Page 36 of 72
1 Rise O days from your fathomless deeps, till you loftier, fiercer sweep, Long for my soul hungering gymnastic I devour'd what the earth gave me, Long I roam'd amid the woods of the north, long I watch'd Niagara pouring, I travel'd the prairies over and slept on their breast, I cross'd the Nevadas, I cross'd the plateaus, I ascended the towering rocks along the Pacific, I sail'd out to sea, I sail'd through the storm, I was refresh'd by the storm, I watch'd with joy the threatening maws of the waves, I mark'd the white combs where they career'd so high, curling over, I heard the wind piping, I saw the black clouds, Saw from below what arose and mounted, (O superb! O wild as my heart, and powerful!) Heard the continuous thunder as it bellow'd after the lightning, Noted the slender and jagged threads of lightning as sudden and fast amid the din they chased each other across the sky; These, and such as these, I, elate, saw—saw with wonder, yet pensive and masterful, All the menacing might of the globe uprisen around me, Yet there with my soul I fed, I fed content, supercilious. 2 'Twas well, O soul—'twas a good preparation you gave me, Now we advance our latent and ampler hunger to fill, Now we go forth to receive what the earth and the sea never gave us, Not through the mighty woods we go, but through the mightier cities, Something for us is pouring now more than Niagara pouring, Torrents of men, (sources and rills of the Northwest are you indeed inexhaustible?) What, to pavements and homesteads here, what were those storms of the mountains and sea? What, to passions I witness around me to-day? was the sea risen? Was the wind piping the pipe of death under the black clouds? Lo! from deeps more unfathomable, something more deadly and savage, Manhattan rising, advancing with menacing front—Cincinnati, Chicago, unchain'd; What was that swell I saw on the ocean? behold what comes here, How it climbs with daring feet and hands—how it dashes! How the true thunder bellows after the lightning—how bright the flashes of lightning! How Democracy with desperate vengeful port strides on, shown through the dark by those flashes of lightning! (Yet a mournful wall and low sob I fancied I heard through the dark, In a lull of the deafening confusion.) 3 Thunder on! stride on, Democracy! strike with vengeful stroke! And do you rise higher than ever yet O days, O cities! Crash heavier, heavier yet O storms! you have done me good, My soul prepared in the mountains absorbs your immortal strong nutriment, Long had I walk'd my cities, my country roads through farms, only half satisfied, One doubt nauseous undulating like a snake, crawl'd on the ground before me, Continually preceding my steps, turning upon me oft, ironically hissing low; The cities I loved so well I abandon'd and left, I sped to the certainties suitable to me, Hungering, hungering, hungering, for primal energies and Nature's dauntlessness, I refresh'd myself with it only, I could relish it only, I waited the bursting forth of the pent fire—on the water and air waited long; But now I no longer wait, I am fully satisfied, I am glutted, I have witness'd the true lightning, I have witness'd my cities electric, I have lived to behold man burst forth and warlike America rise, Hence I will seek no more the food of the northern solitary wilds, No more the mountains roam or sail the stormy sea.
The noble sire fallen on evil days, I saw with hand uplifted, menacing, brandishing, (Memories of old in abeyance, love and faith in abeyance,) The insane knife toward the Mother of All. The noble son on sinewy feet advancing, I saw, out of the land of prairies, land of Ohio's waters and of Indiana, To the rescue the stalwart giant hurry his plenteous offspring, Drest in blue, bearing their trusty rifles on their shoulders. Then the Mother of All with calm voice speaking, As to you Rebellious, (I seemed to hear her say,) why strive against me, and why seek my life? When you yourself forever provide to defend me? For you provided me Washington—and now these also.
City of ships! (O the black ships! O the fierce ships! O the beautiful sharp-bow'd steam-ships and sail-ships!) City of the world! (for all races are here, All the lands of the earth make contributions here;) City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides! City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam! City of wharves and stores—city of tall facades of marble and iron! Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city! Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike! Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city! Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you! I have rejected nothing you offer'd me—whom you adopted I have adopted, Good or bad I never question you—I love all—I do not condemn any thing, I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more, In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine, War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!
[Volunteer of 1861-2, at Washington Park, Brooklyn, assisting the Centenarian.] Give me your hand old Revolutionary, The hill-top is nigh, but a few steps, (make room gentlemen,) Up the path you have follow'd me well, spite of your hundred and extra years, You can walk old man, though your eyes are almost done, Your faculties serve you, and presently I must have them serve me. Rest, while I tell what the crowd around us means, On the plain below recruits are drilling and exercising, There is the camp, one regiment departs to-morrow, Do you hear the officers giving their orders? Do you hear the clank of the muskets? Why what comes over you now old man? Why do you tremble and clutch my hand so convulsively? The troops are but drilling, they are yet surrounded with smiles, Around them at hand the well-drest friends and the women, While splendid and warm the afternoon sun shines down, Green the midsummer verdure and fresh blows the dallying breeze, O'er proud and peaceful cities and arm of the sea between. But drill and parade are over, they march back to quarters, Only hear that approval of hands! hear what a clapping! As wending the crowds now part and disperse—but we old man, Not for nothing have I brought you hither—we must remain, You to speak in your turn, and I to listen and tell. [The Centenarian] When I clutch'd your hand it was not with terror, But suddenly pouring about me here on every side, And below there where the boys were drilling, and up the slopes they ran, And where tents are pitch'd, and wherever you see south and south- east and south-west, Over hills, across lowlands, and in the skirts of woods, And along the shores, in mire (now fill'd over) came again and suddenly raged, As eighty-five years agone no mere parade receiv'd with applause of friends, But a battle which I took part in myself—aye, long ago as it is, I took part in it, Walking then this hilltop, this same ground. Aye, this is the ground, My blind eyes even as I speak behold it re-peopled from graves, The years recede, pavements and stately houses disappear, Rude forts appear again, the old hoop'd guns are mounted, I see the lines of rais'd earth stretching from river to bay, I mark the vista of waters, I mark the uplands and slopes; Here we lay encamp'd, it was this time in summer also. As I talk I remember all, I remember the Declaration, It was read here, the whole army paraded, it was read to us here, By his staff surrounded the General stood in the middle, he held up his unsheath'd sword, It glitter'd in the sun in full sight of the army. 'Twas a bold act then—the English war-ships had just arrived, We could watch down the lower bay where they lay at anchor, And the transports swarming with soldiers. A few days more and they landed, and then the battle. Twenty thousand were brought against us, A veteran force furnish'd with good artillery. I tell not now the whole of the battle, But one brigade early in the forenoon order'd forward to engage the red-coats, Of that brigade I tell, and how steadily it march'd, And how long and well it stood confronting death. Who do you think that was marching steadily sternly confronting death? It was the brigade of the youngest men, two thousand strong, Rais'd in Virginia and Maryland, and most of them known personally to the General. Jauntily forward they went with quick step toward Gowanus' waters, Till of a sudden unlook'd for by defiles through the woods, gain'd at night, The British advancing, rounding in from the east, fiercely playing their guns, That brigade of the youngest was cut off and at the enemy's mercy. The General watch'd them from this hill, They made repeated desperate attempts to burst their environment, Then drew close together, very compact, their flag flying in the middle, But O from the hills how the cannon were thinning and thinning them! It sickens me yet, that slaughter! I saw the moisture gather in drops on the face of the General. I saw how he wrung his hands in anguish. Meanwhile the British manuvr'd to draw us out for a pitch'd battle, But we dared not trust the chances of a pitch'd battle. We fought the fight in detachments, Sallying forth we fought at several points, but in each the luck was against us, Our foe advancing, steadily getting the best of it, push'd us back to the works on this hill, Till we turn'd menacing here, and then he left us. That was the going out of the brigade of the youngest men, two thousand strong, Few return'd, nearly all remain in Brooklyn. That and here my General's first battle, No women looking on nor sunshine to bask in, it did not conclude with applause, Nobody clapp'd hands here then. But in darkness in mist on the ground under a chill rain, Wearied that night we lay foil'd and sullen, While scornfully laugh'd many an arrogant lord off against us encamp'd, Quite within hearing, feasting, clinking wineglasses together over their victory. So dull and damp and another day, But the night of that, mist lifting, rain ceasing, Silent as a ghost while they thought they were sure of him, my General retreated. I saw him at the river-side, Down by the ferry lit by torches, hastening the embarcation; My General waited till the soldiers and wounded were all pass'd over, And then, (it was just ere sunrise,) these eyes rested on him for the last time. Every one else seem'd fill'd with gloom, Many no doubt thought of capitulation. But when my General pass'd me, As he stood in his boat and look'd toward the coming sun, I saw something different from capitulation. [Terminus] Enough, the Centenarian's story ends, The two, the past and present, have interchanged, I myself as connecter, as chansonnier of a great future, am now speaking. And is this the ground Washington trod? And these waters I listlessly daily cross, are these the waters he cross'd, As resolute in defeat as other generals in their proudest triumphs? I must copy the story, and send it eastward and westward, I must preserve that look as it beam'd on you rivers of Brooklyn. See—as the annual round returns the phantoms return, It is the 27th of August and the British have landed, The battle begins and goes against us, behold through the smoke Washington's face, The brigade of Virginia and Maryland have march'd forth to intercept the enemy, They are cut off, murderous artillery from the hills plays upon them, Rank after rank falls, while over them silently droops the flag, Baptized that day in many a young man's bloody wounds. In death, defeat, and sisters', mothers' tears. Ah, hills and slopes of Brooklyn! I perceive you are more valuable than your owners supposed; In the midst of you stands an encampment very old, Stands forever the camp of that dead brigade.