Leaves of Grass

Page 61 of 72

What Best I See in Thee
  [To U. S. G. return'd from his World's Tour]

  What best I see in thee,
  Is not that where thou mov'st down history's great highways,
  Ever undimm'd by time shoots warlike victory's dazzle,
  Or that thou sat'st where Washington sat, ruling the land in peace,
  Or thou the man whom feudal Europe feted, venerable Asia swarm'd upon,
  Who walk'd with kings with even pace the round world's promenade;
  But that in foreign lands, in all thy walks with kings,
  Those prairie sovereigns of the West, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois,
  Ohio's, Indiana's millions, comrades, farmers, soldiers, all to the front,
  Invisibly with thee walking with kings with even pace the round
      world's promenade,
  Were all so justified.
Spirit That Form'd This Scene
  [Written in Platte Canyon, Colorado]

  Spirit that form'd this scene,
  These tumbled rock-piles grim and red,
  These reckless heaven-ambitious peaks,
  These gorges, turbulent-clear streams, this naked freshness,
  These formless wild arrays, for reasons of their own,
  I know thee, savage spirit—we have communed together,
  Mine too such wild arrays, for reasons of their own;
  Wast charged against my chants they had forgotten art?
  To fuse within themselves its rules precise and delicatesse?
  The lyrist's measur'd beat, the wrought-out temple's grace—column
      and polish'd arch forgot?
  But thou that revelest here—spirit that form'd this scene,
  They have remember'd thee.

As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days

  As I walk these broad majestic days of peace,
  (For the war, the struggle of blood finish'd, wherein, O terrific Ideal,
  Against vast odds erewhile having gloriously won,
  Now thou stridest on, yet perhaps in time toward denser wars,
  Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,
  Longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others,)
  Around me I hear that eclat of the world, politics, produce,
  The announcements of recognized things, science,
  The approved growth of cities and the spread of inventions.

  I see the ships, (they will last a few years,)
  The vast factories with their foremen and workmen,
  And hear the indorsement of all, and do not object to it.

  But I too announce solid things,
  Science, ships, politics, cities, factories, are not nothing,
  Like a grand procession to music of distant bugles pouring,
      triumphantly moving, and grander heaving in sight,
  They stand for realities—all is as it should be.

  Then my realities;
  What else is so real as mine?
  Libertad and the divine average, freedom to every slave on the face
      of the earth,
  The rapt promises and lumine of seers, the spiritual world, these
      centuries-lasting songs,
  And our visions, the visions of poets, the most solid announcements
      of any.

A Clear Midnight

  This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
  Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
  Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou
      lovest best,
  Night, sleep, death and the stars.


As the Time Draws Nigh

  As the time draws nigh glooming a cloud,
  A dread beyond of I know not what darkens me.

  I shall go forth,
  I shall traverse the States awhile, but I cannot tell whither or how long,
  Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my voice will
      suddenly cease.

  O book, O chants! must all then amount to but this?
  Must we barely arrive at this beginning of us? —and yet it is
      enough, O soul;
  O soul, we have positively appear'd—that is enough.

Years of the Modern

  Years of the modern! years of the unperform'd!
  Your horizon rises, I see it parting away for more august dramas,
  I see not America only, not only Liberty's nation but other nations
  I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations, the solidarity
      of races,
  I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the world's stage,
  (Have the old forces, the old wars, played their parts? are the acts
      suitable to them closed?)
  I see Freedom, completely arm'd and victorious and very haughty,
      with Law on one side and Peace on the other,
  A stupendous trio all issuing forth against the idea of caste;
  What historic denouements are these we so rapidly approach?
  I see men marching and countermarching by swift millions,
  I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken,
  I see the landmarks of European kings removed,
  I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, (all others give way;)
  Never were such sharp questions ask'd as this day,
  Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more like a God,
  Lo, how he urges and urges, leaving the masses no rest!
  His daring foot is on land and sea everywhere, he colonizes the
      Pacific, the archipelagoes,
  With the steamship, the electric telegraph, the newspaper, the
      wholesale engines of war,
  With these and the world-spreading factories he interlinks all
      geography, all lands;
  What whispers are these O lands, running ahead of you, passing under
      the seas?
  Are all nations communing? is there going to be but one heart to the globe?
  Is humanity forming en-masse? for lo, tyrants tremble, crowns grow dim,
  The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general divine war,
  No one knows what will happen next, such portents fill the days and nights;
  Years prophetical! the space ahead as I walk, as I vainly try to
      pierce it, is full of phantoms,
  Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes around me,
  This incredible rush and heat, this strange ecstatic fever of dreams
      O years!
  Your dreams O years, how they penetrate through me! (I know not
      whether I sleep or wake;)
  The perform'd America and Europe grow dim, retiring in shadow behind me,
  The unperform'd, more gigantic than ever, advance, advance upon me.

Ashes of Soldiers

  Ashes of soldiers South or North,
  As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought,
  The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes,
  And again the advance of the armies.

  Noiseless as mists and vapors,
  From their graves in the trenches ascending,
  From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee,
  From every point of the compass out of the countless graves,
  In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or
      single ones they come,
  And silently gather round me.

  Now sound no note O trumpeters,
  Not at the head of my cavalry parading on spirited horses,
  With sabres drawn and glistening, and carbines by their thighs, (ah
      my brave horsemen!
  My handsome tan-faced horsemen! what life, what joy and pride,
  With all the perils were yours.)

  Nor you drummers, neither at reveille at dawn,
  Nor the long roll alarming the camp, nor even the muffled beat for burial,
  Nothing from you this time O drummers bearing my warlike drums.

  But aside from these and the marts of wealth and the crowded promenade,
  Admitting around me comrades close unseen by the rest and voiceless,
  The slain elate and alive again, the dust and debris alive,
  I chant this chant of my silent soul in the name of all dead soldiers.

  Faces so pale with wondrous eyes, very dear, gather closer yet,
  Draw close, but speak not.

  Phantoms of countless lost,
  Invisible to the rest henceforth become my companions,
  Follow me ever—desert me not while I live.

  Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living—sweet are the musical
      voices sounding,
  But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead with their silent eyes.

  Dearest comrades, all is over and long gone,
  But love is not over—and what love, O comrades!
  Perfume from battle-fields rising, up from the foetor arising.

  Perfume therefore my chant, O love, immortal love,
  Give me to bathe the memories of all dead soldiers,
  Shroud them, embalm them, cover them all over with tender pride.

  Perfume all—make all wholesome,
  Make these ashes to nourish and blossom,
  O love, solve all, fructify all with the last chemistry.

  Give me exhaustless, make me a fountain,
  That I exhale love from me wherever I go like a moist perennial dew,
  For the ashes of all dead soldiers South or North.

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