Song of the Banner at Daybreak

- 1819-1892

                    Poet

O a new song, a free song,
Flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping, by sounds, by voices clearer,
By the wind's voice and that of the drum,
By the banner's voice and child's voice and sea's voice and father's voice,
Low on the ground and high in the air,
On the ground where father and child stand,
In the upward air where their eyes turn,
Where the banner at daybreak is flapping.

Words! book-words! what are you?
Words no more, for hearken and see,
My song is there in the open air, and I must sing,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping.

I'll weave the chord and twine in,
Man's desire and babe's desire, I'll twine them in, I'll put in life,
I'll put the bayonet's flashing point, I'll let bullets and slugs whizz,
(As one carrying a symbol and menace far into the future,
Crying with trumpet voice, Arouse and beware! Beware and arouse!)
I'll pour the verse with streams of blood, full of volition, full of joy,
Then loosen, launch forth, to go and compete,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping.

                    Pennant

Come up here, bard, bard,
Come up here, soul, soul,
Come up here, dear little child,
To fly in the clouds and winds with me, and play with the measureless light.

                    Child

Father what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?
And what does it say to me all the while?

                    Father

Nothing my babe you see in the sky,
And nothing at all to you it says—but look you my babe,
Look at these dazzling things in the houses, and see you the money-shops opening,
And see you the vehicles preparing to crawl along the streets with goods;
These, ah these, how valued and toil'd for these!
How envied by all the earth.

                    Poet

Fresh and rosy red the sun is mounting high,
On floats the sea in distant blue careering through its channels,
On floats the wind over the breast of the sea setting in toward land,
The great steady wind from west or west-by-south,
Floating so buoyant with milk-white foam on the waters.

But I am not the sea nor the red sun,
I am not the wind with girlish laughter,
Not the immense wind which strengthens, not the wind which lashes,
Not the spirit that ever lashes its own body to terror and death,
But I am that which unseen comes and sings, sings, sings,
Which babbles in brooks and scoots in showers on the land,
Which the birds know in the woods mornings and evenings,
And the shore-sands know and the hissing wave, and that banner and pennant,
Aloft there flapping and flapping.

                    Child

O father it is alive—it is full of people—it has children,
O now it seems to me it is talking to its children,
I hear it—it talks to me—O it is wonderful!
O it stretches—it spreads and runs so fast—O my father,
It is so broad it covers the whole sky.

                    Father

Cease, cease, my foolish babe,
What you are saying is sorrowful to me, much 't displeases me;
Behold with the rest again I say, behold not banners and pennants aloft,
But the well-prepared pavements behold, and mark the solid-wall'd houses.

                    Banner and Pennant

Speak to the child O bard out of Manhattan,
To our children all, or north or south of Manhattan,
Point this day, leaving all the rest, to us over all—and yet we know not why,
For what are we, mere strips of cloth profiting nothing,
Only flapping in the wind?

                    Poet

I hear and see not strips of cloth alone,
I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry,
I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men, I hear Liberty!
I hear the drums beat and the trumpets blowing,
I myself move abroad swift-rising flying then,
I use the wings of the land-bird and use the wings of the sea-bird, and look down as from a height,
I do not deny the precious results of peace, I see populous cities with wealth incalculable,
I see numberless farms, I see the farmers working in their fields or barns,
I see mechanics working, I see buildings everywhere founded, going up, or finish'd,
I see trains of cars swiftly speeding along railroad tracks drawn by the locomotives,
I see the stores, depots, of Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans,
I see far in the West the immense area of grain, I dwell awhile hovering,
I pass to the lumber forests of the North, and again to the Southern plantation, and again to California;
Sweeping the whole I see the countless profit, the busy gatherings, earn'd wages,
See the Identity formed out of thirty-eight spacious and haughty States, (and many more to come,)
See forts on the shores of harbors, see ships sailing in and out;
Then over all, (aye! aye!) my little and lengthen'd pennant shaped like a sword,
Runs swiftly up indicating war and defiance—and now the halyards have rais'd it,
Side of my banner broad and blue, side of my starry banner,
Discarding peace over all the sea and land.

                    Banner and Pennant

Yet louder, higher, stronger, bard! yet farther, wider cleave!
No longer let our children deem us riches and peace alone,
We may be terror and carnage, and are so now,
Not now are we any one of these spacious and haughty States, (nor any five, nor ten,)
Nor market nor depot we, nor money-bank in the city,
But these and all, and the brown and spreading land, and the mines below, are ours,
And the shores of the sea are ours, and the rivers great and small,
And the fields they moisten, and the crops and the fruits are ours,
Bays and channels and ships sailing in and out are ours—while we over all,
Over the area spread below, the three or four millions of square miles, the capitals,
The forty millions of people,—O bard! in life and death supreme,
We, even we, henceforth flaunt out masterful, high up above,
Not for the present alone, for a thousand years chanting through you,
This song to the soul of one poor little child.

                    Child

O my father I like not the houses,
They will never to me be any thing, nor do I like money,
But to mount up there I would like, O father dear, that banner I like,
That pennant I would be and must be.

                    Father

Child of mine you fill me with anguish,
To be that pennant would be too fearful,
Little you know what it is this day, and after this day, forever,
It is to gain nothing, but risk and defy every thing,
Forward to stand in front of wars—and O, such wars!—what have you to do with them?
With passions of demons, slaughter, premature death?

                    Banner

Demons and death then I sing,
Put in all, aye all will I, sword-shaped pennant for war,
And a pleasure new and ecstatic, and the prattled yearning of children,
Blent with the sounds of the peaceful land and the liquid wash of the sea,
And the black ships fighting on the sea envelop'd in smoke,
And the icy cool of the far, far north, with rustling cedars and pines,
And the whirr of drums and the sound of soldiers marching, and the hot sun shining south,
And the beach-waves combing over the beach on my Eastern shore, and my Western shore the same,
And all between those shores, and my ever running Mississippi with bends and chutes,
And my Illinois fields, and my Kansas fields, and my fields of Missouri,
The Continent, devoting the whole identity without reserving an atom,
Pour in! whelm that which asks, which sings, with all and the yield of all,
Fusing and holding, claiming, devouring the whole,
No more with tender lip, nor musical labial sound,
But out of the night emerging for good, our voice persuasive no more,
Croaking like crows here in the wind.

                    Poet

My limbs, my veins dilate, my theme is clear at last,
Banner so broad advancing out of the night, I sing you haughty and resolute,
I burst through where I waited long, too long, deafen'd and blinded,
My hearing and tongue are come to me, (a little child taught me,)
I hear from above O pennant of war your ironical call and demand,
Insensate! insensate! (yet I at any rate chant you,) O banner!
Not houses of peace indeed are you, nor any nor all their prosperity, (if need be, you shall again have every one of those houses to destroy them,
You thought not to destroy those valuable houses, standing fast, full of comfort, built with money,
May they stand fast, then? not an hour except you above them and all stand fast;)
O banner, not money so precious are you, not farm produce you, nor the material good nutriment,
Nor excellent stores, nor landed on wharves from the ships,
Not the superb ships with sail-power or steam-power, fetching and carrying cargoes,
Nor machinery, vehicles, trade, nor revenues—but you as henceforth I see you,
Running up out of the night, bringing your cluster of stars, (ever-enlarging stars,)
Divider of daybreak you, cutting the air, touch'd by the sun, measuring the sky,
(Passionately seen and yearn'd for by one poor little child,
While others remain busy or smartly talking, forever teaching thrift, thrift;)
O you up there! O pennant! where you undulate like a snake hissing so curious,
Out of reach, an idea only, yet furiously fought for, risking bloody death, loved by me,
So loved—O you banner leading the day with stars brought from the night!
Valueless, object of eyes, over all and demanding all—(absolute owner of all)—O banner and pennant!
I too leave the rest—great as it is, it is nothing—houses, machines are nothing—I see them not,
I see but you, O warlike pennant! O banner so broad, with stripes, sing you only,
Flapping up there in the wind.

To Think of Time

1

To think of time—of all that retrospection!   
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!   
   
Have you guess'd you yourself would not continue?   
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?   
Have you fear'd the future would be nothing to you?
   
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?   
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.   
   
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women
   were flexible, real, alive! that everything was alive!   
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our
   part!   
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
   
2

Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an
   accouchement!   
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!   
   
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,   
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,   
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible
   look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters
   are sent for,   
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has
   long pervaded the rooms,)   
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,   
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,   
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,   
It is palpable as the living are palpable.   
   
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,   
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously
   on the corpse.   
   
3

To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials! 
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen,
   and act upon others as upon us now—yet not act upon us!   
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking
   great interest in them—and we taking no interest in them!   
   
To think how eager we are in building our houses!   
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!   
   
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy
   or eighty years at most,
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.)   
   
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never
   cease—they are the burial lines,   
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall
   surely be buried.   
   
4

A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,   
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:   
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river,
   half-frozen mud in the streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead,
   the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,   
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral
   of an old Broadway stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.   
   
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate
   is pass'd, the new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the
   hearse uncloses,   
The coffin is pass'd out, lower'd and settled, the whip is laid on the
   coffin, the earth is swiftly shovel'd in, 
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,   
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,   
He is decently put away—is there anything more?   
   
He was a good fellow, free-mouth'd, quick-temper'd, not bad-looking,
   able to take his own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with
   life or death for a friend, fond of women, gambled, ate hearty,
   drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
   toward the last, sicken'd, was help'd by a contribution, died, aged
   forty-one years—and that was his funeral.   
   
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather
   clothes, whip carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler,
   somebody loafing on you, you loafing on somebody, headway, man before
   and man behind, good day's work, bad day's work, pet stock, mean
   stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and
   he there takes no interest in them!   
   
5

The markets, the government, the working-man's wages—to think what
   account they are through our nights and days!   
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of
   them—yet we make little or no account!   
   
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call
   goodness—to think how wide a difference!   
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond
   the difference.
   
To think how much pleasure there is!   
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?   
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a
   nomination and election? or with your wife and family?   
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful
   maternal cares?   
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward, 
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.   
   
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross'd you are!   
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of
   what avail?   
   
6

What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,   
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
   
The sky continues beautiful,   
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of
   women with men, nor the pleasure from poems,   
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of
   houses—these are not phantasms—they have weight, form,
   location;   
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them
   phantasms,   
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of
   his life, are well-consider'd.   
   
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely
   around yourself;   
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!   
   
7

It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and
   father—it is to identify you;   
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form'd in you,   
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.   
   
The threads that were spun are gather'd, the weft crosses the warp,
   the pattern is systematic.   
   
The preparations have every one been justified,   
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the
   baton has given the signal.
   
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he
   is now housed,   
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of
   those that to look upon and be with is enough.   
   
The law of the past cannot be eluded,   
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,   
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,   
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,   
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof
   can be eluded.   
   
8

Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,   
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the
   Atlantic side, and they on the Pacific, and they between, and all
   through the Mississippi country, and all over the earth.
   
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and
   good-doers are well,   
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and
   distinguish'd, may be well,   
But there is more account than that—there is strict account
   of all.   
   
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,   
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American
   aborigines are not nothing,   
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the
   murderer or mean person is not nothing,   
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as
   they go,   
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion
   is not nothing as he goes.   
   
9

Of and in all these things,
I have dream'd that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law
   of us changed,   
I have dream'd that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present
   and past law,   
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present
   and past law,   
For I have dream'd that the law they are under now is enough.   
   
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray'd!   
Then indeed suspicion of death.   
   
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die
   now,   
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward
   annihilation?   
   
10

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,   
The whole universe indicates that it is good,   
The past and the present indicate that it is good.   
   
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!   
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
   
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just
   as perfect,   
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable
   fluids are perfect;   
Slowly and surely they have pass'd on to this, and slowly and surely
   they yet pass on.   
   
11

I swear I think now that everything without exception has an
   eternal Soul!   
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have!
   the animals!
   
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!   
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is
   for it, and the cohering is for it;   
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life
   and materials are altogether for it!

This Compost

1

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,
I withdraw from the still woods I loved,
I will not go now on the pastures to walk,
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my lover the sea,
I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other flesh to renew me.

O how can it be that the ground itself does not sicken?
How can you be alive you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health you blood of herbs, roots, orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses within you?
Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour dead?

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations?
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat?
I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps I am deceiv'd,
I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

2

Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick person—yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch'd eggs,
The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs bloom in the dooryards,
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.

What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will
   none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas'd corpses,
It distills such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.

Thoughts

1.
OF the visages of things—And of piercing through
         to the accepted hells beneath;
Of ugliness—To me there is just as much in it as
         there is in beauty—And now the ugliness of
         human beings is acceptable to me;
Of detected persons—To me, detected persons are
         not, in any respect, worse than undetected per-
         sons—and are not in any respect worse than I
         am myself;
Of criminals—To me, any judge, or any juror, is
         equally criminal—and any reputable person is
         also—and the President is also.


2.
OF waters, forests, hills;
Of the earth at large, whispering through medium of
         me;
Of vista—Suppose some sight in arriere, through the
         formative chaos, presuming the growth, fulness,
         life, now attain'd on the journey;
(But I see the road continued, and the journey ever
         continued;)
Of what was once lacking on earth, and in due time
         has become supplied—And of what will yet be
         supplied,
Because all I see and know, I believe to have purport
         in what will yet be supplied.


3.
OF persons arrived at high positions, ceremonies,
         wealth, scholarships, and the like;
To me, all that those persons have arrived at, sinks
         away from them, except as it results to their
         Bodies and Souls,
So that often to me they appear gaunt and naked;
And often, to me, each one mocks the others, and
         mocks himself or herself,
And of each one, the core of life, namely happiness,
         is full of the rotten excrement of maggots,
And often, to me, those men and women pass unwit-
         tingly the true realities of life, and go toward
         false realities,
And often, to me, they are alive after what custom has
         served them, but nothing more,
And often, to me, they are sad, hasty, unwaked son-
         nambules, walking the dusk.


4.
OF ownership—As if one fit to own things could not
         at pleasure enter upon all, and incorporate
         them into himself or herself;
Of Equality—As if it harm'd me, giving others the
         same chances and rights as myself—As if it
         were not indispensable to my own rights that
         others possess the same;
Of Justice—As if Justice could be anything but the
         same ample law, expounded by natural judges
         and saviors,
As if it might be this thing or that thing, according
         to decisions.


5.
As I sit with others, at a great feast, suddenly, while
         the music is playing,
To my mind, (whence it comes I know not,) spectral,
         in mist, of a wreck at sea,
Of the flower of the marine science of fifty generations,
         founder'd off the Northeast coast, and going
         down—Of the steamship Arctic going down,
Of the veil'd tableau—Women gather'd together on
         deck, pale, heroic, waiting the moment that
         draws so close—O the moment!
O the huge sob—A few bubbles—the white foam
         spirting up—And then the women gone,
Sinking there, while the passionless wet flows on—
         And I now pondering, Are those women indeed
         gone?
Are Souls drown'd and destroy'd so?
Is only matter triumphant?


6.
OF what I write from myself—As if that were not the
         resumé;
Of Histories—As if such, however complete, were not
         less complete than my poems;
As if the shreds, the records of nations, could possibly
         be as lasting as my poems;
As if here were not the amount of all nations, and of
         all the lives of heroes.


7.
OF obedience, faith, adhesiveness;
As I stand aloof and look, there is to me something
         profoundly affecting in large masses of men,
         following the lead of those who do not believe
         in men.