Best Poems From
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious
you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning
home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to
me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the
The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme--myself disintegrated, every
one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme:
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future;
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings--on
the walk in the street, and the passage over the river;
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away; 10
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them;
The certainty of others--the life, love, sight, hearing of others.
Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide;
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the
heights of Brooklyn to the south and east;
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half
an hour high;
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others
will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood-tide, the falling
back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
It avails not, neither time or place--distance avails not; 20
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many
I project myself--also I return--I am with you, and know how it is.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright
flow, I was refresh'd;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift
current, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the thick-
stem'd pipes of steamboats, I look'd.
I too many and many a time cross'd the river, the sun half an hour
I watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls--I saw them high in the air,
floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and
left the rest in strong shadow, 30
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the
I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light around the shape of my
head in the sun-lit water,
Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward,
Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,
Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the arriving ships,
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops--saw the ships at anchor,
The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the spars, 40
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sun-set,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the
frolicsome crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls of the
granite store-houses by the docks,
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flank'd on
each side by the barges--the hay-boat, the belated lighter,
On the neighboring shore, the fires from the foundry chimneys burning
high and glaringly into the night,
Casting their flicker of black, contrasted with wild red and yellow
light, over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of
These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you; 50
I project myself a moment to tell you--also I return.
I loved well those cities;
I loved well the stately and rapid river;
The men and women I saw were all near to me;
Others the same--others who look back on me, because I look'd forward
(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)
What is it, then, between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails
I too lived--Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine; 60
I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the
waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution;
I too had receiv'd identity by my Body;
That I was, I knew was of my body--and what I should be, I knew I
should be of my body.
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw patches down upon me also;
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious; 70
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality
meagre? would not people laugh at me?
It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these
But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!
I was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as
they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of
their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly,
yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing,
Play'd the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.
Closer yet I approach you;
What thought you have of me, I had as much of you--I laid in my
stores in advance; 90
I consider'd long and seriously of you before you were born.
Who was to know what should come home to me?
Who knows but I am enjoying this?
Who knows but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot
It is not you alone, nor I alone;
Not a few races, nor a few generations, nor a few centuries;
It is that each came, or comes, or shall come, from its due emission,
From the general centre of all, and forming a part of all:
Everything indicates--the smallest does, and the largest does;
A necessary film envelopes all, and envelopes the Soul for a proper
Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to
me than my mast-hemm'd Manhattan,
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edg'd waves of flood-tide,
The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight,
and the belated lighter;
Curious what Gods can exceed these that clasp me by the hand, and
with voices I love call me promptly and loudly by my nighest
name as I approach;
Curious what is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or
man that looks in my face,
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you.
We understand, then, do we not?
What I promis'd without mentioning it, have you not accepted?
What the study could not teach--what the preaching could not
accomplish, is accomplish'd, is it not?
What the push of reading could not start, is started by me
personally, is it not? 110
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the
men and women generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!--stand up, beautiful hills of
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or
Play the old role, the role that is great or small, according as one
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be
looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet
haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in
Receive the summer sky, you water! and faithfully hold it, till all
downcast eyes have time to take it from you;
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any
one's head, in the sun-lit water;
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sail'd
schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower'd at sunset;
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at
nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are; 130
You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul;
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest
Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual;
Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting.
We descend upon you and all things--we arrest you all;
We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids;
Through you color, form, location, sublimity, ideality;
Through you every proof, comparison, and all the suggestions and
determinations of ourselves.
You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers! you
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves
We use you, and do not cast you aside--we plant you permanently
We fathom you not--we love you--there is perfection in you also;
You furnish your parts toward eternity;
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.
Read more: river poems, women poems, sun poems, water poems, sunset poems, sea poems, alone poems, evil poems, home poems, light poems, identity poems, sky poems, summer poems, swimming poems, red poems, snake poems, dark poems, lust poems, anger poems, woman poems
Gliding Over All
GLIDING o'er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul--not life alone,
Death, many deaths I'll sing.
Read more: nature poems, alone poems, death poems, time poems, life poems, water poems
On Journeys Through The States
ON journeys through the States we start,
(Ay, through the world--urged by these songs,
Sailing henceforth to every land--to every sea;)
We, willing learners of all, teachers of all, and lovers of all.
We have watch'd the seasons dispensing themselves, and passing on,
We have said, Why should not a man or woman do as much as the
seasons, and effuse as much?
We dwell a while in every city and town;
We pass through Kanada, the north-east, the vast valley of the
Mississippi, and the Southern States;
We confer on equal terms with each of The States,
We make trial of ourselves, and invite men and women to hear; 10
We say to ourselves, Remember, fear not, be candid, promulge the body
and the Soul;
Dwell a while and pass on--Be copious, temperate, chaste, magnetic,
And what you effuse may then return as the seasons return,
And may be just as much as the seasons.
Read more: women poems, city poems, woman poems, remember poems, fear poems, sea poems, world poems, teacher poems, song poems, journey poems
Poems Of Joys
O TO make the most jubilant poem!
Even to set off these, and merge with these, the carols of Death.
O full of music! full of manhood, womanhood, infancy!
Full of common employments! full of grain and trees.
O for the voices of animals! O for the swiftness and balance of
O for the dropping of rain-drops in a poem!
O for the sunshine, and motion of waves in a poem.
O the joy of my spirit! it is uncaged! it darts like lightning!
It is not enough to have this globe, or a certain time--I will have
thousands of globes, and all time.
O the engineer's joys! 10
To go with a locomotive!
To hear the hiss of steam--the merry shriek--the steam-whistle--the
To push with resistless way, and speed off in the distance.
O the gleesome saunter over fields and hill-sides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds--the moist fresh
stillness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at day-break, and all through the
O the horseman's and horsewoman's joys!
The saddle--the gallop--the pressure upon the seat--the cool gurgling
by the ears and hair.
O the fireman's joys!
I hear the alarm at dead of night, 20
I hear bells--shouts!--I pass the crowd--I run!
The sight of the flames maddens me with pleasure.
O the joy of the strong-brawn'd fighter, towering in the arena, in
perfect condition, conscious of power, thirsting to meet his
O the joy of that vast elemental sympathy which only the human Soul
is capable of generating and emitting in steady and limitless
O the mother's joys!
The watching--the endurance--the precious love--the anguish--the
patiently yielded life.
O the joy of increase, growth, recuperation;
The joy of soothing and pacifying--the joy of concord and harmony.
O to go back to the place where I was born!
To hear the birds sing once more! 30
To ramble about the house and barn, and over the fields, once more,
And through the orchard and along the old lanes once more.
O male and female!
O the presence of women! (I swear there is nothing more exquisite to
me than the mere presence of women;)
O for the girl, my mate! O for the happiness with my mate!
O the young man as I pass! O I am sick after the friendship of him
who, I fear, is indifferent to me.
O the streets of cities!
The flitting faces--the expressions, eyes, feet, costumes! O I cannot
tell how welcome they are to me.
O to have been brought up on bays, lagoons, creeks, or along the
O to continue and be employ'd there all my life! 40
O the briny and damp smell--the shore--the salt weeds exposed at low
The work of fishermen--the work of the eel-fisher and clam-fisher.
O it is I!
I come with my clam-rake and spade! I come with my eel-spear;
Is the tide out? I join the group of clam-diggers on the flats,
I laugh and work with them--I joke at my work, like a mettlesome
In winter I take my eel-basket and eel-spear and travel out on foot
on the ice--I have a small axe to cut holes in the ice;
Behold me, well-clothed, going gaily, or returning in the afternoon--
my brood of tough boys accompaning me,
My brood of grown and part-grown boys, who love to be with no one
else so well as they love to be with me,
By day to work with me, and by night to sleep with me. 50
Or, another time, in warm weather, out in a boat, to lift the
lobster-pots, where they are sunk with heavy stones, (I know
O the sweetness of the Fifth-month morning upon the water, as I row,
just before sunrise, toward the buoys;
I pull the wicker pots up slantingly--the dark-green lobsters are
desperate with their claws, as I take them out--I insert wooden
pegs in the joints of their pincers,
I go to all the places, one after another, and then row back to the
There, in a huge kettle of boiling water, the lobsters shall be
boil'd till their color becomes scarlet.
Or, another time, mackerel-taking,
Voracious, mad for the hook, near the surface, they seem to fill the
water for miles:
Or, another time, fishing for rock-fish, in Chesapeake Bay--I one of
the brown-faced crew:
Or, another time, trailing for blue-fish off Paumanok, I stand with
My left foot is on the gunwale--my right arm throws the coils of
slender rope, 60
In sight around me the quick veering and darting of fifty skiffs, my
O boating on the rivers!
The voyage down the Niagara, (the St. Lawrence,)--the superb
The ships sailing--the Thousand Islands--the occasional timber-raft,
and the raftsmen with long-reaching sweep-oars,
The little huts on the rafts, and the stream of smoke when they cook
their supper at evening.
O something pernicious and dread!
Something far away from a puny and pious life!
Something unproved! Something in a trance!
Something escaped from the anchorage, and driving free.
O to work in mines, or forging iron! 70
Foundry casting--the foundry itself--the rude high roof--the ample
and shadow'd space,
The furnace--the hot liquid pour'd out and running.
O to resume the joys of the soldier:
To feel the presence of a brave general! to feel his sympathy!
To behold his calmness! to be warm'd in the rays of his smile!
To go to battle! to hear the bugles play, and the drums beat!
To hear the crash of artillery! to see the glittering of the bayonets
and musket-barrels in the sun!
To see men fall and die, and not complain!
To taste the savage taste of blood! to be so devilish!
To gloat so over the wounds and deaths of the enemy. 80
O the whaleman's joys! O I cruise my old cruise again!
I feel the ship's motion under me--I feel the Atlantic breezes
I hear the cry again sent down from the mast-head--There--she blows!
--Again I spring up the rigging, to look with the rest--We see--we
descend, wild with excitement,
I leap in the lower'd boat--We row toward our prey, where he lies,
We approach, stealthy and silent--I see the mountainous mass,
I see the harpooneer standing up--I see the weapon dart from his
O swift, again, now, far out in the ocean, the wounded whale,
settling, running to windward, tows me;
--Again I see him rise to breathe--We row close again,
I see a lance driven through his side, press'd deep, turn'd in the
Again we back off--I see him settle again--the life is leaving him
As he rises, he spouts blood--I see him swim in circles narrower and
narrower, swiftly cutting the water--I see him die;
He gives one convulsive leap in the centre of the circle, and then
falls flat and still in the bloody foam.
O the old manhood of me, my joy!
My children and grand-children--my white hair and beard,
My largeness, calmness, majesty, out of the long stretch of my life.
O the ripen'd joy of womanhood!
O perfect happiness at last!
I am more than eighty years of age--my hair, too, is pure white--I am
the most venerable mother;
How clear is my mind! how all people draw nigh to me! 100
What attractions are these, beyond any before? what bloom, more than
the bloom of youth?
What beauty is this that descends upon me, and rises out of me?
O the orator's joys!
To inflate the chest--to roll the thunder of the voice out from the
ribs and throat,
To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire, with yourself,
To lead America--to quell America with a great tongue.
O the joy of my soul leaning pois'd on itself--receiving identity
through materials, and loving them--observing characters, and
O my soul, vibrated back to me, from them--from facts, sight,
hearing, touch, my phrenology, reason, articulation,
comparison, memory, and the like;
The real life of my senses and flesh, transcending my senses and
My body, done with materials--my sight, done with my material
Proved to me this day, beyond cavil, that it is not my material
eyes which finally see,
Nor my material body which finally loves, walks, laughs, shouts,
O the farmer's joys!
Ohioan's, Illinoisian's, Wisconsinese', Kanadian's, Iowan's,
Kansian's, Missourian's, Oregonese' joys;
To rise at peep of day, and pass forth nimbly to work,
To plow land in the fall for winter-sown crops,
To plough land in the spring for maize,
To train orchards--to graft the trees--to gather apples in the fall.
O the pleasure with trees!
The orchard--the forest--the oak, cedar, pine, pekan-tree, 120
The honey-locust, black-walnut, cottonwood, and magnolia.
O Death! the voyage of Death!
The beautiful touch of Death, soothing and benumbing a few moments,
Myself, discharging my excrementitious body, to be burn'd, or
render'd to powder, or buried,
My real body doubtless left to me for other spheres,
My voided body, nothing more to me, returning to the purifications,
further offices, eternal uses of the earth.
O to bathe in the swimming-bath, or in a good place along shore!
To splash the water! to walk ankle-deep--to race naked along the
O to realize space!
The plenteousness of all--that there are no bounds; 130
To emerge, and be of the sky--of the sun and moon, and the flying
clouds, as one with them.
O the joy of a manly self-hood!
Personality--to be servile to none--to defer to none--not to any
tyrant, known or unknown,
To walk with erect carriage, a step springy and elastic,
To look with calm gaze, or with a flashing eye,
To speak with a full and sonorous voice, out of a broad chest,
To confront with your personality all the other personalities of the
Know'st thou the excellent joys of youth?
Joys of the dear companions, and of the merry word, and laughing
Joys of the glad, light-beaming day--joy of the wide-breath'd
Joy of sweet music--joy of the lighted ball-room, and the dancers?
Joy of the friendly, plenteous dinner--the strong carouse, and
Yet, O my soul supreme!
Know'st thou the joys of pensive thought?
Joys of the free and lonesome heart--the tender, gloomy heart?
Joy of the solitary walk--the spirit bowed yet proud--the suffering
and the struggle?
The agonistic throes, the extasies--joys of the solemn musings, day
Joys of the thought of Death--the great spheres Time and Space?
Prophetic joys of better, loftier love's ideals--the Divine Wife--the
sweet, eternal, perfect Comrade?
Joys all thine own, undying one--joys worthy thee, O Soul. 150
O, while I live, to be the ruler of life--not a slave,
To meet life as a powerful conqueror,
No fumes--no ennui--no more complaints, or scornful criticisms.
O me repellent and ugly!
To these proud laws of the air, the water, and the ground, proving my
interior Soul impregnable,
And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me.
O to attract by more than attraction!
How it is I know not--yet behold! the something which obeys none of
It is offensive, never defensive--yet how magnetic it draws.
O joy of suffering! 160
To struggle against great odds! to meet enemies undaunted!
To be entirely alone with them! to find how much one can stand!
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, death, face to face!
To mount the scaffold! to advance to the muzzles of guns with perfect
To be indeed a God!
O, to sail to sea in a ship!
To leave this steady, unendurable land!
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks and the
To leave you, O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship,
To sail, and sail, and sail! 170
O to have my life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on,
To be a sailor of the world, bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship, full of rich words--full of joys.
Read more: joy poems, work poems, poem poems, water poems, sympathy poems, death poems, fish poems, hair poems, running poems, women poems, winter poems, music poems, identity poems, fishing poems, spring poems, swimming poems, children poems, sun poems, mother poems, soldier poems