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!
When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d
When lilacs last in the door-yard 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 spring.
O 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 door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d 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 door-yard,
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 settlements,
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 gifted 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 uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;
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 one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring:
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol 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 we walk’d,
As we walk’d up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we 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, ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold 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!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain’d me;
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 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!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover’d with grass and corn.
Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes;
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill’d noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.
Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.
O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear......yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.
Now while I sat in the day, and look’d forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds, and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.
Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.
And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me;
The gray-brown bird I know, receiv’d us comrades three;
And he sang what seem’d the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.
From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.
And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.
Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.
Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.
Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.
Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.
From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack’d cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!
To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.
Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my comrades there in the night.
While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.
I saw askant the armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc’d with missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not;
The living remain’d and suffer’d—the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.
Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul,
(Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,)
Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves;
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring,
I cease from my song for thee;
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.
Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands...and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.