Leaves of Grass

Page 44 of 72

There Was a Child Went Forth

  There was a child went forth every day,
  And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became,
  And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
  Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

  The early lilacs became part of this child,
  And grass and white and red morning-glories, and white and red
      clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
  And the Third-month lambs and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the
      mare's foal and the cow's calf,
  And the noisy brood of the barnyard or by the mire of the pond-side,
  And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there, and the
      beautiful curious liquid,
  And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads, all became part of him.

  The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him,
  Winter-grain sprouts and those of the light-yellow corn, and the
      esculent roots of the garden,
  And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms and the fruit afterward,
      and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road,
  And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the
      tavern whence he had lately risen,
  And the schoolmistress that pass'd on her way to the school,
  And the friendly boys that pass'd, and the quarrelsome boys,
  And the tidy and fresh-cheek'd girls, and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
  And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.

  His own parents, he that had father'd him and she that had conceiv'd
      him in her womb and birth'd him,
  They gave this child more of themselves than that,
  They gave him afterward every day, they became part of him.

  The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table,
  The mother with mild words, clean her cap and gown, a wholesome
      odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by,
  The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger'd, unjust,
  The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure,
  The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture, the
      yearning and swelling heart,
  Affection that will not be gainsay'd, the sense of what is real, the
      thought if after all it should prove unreal,
  The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time, the curious
      whether and how,
  Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?
  Men and women crowding fast in the streets, if they are not flashes
      and specks what are they?
  The streets themselves and the facades of houses, and goods in the windows,
  Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank'd wharves, the huge crossing at
      the ferries,
  The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river between,
  Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of
      white or brown two miles off,
  The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little
      boat slack-tow'd astern,
  The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
  The strata of color'd clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away
      solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
  The horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh
      and shore mud,
  These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who
      now goes, and will always go forth every day.

Old Ireland

  Far hence amid an isle of wondrous beauty,
  Crouching over a grave an ancient sorrowful mother,
  Once a queen, now lean and tatter'd seated on the ground,
  Her old white hair drooping dishevel'd round her shoulders,
  At her feet fallen an unused royal harp,
  Long silent, she too long silent, mourning her shrouded hope and heir,
  Of all the earth her heart most full of sorrow because most full of love.

  Yet a word ancient mother,
  You need crouch there no longer on the cold ground with forehead
      between your knees,
  O you need not sit there veil'd in your old white hair so dishevel'd,
  For know you the one you mourn is not in that grave,
  It was an illusion, the son you love was not really dead,
  The Lord is not dead, he is risen again young and strong in another country,
  Even while you wept there by your fallen harp by the grave,
  What you wept for was translated, pass'd from the grave,
  The winds favor'd and the sea sail'd it,
  And now with rosy and new blood,
  Moves to-day in a new country.

The City Dead-House

  By the city dead-house by the gate,
  As idly sauntering wending my way from the clangor,
  I curious pause, for lo, an outcast form, a poor dead prostitute brought,
  Her corpse they deposit unclaim'd, it lies on the damp brick pavement,
  The divine woman, her body, I see the body, I look on it alone,
  That house once full of passion and beauty, all else I notice not,
  Nor stillness so cold, nor running water from faucet, nor odors
      morbific impress me,
  But the house alone—that wondrous house—that delicate fair house
      —that ruin!
  That immortal house more than all the rows of dwellings ever built!
  Or white-domed capitol with majestic figure surmounted, or all the
      old high-spired cathedrals,
  That little house alone more than them all—poor, desperate house!
  Fair, fearful wreck—tenement of a soul—itself a soul,
  Unclaim'd, avoided house—take one breath from my tremulous lips,
  Take one tear dropt aside as I go for thought of you,
  Dead house of love—house of madness and sin, crumbled, crush'd,
  House of life, erewhile talking and laughing—but ah, poor house,
      dead even then,
  Months, years, an echoing, garnish'd house—but dead, dead, dead.

This Compost

  Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
  I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
  I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
  I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
  I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

  O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
  How can you be alive you growths of spring?
  How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
  Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses within you?
  Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour dead?

  Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
  Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
  Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
  I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv'd,
  I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through
      the sod and turn it up underneath,
  I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

  Behold this compost! behold it well!
  Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick person—yet behold!
  The grass of spring covers the prairies,
  The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
  The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
  The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
  The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
  The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
  The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on
      their nests,
  The young of poultry break through the hatch'd eggs,
  The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the
      colt from the mare,
  Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark green leaves,
  Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in
      the dooryards,
  The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata
      of sour dead.

  What chemistry!
  That the winds are really not infectious,
  That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which
      is so amorous after me,
  That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
  That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited
      themselves in it,
  That all is clean forever and forever,
  That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
  That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
  That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that
      melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
  That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
  Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once
      catching disease.

  Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
  It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
  It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless
      successions of diseas'd corpses,
  It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
  It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
  It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings
      from them at last.

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