Leaves of Grass

Page 49 of 72

Who Learns My Lesson Complete?

  Who learns my lesson complete?
  Boss, journeyman, apprentice, churchman and atheist,
  The stupid and the wise thinker, parents and offspring, merchant,
      clerk, porter and customer,
  Editor, author, artist, and schoolboy—draw nigh and commence;
  It is no lesson—it lets down the bars to a good lesson,
  And that to another, and every one to another still.

  The great laws take and effuse without argument,
  I am of the same style, for I am their friend,
  I love them quits and quits, I do not halt and make salaams.

  I lie abstracted and hear beautiful tales of things and the reasons
      of things,
  They are so beautiful I nudge myself to listen.

  I cannot say to any person what I hear—I cannot say it to myself—
      it is very wonderful.

  It is no small matter, this round and delicious globe moving so
      exactly in its orbit for ever and ever, without one jolt or
      the untruth of a single second,
  I do not think it was made in six days, nor in ten thousand years,
      nor ten billions of years,
  Nor plann'd and built one thing after another as an architect plans
      and builds a house.

  I do not think seventy years is the time of a man or woman,
  Nor that seventy millions of years is the time of a man or woman,
  Nor that years will ever stop the existence of me, or any one else.

  Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every one is immortal;
  I know it is wonderful, but my eyesight is equally wonderful, and
      how I was conceived in my mother's womb is equally wonderful,
  And pass'd from a babe in the creeping trance of a couple of
      summers and winters to articulate and walk—all this is
      equally wonderful.

  And that my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other
      without ever seeing each other, and never perhaps to see
      each other, is every bit as wonderful.

  And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful,
  And that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to
      be true, is just as wonderful.

  And that the moon spins round the earth and on with the earth, is
      equally wonderful,
  And that they balance themselves with the sun and stars is equally


  All submit to them where they sit, inner, secure, unapproachable to
      analysis in the soul,
  Not traditions, not the outer authorities are the judges,
  They are the judges of outer authorities and of all traditions,
  They corroborate as they go only whatever corroborates themselves,
      and touches themselves;
  For all that, they have it forever in themselves to corroborate far
      and near without one exception.

The Torch

  On my Northwest coast in the midst of the night a fishermen's group
      stands watching,
  Out on the lake that expands before them, others are spearing salmon,
  The canoe, a dim shadowy thing, moves across the black water,
  Bearing a torch ablaze at the prow.

O Star of France [1870-71]

  O star of France,
  The brightness of thy hope and strength and fame,
  Like some proud ship that led the fleet so long,
  Beseems to-day a wreck driven by the gale, a mastless hulk,
  And 'mid its teeming madden'd half-drown'd crowds,
  Nor helm nor helmsman.

  Dim smitten star,
  Orb not of France alone, pale symbol of my soul, its dearest hopes,
  The struggle and the daring, rage divine for liberty,
  Of aspirations toward the far ideal, enthusiast's dreams of brotherhood,
  Of terror to the tyrant and the priest.

  Star crucified—by traitors sold,
  Star panting o'er a land of death, heroic land,
  Strange, passionate, mocking, frivolous land.

  Miserable! yet for thy errors, vanities, sins, I will not now rebuke thee,
  Thy unexampled woes and pangs have quell'd them all,
  And left thee sacred.

  In that amid thy many faults thou ever aimedst highly,
  In that thou wouldst not really sell thyself however great the price,
  In that thou surely wakedst weeping from thy drugg'd sleep,
  In that alone among thy sisters thou, giantess, didst rend the ones
      that shamed thee,
  In that thou couldst not, wouldst not, wear the usual chains,
  This cross, thy livid face, thy pierced hands and feet,
  The spear thrust in thy side.

  O star! O ship of France, beat back and baffled long!
  Bear up O smitten orb! O ship continue on!

  Sure as the ship of all, the Earth itself,
  Product of deathly fire and turbulent chaos,
  Forth from its spasms of fury and its poisons,
  Issuing at last in perfect power and beauty,
  Onward beneath the sun following its course,
  So thee O ship of France!

  Finish'd the days, the clouds dispel'd
  The travail o'er, the long-sought extrication,
  When lo! reborn, high o'er the European world,
  (In gladness answering thence, as face afar to face, reflecting ours
  Again thy star O France, fair lustrous star,
  In heavenly peace, clearer, more bright than ever,
  Shall beam immortal.

The Ox-Tamer

  In a far-away northern county in the placid pastoral region,
  Lives my farmer friend, the theme of my recitative, a famous tamer of oxen,
  There they bring him the three-year-olds and the four-year-olds to
      break them,
  He will take the wildest steer in the world and break him and tame him,
  He will go fearless without any whip where the young bullock
      chafes up and down the yard,
  The bullock's head tosses restless high in the air with raging eyes,
  Yet see you! how soon his rage subsides—how soon this tamer tames him;
  See you! on the farms hereabout a hundred oxen young and old,
      and he is the man who has tamed them,
  They all know him, all are affectionate to him;
  See you! some are such beautiful animals, so lofty looking;
  Some are buff-color'd, some mottled, one has a white line running
      along his back, some are brindled,
  Some have wide flaring horns (a good sign)—see you! the bright hides,
  See, the two with stars on their foreheads—see, the round bodies
      and broad backs,
  How straight and square they stand on their legs—what fine sagacious eyes!
  How straight they watch their tamer—they wish him near them—how
      they turn to look after him!
  What yearning expression! how uneasy they are when he moves away from them;
  Now I marvel what it can be he appears to them, (books, politics,
      poems, depart—all else departs,)
  I confess I envy only his fascination—my silent, illiterate friend,
  Whom a hundred oxen love there in his life on farms,
  In the northern county far, in the placid pastoral region.
An Old Man's Thought of School
  [For the Inauguration of a Public School, Camden, New Jersey, 1874]

  An old man's thought of school,
  An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot.

  Now only do I know you,
  O fair auroral skies—O morning dew upon the grass!

  And these I see, these sparkling eyes,
  These stores of mystic meaning, these young lives,
  Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships,
  Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
  On the soul's voyage.

  Only a lot of boys and girls?
  Only the tiresome spelling, writing, ciphering classes?
  Only a public school?

  Ah more, infinitely more;
  (As George Fox rais'd his warning cry, "Is it this pile of brick and
      mortar, these dead floors, windows, rails, you call the church?
  Why this is not the church at all—the church is living, ever living

  And you America,
  Cast you the real reckoning for your present?
  The lights and shadows of your future, good or evil?
  To girlhood, boyhood look, the teacher and the school.

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