Best Poems From
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
I Sit And Look Out
I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all
oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with
themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying,
neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband--I see the treacherous seducer
of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be
hid--I see these sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny--I see martyrs and
I observe a famine at sea--I observe the sailors casting lots who
shall be kill'd, to preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon
laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
All these--All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look
See, hear, and am silent. 10
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As A Strong Bird On Pinious Free
AS a strong bird on pinions free,
Joyous, the amplest spaces heavenward cleaving,
Such be the thought I'd think to-day of thee, America,
Such be the recitative I'd bring to-day for thee.
The conceits of the poets of other lands I bring thee not,
Nor the compliments that have served their turn so long,
Nor rhyme--nor the classics--nor perfume of foreign court, or indoor
But an odor I'd bring to-day as from forests of pine in the north, in
Maine--or breath of an Illinois prairie,
With open airs of Virginia, or Georgia, or Tennessee--or from Texas
uplands, or Florida's glades,
With presentment of Yellowstone's scenes, or Yosemite; 10
And murmuring under, pervading all, I'd bring the rustling sea-sound,
That endlessly sounds from the two great seas of the world.
And for thy subtler sense, subtler refrains, O Union!
Preludes of intellect tallying these and thee--mind-formulas fitted
for thee--real, and sane, and large as these and thee;
Thou, mounting higher, diving deeper than we knew--thou
By thee Fact to be justified--blended with Thought;
Thought of Man justified--blended with God:
Through thy Idea--lo! the immortal Reality!
Through thy Reality--lo! the immortal Idea!
Brain of the New World! what a task is thine! 20
To formulate the Modern.....Out of the peerless grandeur of the
Out of Thyself--comprising Science--to recast Poems, Churches, Art,
(Recast--may-be discard them, end them--May-be their work is done--
By vision, hand, conception, on the background of the mighty past,
To limn, with absolute faith, the mighty living present.
(And yet, thou living, present brain! heir of the dead, the Old World
Thou that lay folded, like an unborn babe, within its folds so long!
Thou carefully prepared by it so long!--haply thou but unfoldest it--
only maturest it;
It to eventuate in thee--the essence of the by-gone time contain'd in
Its poems, churches, arts, unwitting to themselves, destined with
reference to thee, 30
The fruit of all the Old, ripening to-day in thee.)
Sail--sail thy best, ship of Democracy!
Of value is thy freight--'tis not the Present only,
The Past is also stored in thee!
Thou holdest not the venture of thyself alone--not of thy western
Earth's résumé entire floats on thy keel, O ship--is steadied by thy
With thee Time voyages in trust--the antecedent nations sink or swim
With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes, epics, wars, thou
bear'st the other continents;
Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination-port triumphant:
--Steer, steer with good strong hand and wary eye, O helmsman--thou
carryest great companions, 40
Venerable, priestly Asia sails this day with thee,
And royal, feudal Europe sails with thee.
Beautiful World of new, superber Birth, that rises to my eyes,
Like a limitless golden cloud, filling the western sky;
Emblem of general Maternity, lifted above all;
Sacred shape of the bearer of daughters and sons;
Out of thy teeming womb, thy giant babes in ceaseless procession
Acceding from such gestation, taking and giving continual strength
World of the Real! world of the twain in one!
World of the Soul--born by the world of the real alone--led to
identity, body, by it alone; 50
Yet in beginning only--incalculable masses of composite, precious
By history's cycles forwarded--by every nation, language, hither
Ready, collected here--a freer, vast, electric World, to be
(The true New World--the world of orbic Science, Morals, Literatures
Thou Wonder World, yet undefined, unform'd--neither do I define thee;
How can I pierce the impenetrable blank of the future?
I feel thy ominous greatness, evil as well as good;
I watch thee, advancing, absorbing the present, transcending the
I see thy light lighting and thy shadow shadowing, as if the entire
But I do not undertake to define thee--hardly to comprehend thee; 60
I but thee name--thee prophecy--as now!
I merely thee ejaculate!
Thee in thy future;
Thee in thy only permanent life, career--thy own unloosen'd mind--thy
Thee as another equally needed sun, America--radiant, ablaze, swift-
moving, fructifying all;
Thee! risen in thy potent cheerfulness and joy--thy endless, great
(Scattering for good the cloud that hung so long--that weigh'd so
long upon the mind of man,
The doubt, suspicion, dread, of gradual, certain decadence of man;)
Thee in thy larger, saner breeds of Female, Male--thee in thy
athletes, moral, spiritual, South, North, West, East,
(To thy immortal breasts, Mother of All, thy every daughter, son,
endear'd alike, forever equal;) 70
Thee in thy own musicians, singers, artists, unborn yet, but certain;
Thee in thy moral wealth and civilization (until which thy proudest
material wealth and civilization must remain in vain;)
Thee in thy all-supplying, all-enclosing Worship--thee in no single
bible, saviour, merely,
Thy saviours countless, latent within thyself--thy bibles incessant,
within thyself, equal to any, divine as any;
Thee in an education grown of thee--in teachers, studies, students,
born of thee;
Thee in thy democratic fetes, en masse--thy high original festivals,
operas, lecturers, preachers;
Thee in thy ultimata, (the preparations only now completed--the
edifice on sure foundations tied,)
Thee in thy pinnacles, intellect, thought--thy topmost rational
joys--thy love, and godlike aspiration,
In thy resplendent coming literati--thy full-lung'd orators--thy
sacerdotal bards--kosmic savans,
These! these in thee, (certain to come,) to-day I prophecy. 80
Land tolerating all--accepting all--not for the good alone--all good
Land in the realms of God to be a realm unto thyself;
Under the rule of God to be a rule unto thyself.
(Lo! where arise three peerless stars,
To be thy natal stars, my country--Ensemble--Evolution--Freedom,
Set in the sky of Law.)
Land of unprecedented faith--God's faith!
Thy soil, thy very subsoil, all upheav'd;
The general inner earth, so long, so sedulously draped over, now and
hence for what it is, boldly laid bare,
Open'd by thee to heaven's light, for benefit or bale. 90
Not for success alone;
Not to fair-sail unintermitted always;
The storm shall dash thy face--the murk of war, and worse than war,
shall cover thee all over;
(Wert capable of war--its tug and trials? Be capable of peace, its
For the tug and mortal strain of nations come at last in peace--not
In many a smiling mask death shall approach, beguiling thee--thou in
disease shalt swelter;
The livid cancer spread its hideous claws, clinging upon thy breasts,
seeking to strike thee deep within;
Consumption of the worst--moral consumption--shall rouge thy face
But thou shalt face thy fortunes, thy diseases, and surmount them
Whatever they are to-day, and whatever through time they may be, 100
They each and all shall lift, and pass away, and cease from thee;
While thou, Time's spirals rounding--out of thyself, thyself still
Equable, natural, mystical Union thou--(the mortal with immortal
Shalt soar toward the fulfilment of the future--the spirit of the
body and the mind,
The Soul--its destinies.
The Soul, its destinies--the real real,
(Purport of all these apparitions of the real;)
In thee, America, the Soul, its destinies;
Thou globe of globes! thou wonder nebulous!
By many a throe of heat and cold convuls'd--(by these thyself
Thou mental, moral orb! thou New, indeed new, Spiritual World!
The Present holds thee not--for such vast growth as thine--for such
unparallel'd flight as thine,
The Future only holds thee, and can hold thee.
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Aroused and angry,
I thought to beat the alarum, and urge relentless war;
But soon my fingers fail'd me, my face droop'd, and I resign'd
To sit by the wounded and soothe them, or silently watch the dead.
FIRST, O songs, for a prelude,
Lightly strike on the stretch'd tympanum, pride and joy in my city,
How she led the rest to arms--how she gave the cue,
How at once with lithe limbs, unwaiting a moment, she sprang;
(O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!
O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O truer than
How you sprang! how you threw off the costumes of peace with
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and fife were heard
in their stead;
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our prelude, songs of
How Manhattan drum-taps led. 10
Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading;
Forty years as a pageant--till unawares, the Lady of this teeming and
Sleepless amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable wealth,
With her million children around her--suddenly,
At dead of night, at news from the south,
Incens'd, struck with clench'd hand the pavement.
A shock electric--the night sustain'd it;
Till with ominous hum, our hive at day-break pour'd out its myriads.
From the houses then, and the workshops, and through all the
Leapt they tumultuous--and lo! Manhattan arming. 20
To the drum-taps prompt,
The young men falling in and arming;
The mechanics arming, (the trowel, the jack-plane, the blacksmith's
hammer, tost aside with precipitation;)
The lawyer leaving his office, and arming--the judge leaving the
The driver deserting his wagon in the street, jumping down, throwing
the reins abruptly down on the horses' backs;
The salesman leaving the store--the boss, book-keeper, porter, all
Squads gather everywhere by common consent, and arm;
The new recruits, even boys--the old men show them how to wear their
accoutrements--they buckle the straps carefully;
Outdoors arming--indoors arming--the flash of the musket-barrels;
The white tents cluster in camps--the arm'd sentries around--the
sunrise cannon, and again at sunset; 30
Arm'd regiments arrive every day, pass through the city, and embark
from the wharves;
(How good they look, as they tramp down to the river, sweaty, with
their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their brown faces, and
their clothes and knapsacks cover'd with dust!)
The blood of the city up--arm'd! arm'd! the cry everywhere;
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches, and from all the
public buildings and stores;
The tearful parting--the mother kisses her son--the son kisses his
(Loth is the mother to part--yet not a word does she speak to detain
The tumultuous escort--the ranks of policemen preceding, clearing the
The unpent enthusiasm--the wild cheers of the crowd for their
The artillery--the silent cannons, bright as gold, drawn along,
rumble lightly over the stones; 40
(Silent cannons--soon to cease your silence!
Soon, unlimber'd, to begin the red business;)
All the mutter of preparation--all the determin'd arming;
The hospital service--the lint, bandages, and medicines;
The women volunteering for nurses--the work begun for, in earnest--no
mere parade now;
War! an arm'd race is advancing!--the welcome for battle--no turning
War! be it weeks, months, or years--an arm'd race is advancing to
Mannahatta a-march!--and it's O to sing it well!
It's O for a manly life in the camp!
And the sturdy artillery! 50
The guns, bright as gold--the work for giants--to serve well the
Unlimber them! no more, as the past forty years, for salutes for
Put in something else now besides powder and wadding.
And you, Lady of Ships! you Mannahatta!
Old matron of this proud, friendly, turbulent city!
Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly frown'd amid
all your children;
But now you smile with joy, exulting old Mannahatta!
Read more: city poems, war poems, mother poems, son poems, work poems, children poems, peace poems, joy poems, sunset poems, women poems, pride poems, river poems, music poems, silence poems, smile poems, red poems, soldier poems, spring poems, kiss poems, horse poems
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child
leaving his bed wander'd alone, bareheaded, barefoot,
Down from the shower'd halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting as
if they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and
fallings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as
if with tears,
From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous'd words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such as now they start the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man, yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.
When the lilac-scent was in the air and Fifth-month grass
Up this seashore in some briers,
Two feather'd guests from Alabama, two together,
And their nest, and four light-green eggs spotted with brown,
And every day the he-bird to and fro near at hand,
And every day the she-bird crouch'd on her nest, silent, with
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.
Shine! shine! shine!
Pour down your warmth, great sun!
While we bask, we two together.
Winds blow south, or winds blow north,
Day come white, or niqht come black,
Home, or rivers and mountains from home,
Singing all time, minding no time,
While we two keep together.
Till of a sudden,
May-be kill'd, unknown to her mate,
One forenoon the she-bird crouch'd not on the nest,
Nor return'd that afternoon, nor the next,
Nor ever appear'd again.
And thenceforward all summer in the sound of the sea,
And at night under the full of the moon in calmer weather,
Over the hoarse surging of the sea,
Or flitting from brier to brier by day,
I saw, I heard at intervals the remaining one, the he-bird,
The solitary guest from Alabama.
Blow! blow! blow!
Blow up sea-winds along Paumanok's shore;
I wait and I wait till you blow my mate to me.
Yes, when the stars glisten'd,
All night long on the prong of a moss-scallop'd stake,
Down almost amid the slapping waves,
Sat the lone singer wonderful causing tears.
He call'd on his mate,
He pour'd forth the meanings which I of all men know.
Yes my brother I know,
The rest might not, but I have treasur'd every note,
For more than once dimly down to the beach gliding,
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds
and sights after their sorts,
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
Listen'd long and long.
Listen'd to keep, to sing, now translating the notes,
Following you my brother.
Soothe! soothe! soothe!
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
And again another behind embracing and lapping, every one close,
But my love soothes not me, not me.
Low hangs the moon, it rose late,
It is lagging--O I think it is heavy with love, with love.
O madly the sea pushes upon the land,
With love, with love.
O night! do I not see my love fluttering out among the breakers?
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?
Loud! loud! loud!
Loud I call to you, my love!
Hiqh and clear I shoot my voice over the waves,
Surely you must know who is here, is here,
You must know who I am, my love.
What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow?
O it is the shape, the shape of my mate!
O moon do not keep her from me any longer.
Land! land! O land!
Whichever way I turn, 0 I think you could give me my mate
back again if you only would,
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look.
O rising stars!
Perhaps the one I want so much will rise, will rise with some of you.
O throat! 0 trembling throat!
Sound clearer through the atmosphere!
Pierce the woods, the earth,
Somewhere listening to catch you must be the one I want.
Shake out carols!
Solitary here, the niqht's carols!
Carols of lonesome love! death's carols!
Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon!
O under that moon where she droops almost down into the sea!
O reckless despairing carols.
But soft! sink low!
Soft! let me just murmur,
And do you wait a moment you husky-nois'd sea,
For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me,
So faint, I must be still, be still to listen,
But not altogether still, for then she miqht not come immediately
Hither my love!
Here I am! here!
With this just-sustain'd note I announce myself to you,
This gentle call is for you my love, for you.
Do not be decoy'd elsewhere,
That is the whistle of the wind, it is not my voice,
That is the fluttering, the fluttering of the spray,
Those are the shadows of leaves.
O darkness! 0 in vain!
0 I am very sick and sorrowful.
O brown halo in the sky near the moon, drooping upon the sea!
O troubled reflection in the sea!
O throat! 0 throbbing heart!
And I singing uselessly, uselessly all the niqht.
0 past! 0 happy life! 0 songs of joy!
In the air, in the woods, over fields,
Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved!
But my mate no more, no more with me!
We two together no more.
The aria sinking,
All else continuing, the stars shining,
The winds blowing, the notes of the bird continuous echoing,
With angry moans the fierce old mother incessantly moaning,
On the sands of Paumanok's shore gray and rustling,
The yellow half-moon enlarged, sagging down, drooping,
the face of the sea almost touching,
The boy ecstatic, with his bare feet the waves, with his hair
the atmosphere dallying,
The love in the heart long pent, now loose, now at last
The aria's meaning, the ears, the soul, swiftly depositing,
The strange tears down the cheeks coursing,
The colloquy there, the trio, each uttering,
The undertone, the savage old mother incessantly crying,
To the boy's soul's questions sullenly timing, some drown'd
To the outsetting bard.
Demon or bird! (said the boy's soul,)
Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it really to me?
For I, that was a child, my tongue's use sleeping, now I
have heard you,
Now in a moment I know what I am for, I awake,
And already a thousand singers, a thousand songs, clearer,
louder and more sorrowful than yours,
A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me,
never to die.
O you singer solitary, singing by yourself, projecting me,
O solitary me listening, never more shall I cease
Never more shall I escape, never more the reverberations,
Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me,
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was before
what there in the night,
By the sea under the yellow and sagging moon,
The messenger there arous'd, the fire, the sweet hell within,
The unknown want, the destiny of me.
O give me the clew! (it lurks in the night here somewhere,)
O if I am to have so much, let me have more!
A word then, (for I will conquer it,)
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up--what is it?--I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?
Whereto answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whisper'd me through the night, and very plainly before
Lisp'd to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my arous'd
But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly
Death, death, death, death, death.
Which I do not forget,
But fuse the song of my dusky demon and brother,
That he sang to me in the moonlight on Paumanok's gray
With the thousand responsive songs at random,
My own songs awaked from that hour,
And with them the key, the word up from the waves,
The word of the sweetest song and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
(Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet
garments, bending aside,)
The sea whisper'd me.
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