itself.

  There is something that comes to one now and perpetually,
  It is not what is printed, preach'd, discussed, it eludes discussion
      and print,
  It is not to be put in a book, it is not in this book,
  It is for you whoever you are, it is no farther from you than your
      hearing and sight are from you,
  It is hinted by nearest, commonest, readiest, it is ever provoked by them.

  You may read in many languages, yet read nothing about it,
  You may read the President's message and read nothing about it there,
  Nothing in the reports from the State department or Treasury
      department, or in the daily papers or weekly papers,
  Or in the census or revenue returns, prices current, or any accounts
      of stock.

  The sun and stars that float in the open air,
  The apple-shaped earth and we upon it, surely the drift of them is
      something grand,
  I do not know what it is except that it is grand, and that it is happiness,
  And that the enclosing purport of us here is not a speculation or
      bon-mot or reconnoissance,
  And that it is not something which by luck may turn out well for us,
      and without luck must be a failure for us,
  And not something which may yet be retracted in a certain contingency.

  The light and shade, the curious sense of body and identity, the
      greed that with perfect complaisance devours all things,
  The endless pride and outstretching of man, unspeakable joys and sorrows,
  The wonder every one sees in every one else he sees, and the wonders
      that fill each minute of time forever,
  What have you reckon'd them for, camerado?
  Have you reckon'd them for your trade or farm-work? or for the
      profits of your store?
  Or to achieve yourself a position? or to fill a gentleman's leisure,
      or a lady's leisure?

  Have you reckon'd that the landscape took substance and form that it
      might be painted in a picture?
  Or men and women that they might be written of, and songs sung?
  Or the attraction of gravity, and the great laws and harmonious combinations
      and the fluids of the air, as subjects for the savans?
  Or the brown land and the blue sea for maps and charts?
  Or the stars to be put in constellations and named fancy names?
  Or that the growth of seeds is for agricultural tables, or
      agriculture itself?

  Old institutions, these arts, libraries, legends, collections, and
      the practice handed along in manufactures, will we rate them so high?
  Will we rate our cash and business high? I have no objection,
  I rate them as high as the highest—then a child born of a woman and
      man I rate beyond all rate.

  We thought our Union grand, and our Constitution grand,
  I do not say they are not grand and good, for they are,
  I am this day just as much in love with them as you,
  Then I am in love with You, and with all my fellows upon the earth.

  We consider bibles and religions divine—I do not say they are not divine,
  I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still,
  It is not they who give the life, it is you who give the life,
  Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees from the earth,
      than they are shed out of you.

  The sum of all known reverence I add up in you whoever you are,
  The President is there in the White House for you, it is not you who
      are here for him,
  The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you, not you here for them,
  The Congress convenes every Twelfth-month for you,
  Laws, courts, the forming of States, the charters of cities, the
      going and coming of commerce and malls, are all for you.

  List close my scholars dear,
  Doctrines, politics and civilization exurge from you,
  Sculpture and monuments and any thing inscribed anywhere are tallied in you,
  The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records
      reach is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same,
  If you were not breathing and walking here, where would they all be?
  The most renown'd poems would be ashes, orations and plays would
      be vacuums.

  All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it,
  (Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the lines of
      the arches and cornices?)

  All music is what awakes from you when you are reminded by the instruments,
  It is not the violins and the cornets, it is not the oboe nor the
      beating drums, nor the score of the baritone singer singing his
      sweet romanza, nor that of the men's chorus, nor that of the
      women's chorus,
  It is nearer and farther than they.

  Will the whole come back then?
  Can each see signs of the best by a look in the looking-glass? is
      there nothing greater or more?
  Does all sit there with you, with the mystic unseen soul?

  Strange and hard that paradox true I give,
  Objects gross and the unseen soul are one.

  House-building, measuring, sawing the boards,
  Blacksmithing, glass-blowing, nail-making, coopering, tin-roofing,
  Ship-joining, dock-building, fish-curing, flagging of sidewalks by flaggers,
  The pump, the pile-driver, the great derrick, the coal-kiln and brickkiln,
  Coal-mines and all that is down there, the lamps in the darkness,
      echoes, songs, what meditations, what vast native thoughts
      looking through smutch'd faces,
  Iron-works, forge-fires in the mountains or by river-banks, men
      around feeling the melt with huge crowbars, lumps of ore, the
      due combining of ore, limestone, coal,
  The blast-furnace and the puddling-furnace, the loup-lump at the
      bottom of the melt at last, the rolling-mill, the stumpy bars
      of pig-iron, the strong clean-shaped Trail for railroads,
  Oil-works, silk-works, white-lead-works, the sugar-house,
      steam-saws, the great mills and factories,
  Stone-cutting, shapely trimmings for facades or window or door-lintels,
      the mallet, the tooth-chisel, the jib to protect the thumb,
  The calking-iron, the kettle of boiling vault-cement, and the fire
      under the kettle,
  The cotton-bale, the stevedore's hook, the saw and buck of the
      sawyer, the mould of the moulder, the working-knife of the
      butcher, the ice-saw, and all the work with ice,
  The work and tools of the rigger, grappler, sail-maker, block-maker,
  Goods of gutta-percha, papier-mache, colors, brushes, brush-making,
      glazier's implements,
  The veneer and glue-pot, the confectioner's ornaments, the decanter
      and glasses, the shears and flat-iron,
  The awl and knee-strap, the pint measure and quart measure, the
      counter and stool, the writing-pen of quill or metal, the making
      of all sorts of edged tools,
  The brewery, brewing, the malt, the vats, every thing that is done
      by brewers, wine-makers, vinegar-makers,
  Leather-dressing, coach-making, boiler-making, rope-twisting,
      distilling, sign-painting, lime-burning, cotton-picking,
      electroplating, electrotyping, stereotyping,
  Stave-machines, planing-machines, reaping-machines,
      ploughing-machines, thrashing-machines, steam wagons,
  The cart of the carman, the omnibus, the ponderous dray,
  Pyrotechny, letting off color'd fireworks at night, fancy figures and jets;
  Beef on the butcher's stall, the slaughter-house of the butcher, the
      butcher in his killing-clothes,
  The pens of live pork, the killing-hammer, the hog-hook, the
      scalder's tub, gutting, the cutter's cleaver, the packer's maul,
      and the plenteous winterwork of pork-packing,
  Flour-works, grinding of wheat, rye, maize, rice, the barrels and
      the half and quarter barrels, the loaded barges, the high piles
      on wharves and levees,
  The men and the work of the men on ferries, railroads, coasters,
      fish-boats, canals;
  The hourly routine of your own or any man's life, the shop, yard,
      store, or factory,
  These shows all near you by day and night—workman! whoever you
      are, your daily life!

  In that and them the heft of the heaviest—in that and them far more
      than you estimated, (and far less also,)
  In them realities for you and me, in them poems for you and me,
  In them, not yourself-you and your soul enclose all things,
      regardless of estimation,
  In them the development good—in them all themes, hints, possibilities.

  I do not affirm that what you see beyond is futile, I do not advise
      you to stop,
  I do not say leadings you thought great are not great,
  But I say that none lead to greater than these lead to.

  Will you seek afar off? you surely come back at last,
  In things best known to you finding the best, or as good as the best,
  In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest,
  Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for
      another hour but this hour,
  Man in the first you see or touch, always in friend, brother,
      nighest neighbor—woman in mother, sister, wife,
  The popular tastes and employments taking precedence in poems or anywhere,
  You workwomen and workmen of these States having your own divine
      and strong life,
  And all else giving place to men and women like you.
  When the psalm sings instead of the singer,

  When the script preaches instead of the preacher,
  When the pulpit descends and goes instead of the carver that carved
      the supporting desk,
  When I can touch the body of books by night or by day, and when they
      touch my body back again,
  When a university course convinces like a slumbering woman and child
  When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the night-watchman's daughter,
  When warrantee deeds loafe in chairs opposite and are my friendly
  I intend to reach them my hand, and make as much of them as I do
      of men and women like you.

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