Edmond Gore Alexander Holmes.

Walt Whitman's poetry, a study & a selection online

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far removed (perhaps equally far removed) from
the true centre of gravity of human life.

If the tree that has ceased to ascend, and
can only grow outward, is, in spite of the
immense development of its branches, maimed
and misshapen, the same must be said of the
tree that has no branches and can do nothing
but ascend. In each case the growth is one
sided, inharmonious. The balance has been

Are we to say that the path of health and
safety is in a mean between these extremes;
that their respective influences should be allowed
to cancel one another; that our attitude towards
them should be one of colourless neutrality? No;


there is room in our life for both conceptions ;
and the soul may safely submit itself to the
influence of either, so long as it does not allow
itself to be deadened to the influence of the
other. What is needed is a larger and pro-
founder philosophy which shall reconcile these
" fell, incensed opposites " by absorbing them
into itself, which shall harmonise sympathy with
aspiration, manliness with humility, freedom
with duty, delight in the actual with love of the
ideal, naturalism with spiritualism, outward with
upward growth. Same day or other this higher
creed will disclose itself to human thought.
Meanwhile, as the soul, as the whole inner life
of man, moves forward in quest of ideal truth,
it will advance in safety so long as its right
flank is guarded by the aspiring inwardness of
mediaeval monasticism, its left by the exultant
naturalism of modern democracy. For the
present these extreme conceptions, so antago
nistic and yet so essential to one another, will
co-operate at equal distances from the Head-
Quarters of our inner life ; but as the envelop
ing movement of the soul (round the stronghold
of the Ideal) begins to declare itself, they will
tend to unite and become one.

When that happier day comes, the Poet
will be the first to welcome and proclaim it.
Indeed there is no day in the ideal future to


which his prophetic insight looks forward so
eagerly or so hopefully. The very mission of
Poetry, as Whitman himself has told us in feli
citous words, is to make peace between " out-
wardness"and "inwardness, "between "Nature"
and the "soul :"

" When the full-grown poet came,

Out spake pleased Nature (the round impassive globe,

with all its shows of day and night) saying, He is

mint ;
But out spake too the Soul of man, proud, jealous, and

unreconciled, Nay, he is mine alont ;
Then the full-grown poet stood between the two, and

took each by the hand ;
And to-day and ever so stands, as blender, uniter, tightly

holding hands,

Which he will never release until he reconciles the two,
And wholly and joyously blends them."

Selections from Leaves of Grass


TN compiling this brief anthology, my object
has been to induce persons who may have
been repelled by Whitmans earlier and more
"characteristic" writings, to reconsider their
adverse verdict and renew their study of his
poetry. The passages that I have strung to
gether have been selected for their poetic merits
only. I do not pretend that they are " character
istic" in the sense which those who regard
" Leaves of Grass" as a literary and psycho logical
curiosity might attach to that word. But are
they the less representative of Whitmans genius
because they happen to possess poetic charm ?
One s answer to this question will depend on the
estimate that one forms of Whitman. It is
impossible to study his writings without realising
that he has a dual personality. Which self is


the trite Whitman? Is it the inspired poet,
the singer of life, of love, of death, of joy, of
cosmic sympathy, of the unattainable ideal? Or
is it the fervent democrat ; the defiant advocate
of equality, "of" animality, "of" heroic nudity ;
the deifier of the average and the actual ; the
painter of the crude, the gross, the sordid, the
grotesque ? This is a problem which each student
of Whitman must solve for himself. To me it
seems more than probable that the poet, pure and
simple, will be remembered and honoured when
the socio-political prophet has been forgotten or,
if remembered, has fallen into disesteem. And
I cannot but think that the most truly_charac-
teristic of his writings are those in which insight_
_and imagination have triumphed over_prejudic^
__and theory, with the result that beautifuL
thoughts and profound feelings have overflowed^
_into other hearts through the channel of im-
passioned speech.



IN cabin d ships at sea,

The boundless blue on every side expanding,

With whistling winds and music of the waves, the large

imperious waves,

Or some lone bark buoy d on the dense marine,
Where joyous full of faith, spreading white sails,
She cleaves the ether mid the sparkle and the foam of

day, or under many a star at night,
By sailors young and old haply will I, a reminiscence of

the land, be read,
In full rapport at last.

Here are our thoughts, voyagers thoughts,

Here not the land, firm land, alone appears, may then by

them be said,
The sky overarches here, we feel the undulating deck beneath our


We feel the long pulsation, ebb and flow of endless motion,
The tones of unseen mystery, the vague and vast suggestions of

the bnny world, the liquid-flowing syllables,
The perfume, the faint creaking of the cordage, the melancholy


The boundless vista and the horizon far and dim are all here,
And this is ocean s poem*

8l G

Then falter not O book, fulfil your destiny,

You not a reminiscence of the land alone,

You too as a lone bark cleaving the ether, purpos d I

know not whither, yet ever full of faith,
Consort to every ship that sails, sail you !
Bear forth to them folded my love, (dear manners, for

you I fold it here in every leaf ;)
Speed on my book ! spread your white sails my little

bark athwart the imperious waves,
Chant on, sail on, bear o er the boundless blue from me

to every sea,
This song for mariners and all their ships.


I am he that walks with the tender and growing night,

I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.

Press close bare-bosom d night press close magnetic

nourishing night !

Night of south winds night of the large few stars !
Still nodding night mad naked summer night.

Smile O voluptuous cool-breath d earth !

Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees !

Earth of departed sunset earth of the mountains misty-

topt !
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged

with blue !

Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river !
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer

for my sake !

Far-swooping elbow d earth rich apple-blossom d earth !
Smile, for your lover comes.


Prodigal, you have given me love therefore I to you

give love !
O unspeakable passionate love.


OF the terrible doubt of appearances,

Of the uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,

That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations

after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful

fable only,
May-be the things I perceive, the animals, plants, men,

hills, shining and flowing waters,
The skies of day and night, colors, densities, forms,

may-be these are (as doubtless they are) only

apparitions, and the real something has yet to be

(How often they dart out of themselves as if to confound

me and mock me !
How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,

aught of them,)
May-be seeming to me what they are (as doubtless they

indeed but seem) as from my present point of view,

and might prove (as of course they would) nought

of what they appear, or nought anyhow, from

entirely changed points of view ;
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer d

by my lovers, my dear friends,
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long

while holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that

words and reason hold not, surround us and

pervade us,

83 G 2

Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom,

I am silent, I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of

identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.


NOT heat flames up and consumes,

Not sea-waves hurry in and out,

Not the air delicious and dry, the air of ripe summer,

bears lightly along white down-balls of myriads of


Wafted, sailing gracefully, to drop where they may ;
Not these, O none of these more than the flames of me,

consuming, burning for his love whom I love,
O none more than I hurrying in and out ;
Does the tide hurry, seeking something, and never give

up ? O I the same,
O nor down-balls nor perfumes, nor the high rain-emitting

clouds, are borne through the open air,
Any more than my soul is borne through the open air,
Wafted in all directions, O love, for friendship, for you.


Soon shall the winter s foil be here ;

Soon shall these icy ligatures unbind and melt A little

And air, soil, wave, suffused, shall be in softness, bloom

and growth a thousand forms shall rise

From these dead clods and chills as from low burial

Thine eyes, ears all thy best attributes all that takes

cognizance of natural beauty,
Shall wake and fill. Thou shalt perceive the simple

shows, the delicate miracles of earth,
Dandelions, clover, the emerald grass, the early scents

and flowers,
The arbutus under foot, the willow s yellow-green, the

blossoming plum and cherry ;
With these the robin, lark and thrush, singing their

songs the flitting bluebird ;
For such the scenes the annual play brings on.


WARBLE me now for joy of lilac-time, (returning in

Sort me O tongue and lips for Nature s sake, souvenirs

of earliest summer,
Gather the welcome signs, (as children with pebbles or

stringing shells,)
Put in April and May, the hylas croaking in the ponds,

the elastic air,

Bees, butterflies, the sparrow with its simple notes,
Blue-bird and darting swallow, nor forget the high-hole

flashing his golden wings,

The tranquil sunny haze, the clinging smoke, the vapor,
Shimmer of waters with fish in them, the cerulean above,
All that is jocund and sparkling, the brooks running,
The maple woods, the crisp February days and the


The robin where he hops, bright-eyed, brown-breasted,
With musical clear call at sunrise, and again at sunset,


Or flitting among the trees of the apple-orchard, building

the nest of his mate,
The melted snow of March, the willow sending forth its

yellow-green sprouts,
For spring-time is here ! the summer is here ! and what

is this in it and from it ?
Thou, soul, unloosen d the restlessness after I know

not what ;

Come, let us lag here no longer, let us be up and away !
O if one could but fly like a bird !
O to escape, to sail forth as in a ship !
To glide with thee O soul, o er all, in all, as a ship o er

the waters ;
Gathering these hints, the preludes, the blue sky, the

grass, the morning drops of dew,
The lilac-scent, the bushes with dark green heart-shaped

Wood-violets, the little delicate pale blossoms called

Samples and sorts not for themselves alone, but for their


To grace the bush I love to sing with the birds,
A warble for joy of lilac-time, returning in reminiscence.


O MAGNET-SOUTH ! O glistening perfumed South ! my

South !
O quick mettle, rich blood, impulse and love ! good and

evil ! O all dear to me !
O dear to me my birth-thingsall moving things and

the trees where I was born the grains, plants,



Dear to me my own slow sluggish rivers where they

flow, distant, over flats of silvery sands or through

Dear to me the Roanoke, the Savannah, the Altamahaw,

the Pedee, the Tombigbee, the Santee, the Coosa

and the Sabine,

pensive, far away wandering, I return with my soul

to haunt their banks again,

Again in Florida I float on transparent lakes, I float
on the Okeechobee, I cross the hummock-land or
through pleasant openings or dense forests,

1 see the parrots in the woods, I see the papaw-tree and

the blossoming titi ;

Again, sailing in my coaster on deck, I coast off Georgia,
I coast up the Carolinas,

I see where the live-oak is growing, I see where the
yellow-pine, the scented bay-tree, the lemon and
orange, the cypress, the graceful palmetto,

I pass rude sea-headlands and enter Pamlico sound
through an inlet, and dart my vision inland ;

O the cotton plant ! the growing fields of rice, sugar,
hemp !

The cactus guarded with thorns, the laurel-tree with
large white flowers,

The range afar, the richness and barrenness, the old
woods charged with mistletoe and trailing moss,

The piney odor and the gloom, the awful natural stillness,
(here in these dense swamps the freebooter carries
his gun, and the fugitive has his conceal d hut ;)

O the strange fascination of these half-known half-
impassable swamps, infested by reptiles, resounding
with the bellow of the alligator, the sad noises of
the night-owl and the wild-cat, and the whirr of the

The mocking-bird, the American mimic, singing all the
forenoon, singing through the moon-lit night,


The humming-bird, the wild turkey, the raccoon, the

opossum ;
A Kentucky corn-field, the tall, graceful, long-leav d

corn, slender, flapping, bright green, with tassels,

with beautiful ears each well-sheath d in its husk ;
O my heart ! O tender and fierce pangs, I can stand

them not, I will depart ;
O to be a Virginian where I grew up ! O to be a

Carolinian !
O longings irrepressible ! O I will go back to old

Tennessee and never wander more.


THEE for my recitative,

Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the

winter-day declining,
Thee in thy panoply, thy measur d dual throbbing and

thy beat convulsive,

Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel,
Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods,

gyrating, shuttling at thy sides,
Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering

in the distance,

Thy great protruding head-light fix d in front,
Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with

delicate purple,
The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy

Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous

twinkle of thy wheels,

Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following,
Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily

careering ;


Type of the modern emblem of motion and power

pulse of the continent,
For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even

as here I see thee,

With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow,
By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes,
By night thy silent signal lamps to swing.

Fierce-throated beauty !

Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy

swinging lamps at night,
Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an

earthquake, rousing all,

Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding,
(No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano


Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return d,
Launch d o er the prairies wide, across the lakes,
To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.


Written in Platte Canon, 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 fresh

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 ;

Was t charged against my chants they had forgotten

8 9

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 formed this

They have remember d thee.


A LINE in long array where they wind betwixt green

They take a serpentine course, their arms flash in the

sun hark to the musical clank,
Behold the silvery river, in it the splashing horses

loitering stop to drink,
Behold the brown-faced men, each group, each person a

picture, the negligent rest on the saddles,
Some emerge on the opposite bank, others are just

entering the ford while,
Scarlet and blue and snowy white,
The guidon flags flutter gaily in the wind.


I SEE before me now a traveling army halting,

Below a fertile valley spread, with barns and the orchards

of summer,
Behind, the terraced sides of a mountain, abrupt, in

places rising high,
Broken, with rocks, with clinging cedars, with tall

shapes dingily seen,
The numerous camp-fires scattered near and far, some

away up on the mountain,


The shadowy forms of men and horses, looming, large-
sized, flickering.

And over all the sky the sky! far, far out of reach,
studded, breaking out, the eternal stars.


BY the bivouac s fitful flame,

A procession winding around me, solemn and sweet and

slow but first I note
The tents of the sleeping army, the fields and woods

dim outline,

The darkness lit by spots of kindled fire, the silence,
Like a phantom far or near an occasional figure moving,
The shrubs and trees, (as I lift my eyes they seem to be

stealthily watching me,)
While wind in procession thoughts, O tender and

wondrous thoughts,
Of life and death, of home and the past and loved,

and of those that are far away ;
A solemn and slow procession there as I sit on the

By the bivouac s fitful flame.


Lo, Victress on the peaks,

Where thou with mighty brow regarding the world,

(The world O Libertad, that vainly conspired against

Out of its countless beleaguering toils, after thwarting

them all
Dominant, with the dazzling sun around thee,

9 i

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.


WORD over all, beautiful as the sky,

Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in
time be utterly lost,

That the hands of the sisters Death and Night in
cessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this
soil d world ;

For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,

I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin
I draw near,

Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white
face in the coffin.



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


Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

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.

In the dooryard fronting an old farmhouse near the

~f! white- washed 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

With delicate-color d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves

of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.


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 settle
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 would st surely die.)



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


Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.


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.



(Nor for you, for ore 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.)


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.


Sing on there in the swamp,

singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear

your call,

1 hear, I come presently, I understand you,

But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain 1 d

The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.


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.


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.


Lo, body and soul this land,

My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and

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Online LibraryEdmond Gore Alexander HolmesWalt Whitman's poetry, a study & a selection → online text (page 5 of 7)