Leaves of Grass

Page 31 of 72

The World below the Brine

  The world below the brine,
  Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,
  Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick
      tangle openings, and pink turf,
  Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the
      play of light through the water,
  Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes,
      and the aliment of the swimmers,
  Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling
      close to the bottom,
  The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting
      with his flukes,
  The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy
      sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
  Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths,
      breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,
  The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed
      by beings like us who walk this sphere,
  The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.

On the Beach at Night Alone

  On the beach at night alone,
  As the old mother sways her to and fro singing her husky song,
  As I watch the bright stars shining, I think a thought of the clef
      of the universes and of the future.

  A vast similitude interlocks all,
  All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns, moons, planets,
  All distances of place however wide,
  All distances of time, all inanimate forms,
  All souls, all living bodies though they be ever so different, or in
      different worlds,
  All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes, the fishes, the brutes,
  All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, languages,
  All identities that have existed or may exist on this globe, or any globe,
  All lives and deaths, all of the past, present, future,
  This vast similitude spans them, and always has spann'd,
  And shall forever span them and compactly hold and enclose them.

Song for All Seas, All Ships

  To-day a rude brief recitative,
  Of ships sailing the seas, each with its special flag or ship-signal,
  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 blowing,
  And out of these a chant for the sailors of all nations,
  Fitful, like a surge.

  Of sea-captains young or old, and the mates, and of all intrepid sailors,
  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 appearing,
  Ever the stock preserv'd and never lost, though rare, enough for
      seed preserv'd.)

  Flaunt out O sea your separate flags of nations!
  Flaunt out visible as ever the various ship-signals!
  But do you reserve especially for yourself and for the soul of man
      one flag above all the rest,
  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 captains young or old,
  A pennant universal, subtly waving all time, o'er all brave sailors,
  All seas, all ships.

Patroling Barnegat

  Wild, wild the storm, and the sea high running,
  Steady the roar of the gale, with incessant undertone muttering,
  Shouts of demoniac laughter fitfully piercing and pealing,
  Waves, air, midnight, their savagest trinity lashing,
  Out in the shadows there milk-white combs careering,
  On beachy slush and sand spirts of snow fierce slanting,
  Where through the murk the easterly death-wind breasting,
  Through cutting swirl and spray watchful and firm advancing,
  (That in the distance! is that a wreck? is the red signal flaring?)
  Slush and sand of the beach tireless till daylight wending,
  Steadily, slowly, through hoarse roar never remitting,
  Along the midnight edge by those milk-white combs careering,
  A group of dim, weird forms, struggling, the night confronting,
  That savage trinity warily watching.

After the Sea-Ship

  After the sea-ship, after the whistling winds,
  After the white-gray sails taut to their spars and ropes,
  Below, a myriad myriad waves hastening, lifting up their necks,
  Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship,
  Waves of the ocean bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
  Waves, undulating waves, liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
  Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
  Where the great vessel sailing and tacking displaced the surface,
  Larger and smaller waves in the spread of the ocean yearnfully flowing,
  The wake of the sea-ship after she passes, flashing and frolicsome
      under the sun,
  A motley procession with many a fleck of foam and many fragments,
  Following the stately and rapid ship, in the wake following.


A Boston Ballad [1854]

  To get betimes in Boston town I rose this morning early,
  Here's a good place at the corner, I must stand and see the show.

  Clear the way there Jonathan!
  Way for the President's marshal—way for the government cannon!
  Way for the Federal foot and dragoons, (and the apparitions
      copiously tumbling.)

  I love to look on the Stars and Stripes, I hope the fifes will play
      Yankee Doodle.
  How bright shine the cutlasses of the foremost troops!
  Every man holds his revolver, marching stiff through Boston town.

  A fog follows, antiques of the same come limping,
  Some appear wooden-legged, and some appear bandaged and bloodless.

  Why this is indeed a show—it has called the dead out of the earth!
  The old graveyards of the hills have hurried to see!
  Phantoms! phantoms countless by flank and rear!
  Cock'd hats of mothy mould—crutches made of mist!
  Arms in slings—old men leaning on young men's shoulders.

  What troubles you Yankee phantoms? what is all this chattering of
      bare gums?
  Does the ague convulse your limbs? do you mistake your crutches for
      firelocks and level them?

  If you blind your eyes with tears you will not see the President's marshal,
  If you groan such groans you might balk the government cannon.

  For shame old maniacs—bring down those toss'd arms, and let your
      white hair be,
  Here gape your great grandsons, their wives gaze at them from the windows,
  See how well dress'd, see how orderly they conduct themselves.

  Worse and worse—can't you stand it? are you retreating?
  Is this hour with the living too dead for you?

  Retreat then—pell-mell!
  To your graves—back—back to the hills old limpers!
  I do not think you belong here anyhow.

  But there is one thing that belongs here—shall I tell you what it
      is, gentlemen of Boston?

  I will whisper it to the Mayor, he shall send a committee to England,
  They shall get a grant from the Parliament, go with a cart to the
      royal vault,
  Dig out King George's coffin, unwrap him quick from the
      graveclothes, box up his bones for a journey,
  Find a swift Yankee clipper—here is freight for you, black-bellied clipper,
  Up with your anchor—shake out your sails—steer straight toward
      Boston bay.

  Now call for the President's marshal again, bring out the government cannon,
  Fetch home the roarers from Congress, make another procession,
      guard it with foot and dragoons.

  This centre-piece for them;
  Look, all orderly citizens—look from the windows, women!

  The committee open the box, set up the regal ribs, glue those that
      will not stay,
  Clap the skull on top of the ribs, and clap a crown on top of the skull.
  You have got your revenge, old buster—the crown is come to its own,
      and more than its own.

  Stick your hands in your pockets, Jonathan—you are a made man from
      this day,
  You are mighty cute—and here is one of your bargains.

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