Leaves of Grass

Page 40 of 72

  While my wife at my side lies slumbering, and the wars are over long,
  And my head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight passes,
  And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the
      breath of my infant,
  There in the room as I wake from sleep this vision presses upon me;
  The engagement opens there and then in fantasy unreal,
  The skirmishers begin, they crawl cautiously ahead, I hear the
      irregular snap! snap!
  I hear the sounds of the different missiles, the short t-h-t! t-h-t!
      of the rifle-balls,
  I see the shells exploding leaving small white clouds, I hear the
      great shells shrieking as they pass,
  The grape like the hum and whirr of wind through the trees,
      (tumultuous now the contest rages,)
  All the scenes at the batteries rise in detail before me again,
  The crashing and smoking, the pride of the men in their pieces,
  The chief-gunner ranges and sights his piece and selects a fuse of
      the right time,
  After firing I see him lean aside and look eagerly off to note the effect;
  Elsewhere I hear the cry of a regiment charging, (the young colonel
      leads himself this time with brandish'd sword,)
  I see the gaps cut by the enemy's volleys, (quickly fill'd up, no delay,)
  I breathe the suffocating smoke, then the flat clouds hover low
      concealing all;
  Now a strange lull for a few seconds, not a shot fired on either side,
  Then resumed the chaos louder than ever, with eager calls and
      orders of officers,
  While from some distant part of the field the wind wafts to my ears
      a shout of applause, (some special success,)
  And ever the sound of the cannon far or near, (rousing even in
      dreams a devilish exultation and all the old mad joy in the
      depths of my soul,)
  And ever the hastening of infantry shifting positions, batteries,
      cavalry, moving hither and thither,
  (The falling, dying, I heed not, the wounded dripping and red
      heed not, some to the rear are hobbling,)
  Grime, heat, rush, aide-de-camps galloping by or on a full run,
  With the patter of small arms, the warning s-s-t of the rifles,
      (these in my vision I hear or see,)
  And bombs bursting in air, and at night the vari-color'd rockets.

Ethiopia Saluting the Colors

  Who are you dusky woman, so ancient hardly human,
  With your woolly-white and turban'd head, and bare bony feet?
  Why rising by the roadside here, do you the colors greet?

  ('Tis while our army lines Carolina's sands and pines,
  Forth from thy hovel door thou Ethiopia com'st to me,
  As under doughty Sherman I march toward the sea.)

  Me master years a hundred since from my parents sunder'd,
  A little child, they caught me as the savage beast is caught,
  Then hither me across the sea the cruel slaver brought.

  No further does she say, but lingering all the day,
  Her high-borne turban'd head she wags, and rolls her darkling eye,
  And courtesies to the regiments, the guidons moving by.

  What is it fateful woman, so blear, hardly human?
  Why wag your head with turban bound, yellow, red and green?
  Are the things so strange and marvelous you see or have seen?

Not Youth Pertains to Me

  Not youth pertains to me,
  Nor delicatesse, I cannot beguile the time with talk,
  Awkward in the parlor, neither a dancer nor elegant,
  In the learn'd coterie sitting constrain'd and still, for learning
      inures not to me,
  Beauty, knowledge, inure not to me—yet there are two or three things
      inure to me,
  I have nourish'd the wounded and sooth'd many a dying soldier,
  And at intervals waiting or in the midst of camp,
  Composed these songs.

Race of Veterans

  Race of veterans—race of victors!
  Race of the soil, ready for conflict—race of the conquering march!
  (No more credulity's race, abiding-temper'd race,)
  Race henceforth owning no law but the law of itself,
  Race of passion and the storm.

World Take Good Notice

  World take good notice, silver stars fading,
  Milky hue ript, wet of white detaching,
  Coals thirty-eight, baleful and burning,
  Scarlet, significant, hands off warning,
  Now and henceforth flaunt from these shores.

O Tan-Faced Prairie-Boy

  O tan-faced prairie-boy,
  Before you came to camp came many a welcome gift,
  Praises and presents came and nourishing food, till at last among
      the recruits,
  You came, taciturn, with nothing to give—we but look'd on each other,
  When lo! more than all the gifts of the world you gave me.

Look Down Fair Moon

  Look down fair moon and bathe this scene,
  Pour softly down night's nimbus floods on faces ghastly, swollen, purple,
  On the dead on their backs with arms toss'd wide,
  Pour down your unstinted nimbus sacred moon.


  Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
  Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be
      utterly lost,
  That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly
      wash again, and ever again, this solid world;
  For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
  I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin—I draw near,
  Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

How Solemn As One by One [Washington City, 1865]

  How solemn as one by one,
  As the ranks returning worn and sweaty, as the men file by where stand,
  As the faces the masks appear, as I glance at the faces studying the masks,
  (As I glance upward out of this page studying you, dear friend,
      whoever you are,)
  How solemn the thought of my whispering soul to each in the ranks,
      and to you,
  I see behind each mask that wonder a kindred soul,
  O the bullet could never kill what you really are, dear friend,
  Nor the bayonet stab what you really are;
  The soul! yourself I see, great as any, good as the best,
  Waiting secure and content, which the bullet could never kill,
  Nor the bayonet stab O friend.

As I Lay with My Head in Your Lap Camerado

  As I lay with my head in your lap camerado,
  The confession I made I resume, what I said to you and the open air
      I resume,
  I know I am restless and make others so,
  I know my words are weapons full of danger, full of death,
  For I confront peace, security, and all the settled laws, to
      unsettle them,
  I am more resolute because all have denied me than I could ever have
      been had all accepted me,
  I heed not and have never heeded either experience, cautions,
      majorities, nor ridicule,
  And the threat of what is call'd hell is little or nothing to me,
  And the lure of what is call'd heaven is little or nothing to me;
  Dear camerado! I confess I have urged you onward with me, and still
      urge you, without the least idea what is our destination,
  Or whether we shall be victorious, or utterly quell'd and defeated.

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