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Delicate cluster! flag of teeming life! Covering all my lands—all my seashores lining! Flag of death! (how I watch'd you through the smoke of battle pressing! How I heard you flap and rustle, cloth defiant!) Flag cerulean—sunny flag, with the orbs of night dappled! Ah my silvery beauty—ah my woolly white and crimson! Ah to sing the song of you, my matron mighty! My sacred one, my mother.
Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me? Did you seek the civilian's peaceful and languishing rhymes? Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow? Why I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand—nor am I now; (I have been born of the same as the war was born, The drum-corps' rattle is ever to me sweet music, I love well the martial dirge, With slow wail and convulsive throb leading the officer's funeral;) What to such as you anyhow such a poet as I? therefore leave my works, And go lull yourself with what you can understand, and with piano-tunes, For I lull nobody, and you will never understand me.
Lo, Victress on the peaks, Where thou with mighty brow regarding the world, (The world O Libertad, that vainly conspired against thee,) Out of its countless beleaguering toils, after thwarting them all, Dominant, with the dazzling sun around thee, Flauntest now unharm'd in immortal soundness and bloom—lo, in these hours supreme, No poem proud, I chanting bring to thee, nor mastery's rapturous verse, But a cluster containing night's darkness and blood-dripping wounds, And psalms of the dead.
Spirit whose work is done—spirit of dreadful hours! Ere departing fade from my eyes your forests of bayonets; Spirit of gloomiest fears and doubts, (yet onward ever unfaltering pressing,) Spirit of many a solemn day and many a savage scene—electric spirit, That with muttering voice through the war now closed, like a tireless phantom flitted, Rousing the land with breath of flame, while you beat and beat the drum, Now as the sound of the drum, hollow and harsh to the last, reverberates round me, As your ranks, your immortal ranks, return, return from the battles, As the muskets of the young men yet lean over their shoulders, As I look on the bayonets bristling over their shoulders, As those slanted bayonets, whole forests of them appearing in the distance, approach and pass on, returning homeward, Moving with steady motion, swaying to and fro to the right and left, Evenly lightly rising and falling while the steps keep time; Spirit of hours I knew, all hectic red one day, but pale as death next day, Touch my mouth ere you depart, press my lips close, Leave me your pulses of rage—bequeath them to me—fill me with currents convulsive, Let them scorch and blister out of my chants when you are gone, Let them identify you to the future in these songs.
Adieu O soldier, You of the rude campaigning, (which we shared,) The rapid march, the life of the camp, The hot contention of opposing fronts, the long manuvre, Red battles with their slaughter, the stimulus, the strong terrific game, Spell of all brave and manly hearts, the trains of time through you and like of you all fill'd, With war and war's expression. Adieu dear comrade, Your mission is fulfill'd—but I, more warlike, Myself and this contentious soul of mine, Still on our own campaigning bound, Through untried roads with ambushes opponents lined, Through many a sharp defeat and many a crisis, often baffled, Here marching, ever marching on, a war fight out—aye here, To fiercer, weightier battles give expression.
Turn O Libertad, for the war is over, From it and all henceforth expanding, doubting no more, resolute, sweeping the world, Turn from lands retrospective recording proofs of the past, From the singers that sing the trailing glories of the past, From the chants of the feudal world, the triumphs of kings, slavery, caste, Turn to the world, the triumphs reserv'd and to come—give up that backward world, Leave to the singers of hitherto, give them the trailing past, But what remains remains for singers for you—wars to come are for you, (Lo, how the wars of the past have duly inured to you, and the wars of the present also inure;) Then turn, and be not alarm'd O Libertad—turn your undying face, To where the future, greater than all the past, Is swiftly, surely preparing for you.
To the leaven'd soil they trod calling I sing for the last, (Forth from my tent emerging for good, loosing, untying the tent-ropes,) In the freshness the forenoon air, in the far-stretching circuits and vistas again to peace restored, To the fiery fields emanative and the endless vistas beyond, to the South and the North, To the leaven'd soil of the general Western world to attest my songs, To the Alleghanian hills and the tireless Mississippi, To the rocks I calling sing, and all the trees in the woods, To the plains of the poems of heroes, to the prairies spreading wide, To the far-off sea and the unseen winds, and the sane impalpable air; And responding they answer all, (but not in words,) The average earth, the witness of war and peace, acknowledges mutely, The prairie draws me close, as the father to bosom broad the son, The Northern ice and rain that began me nourish me to the end, But the hot sun of the South is to fully ripen my songs.
When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd
1 When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd, And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night, I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring, Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west, And thought of him I love. 2 O powerful western fallen star! O shades of night—O moody, tearful night! O great star disappear'd—O the black murk that hides the star! O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me! O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
3 In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash'd palings, Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love, With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard, With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, A sprig with its flower I break. 4 In the swamp in secluded recesses, A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song. Solitary the thrush, The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements, Sings by himself a song. Song of the bleeding throat, Death's outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know, If thou wast not granted to sing thou wouldst surely die.) 5 Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities, Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray debris, Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass, Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen, Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards, Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave, Night and day journeys a coffin. 6 Coffin that passes through lanes and streets, Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land, With the pomp of the inloop'd flags with the cities draped in black, With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil'd women standing, With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night, With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads, With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces, With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn, With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour'd around the coffin, The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey, With the tolling tolling bells' perpetual clang, Here, coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig of lilac. 7 (Nor for you, for one alone, Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring, For fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a song for you O sane and sacred death. All over bouquets of roses, O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies, But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first, Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes, With loaded arms I come, pouring for you, For you and the coffins all of you O death.) 8 O western orb sailing the heaven, Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk'd, As I walk'd in silence the transparent shadowy night, As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night, As you droop'd from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look'd on,) As we wander'd together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,) As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe, As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night, As I watch'd where you pass'd and was lost in the netherward black of the night, As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb, Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone. 9 Sing on there in the swamp, O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call, I hear, I come presently, I understand you, But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain'd me, The star my departing comrade holds and detains me. 10 O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved? And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone? And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love? Sea-winds blown from east and west, Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting, These and with these and the breath of my chant, I'll perfume the grave of him I love. 11 O what shall I hang on the chamber walls? And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls, To adorn the burial-house of him I love? Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes, With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright, With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air, With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific, In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there, With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows, And the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys, And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning. 12 Lo, body and soul—this land, My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships, The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio's shores and flashing Missouri, And ever the far-spreading prairies cover'd with grass and corn. Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty, The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes, The gentle soft-born measureless light, The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill'd noon, The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars, Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land. 13 Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird, Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes, Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines. Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song, Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe. O liquid and free and tender! O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer! You only I hear—yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,) Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me. 14 Now while I sat in the day and look'd forth, In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops, In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests, In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb'd winds and the storms,) Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women, The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sail'd, And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor, And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages, And the streets how their throbbings throbb'd, and the cities pent— lo, then and there, Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest, Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail, And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death. Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me, And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me, And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions, I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not, Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness, To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still. And the singer so shy to the rest receiv'd me, The gray-brown bird I know receiv'd us comrades three, And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love. From deep secluded recesses, From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still, Came the carol of the bird. And the charm of the carol rapt me, As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night, And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird. Come lovely and soothing death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, In the day, in the night, to all, to each, Sooner or later delicate death. Prais'd be the fathomless universe, For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious, And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise! For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death. Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet, Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome? Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all, I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly. Approach strong deliveress, When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead, Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee, Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death. From me to thee glad serenades, Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee, And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread shy are fitting, And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night. The night in silence under many a star, The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know, And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil'd death, And the body gratefully nestling close to thee. Over the tree-tops I float thee a song, Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide, Over the dense-pack'd cities all and the teeming wharves and ways, I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death. 15 To the tally of my soul, Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird, With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night. Loud in the pines and cedars dim, Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume, And I with my comrades there in the night. While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed, As to long panoramas of visions. And I saw askant the armies, I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags, Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc'd with missiles I saw them, And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody, And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,) And the staffs all splinter'd and broken. I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them, And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them, I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war, But I saw they were not as was thought, They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer'd not, The living remain'd and suffer'd, the mother suffer'd, And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer'd, And the armies that remain'd suffer'd. 16 Passing the visions, passing the night, Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades' hands, Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul, Victorious song, death's outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song, As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night, Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy, Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven, As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses, Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves, I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring. I cease from my song for thee, From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee, O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night. Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night, The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird, And the tallying chant, the echo arous'd in my soul, With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe, With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird, Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well, For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake, Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul, There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.