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While not the past forgetting, To-day, at least, contention sunk entire—peace, brotherhood uprisen; For sign reciprocal our Northern, Southern hands, Lay on the graves of all dead soldiers, North or South, (Nor for the past alone—for meanings to the future,) Wreaths of roses and branches of palm.
Amid these days of order, ease, prosperity, Amid the current songs of beauty, peace, decorum, I cast a reminiscence—(likely 'twill offend you, I heard it in my boyhood;)—More than a generation since, A queer old savage man, a fighter under Washington himself, (Large, brave, cleanly, hot-blooded, no talker, rather spiritualistic, Had fought in the ranks—fought well—had been all through the Revolutionary war,) Lay dying—sons, daughters, church-deacons, lovingly tending him, Sharping their sense, their ears, towards his murmuring, half-caught words: "Let me return again to my war-days, To the sights and scenes—to forming the line of battle, To the scouts ahead reconnoitering, To the cannons, the grim artillery, To the galloping aides, carrying orders, To the wounded, the fallen, the heat, the suspense, The perfume strong, the smoke, the deafening noise; Away with your life of peace!—your joys of peace! Give me my old wild battle-life again!"
Have you learn'd lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learn'd great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?
Shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver, emerald, fawn, The earth's whole amplitude and Nature's multiform power consign'd for once to colors; The light, the general air possess'd by them—colors till now unknown, No limit, confine—not the Western sky alone—the high meridian— North, South, all, Pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows to the last.
Down on the ancient wharf, the sand, I sit, with a new-comer chatting: He shipp'd as green-hand boy, and sail'd away, (took some sudden, vehement notion;) Since, twenty years and more have circled round and round, While he the globe was circling round and round, —and now returns: How changed the place—all the old land-marks gone—the parents dead; (Yes, he comes back to lay in port for good—to settle—has a well-fill'd purse—no spot will do but this;) The little boat that scull'd him from the sloop, now held in leash I see, I hear the slapping waves, the restless keel, the rocking in the sand, I see the sailor kit, the canvas bag, the great box bound with brass, I scan the face all berry-brown and bearded—the stout-strong frame, Dress'd in its russet suit of good Scotch cloth: (Then what the told-out story of those twenty years? What of the future?)
A lesser proof than old Voltaire's, yet greater, Proof of this present time, and thee, thy broad expanse, America, To my plain Northern hut, in outside clouds and snow, Brought safely for a thousand miles o'er land and tide, Some three days since on their own soil live-sprouting, Now here their sweetness through my room unfolding, A bunch of orange buds by mall from Florida.
The soft voluptuous opiate shades, The sun just gone, the eager light dispell'd—(I too will soon be gone, dispell'd,) A haze—nirwana—rest and night—oblivion.
You lingering sparse leaves of me on winter-nearing boughs, And I some well-shorn tree of field or orchard-row; You tokens diminute and lorn—(not now the flush of May, or July clover-bloom—no grain of August now;) You pallid banner-staves—you pennants valueless—you overstay'd of time, Yet my soul-dearest leaves confirming all the rest, The faithfulest—hardiest—last.
Not meagre, latent boughs alone, O songs! (scaly and bare, like eagles' talons,) But haply for some sunny day (who knows?) some future spring, some summer—bursting forth, To verdant leaves, or sheltering shade—to nourishing fruit, Apples and grapes—the stalwart limbs of trees emerging—the fresh, free, open air, And love and faith, like scented roses blooming.
To-day, with bending head and eyes, thou, too, Columbia, Less for the mighty crown laid low in sorrow—less for the Emperor, Thy true condolence breathest, sendest out o'er many a salt sea mile, Mourning a good old man—a faithful shepherd, patriot.
As the Greek's signal flame, by antique records told, Rose from the hill-top, like applause and glory, Welcoming in fame some special veteran, hero, With rosy tinge reddening the land he'd served, So I aloft from Mannahatta's ship-fringed shore, Lift high a kindled brand for thee, Old Poet.
In some unused lagoon, some nameless bay, On sluggish, lonesome waters, anchor'd near the shore, An old, dismasted, gray and batter'd ship, disabled, done, After free voyages to all the seas of earth, haul'd up at last and hawser'd tight, Lies rusting, mouldering.
Now precedent songs, farewell—by every name farewell, (Trains of a staggering line in many a strange procession, waggons, From ups and downs—with intervals—from elder years, mid-age, or youth,) "In Cabin'd Ships, or Thee Old Cause or Poets to Come Or Paumanok, Song of Myself, Calamus, or Adam, Or Beat! Beat! Drums! or To the Leaven'd Soil they Trod, Or Captain! My Captain! Kosmos, Quicksand Years, or Thoughts, Thou Mother with thy Equal Brood," and many, many more unspecified, From fibre heart of mine—from throat and tongue—(My life's hot pulsing blood, The personal urge and form for me—not merely paper, automatic type and ink,) Each song of mine—each utterance in the past—having its long, long history, Of life or death, or soldier's wound, of country's loss or safety, (O heaven! what flash and started endless train of all! compared indeed to that! What wretched shred e'en at the best of all!)