From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume XXX, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 11038-11050.
WHITMAN, WALT, a celebrated American poet; born at West Hills, Long Island, N. Y., May 31, 1819; died at Camden, N. J., March 26, 1892. He was educated at the public schools of Brooklyn and New York, and subsequently followed various occupations; among which were those of printer, teacher, carpenter, and journalist, making in the meantime extended tours in the United States and Canada. During the greater part of the Civil War he served as a volunteer nurse in the army hospitals, and at its close was appointed a Government clerk at Washington. In 1873 he had a severe paralytic attack, and he took up his residence at Camden, N. J. His first notable work, “Leaves of Grass,” was published in 1855. It was subsequently much enlarged by successive additions, up to 1881. Besides this, he wrote many poems for periodicals, some of which have been collected into volumes, among which are “Drum-Taps” (1865); “Two Rivulets” (1873); “Specimen Days and Collect” (1883); “November Boughs” (1885); “Sands at Seventy” (1888); “Good-bye, My Fancy” (1891); and “Autobiographia” (1892). He also put forth in 1870 a volume of prose essays, entitled “Democratic Vistas,” which was republished in 1888, with a new Preface. His “Complete Poems and Prose” appeared in one volume in the same year, and “The Wound Dresser” in 1898.
THE last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finished Sabbath,
On the pavement here, and there beyond it is looking,
Down a new-made double grave.
Lo, the moon ascending,
Up from the east the silvery round moon,
Beautiful over the housetops, ghastly, phantom moon,
Immense and silent moon.
I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming full-keyed bugles,
All the channels of the city streets they ’re flooding,
As with voices and with tears.
I hear the great drums pounding,
And the small drums steady whirring,
And every blow of the great convulsive drums
Strikes me through and through.
For the son is brought with the father,
(In the foremost ranks of the fierce assault they fell,
Two veterans son and father drop together,
And the double grave awaits them.)
Now nearer blow the bugles,
And the drums strike more convulsive,
And the daylight o’er the pavement quite has faded,
And the strong dead-march enwraps me.
In the eastern sky up-buoying
The sorrowful vast phantom moves illumined.
(’T is some mother’s large transparent face,
In heaven brighter growing.)
O strong dead-march you please me!
O moon immense with your silvery face you soothe me!
O my soldiers twain! O my veterans passing to burial!
What I have I also give you.
The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music,
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.
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 spring.
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 disappeared — 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 farm-house near the
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume
strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle; — and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich
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 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 peeped
from the ground, spotting the gray débris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the end-
Passing the yellow-speared wheat, every grain from its shroud in the
dark-brown fields uprisen,
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 lands and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inlooped flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veiled women
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
11041 With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the
With the waiting dépôt, the striving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong
With all the mournful voices of the dirges poured around the
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs — where amid these
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.
(Not for you, for one 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 walked,
As I walked in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after
As you drooped from the sky low down as if to my side (while the
other stars all looked 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 of the west how full
you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent
As I watched where you passed 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 detained 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
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
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 the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and the stacks of
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen
Lo, body and soul — this land,
My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying
tides, and the ships,
11044 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 covered 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 fulfilled 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
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 looked forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and
the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturbed winds and the
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 sailed,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy
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 throbbed, and the cities pent
— lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the
Appeared the cloud, appeared 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
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
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.
And the singer so shy to the rest received me,
The gray-brown bird I know received us comrades three,
And he sang 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.
Praised 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 unfalter-
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
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are
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-veiled 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
Over the dense packed 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.
And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierced with missiles I
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence),
And the staffs all splintered and broken.
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them;
I saw the débris and débris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought, —
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffered not:
The living remained and suffered, the mother suffered,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffered,
And the armies that remained suffered.
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
11047 Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding
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
I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.
Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo aroused in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to 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.
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up! — for you the flag is flung — for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths — for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won:
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
HUSHED be the camps to-day,
And soldiers, let us drape our war-worn weapons,
And each with musing soul retire to celebrate
Our dear commander’s death.
No more for him life’s stormy conflicts,
Nor victory, nor defeat; — no more time’s dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.
But sing, poet, in our name,
Sing of the love we bore him — because you, dweller in camps, know
As they invault the coffin there,
Sing — as they close the doors of earth upon him — one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.
DAREST thou now, O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.
I know it not, O soul,
Nor dost thou; all is a blank before us;
All waits undreamed-of in that region, that inaccessible land.
Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.
Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space, O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil, O soul.
A NOISELESS patient spider
I marked, where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Marked how, to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to con-
Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
WHISPERS of heavenly death murmur’d I hear,
Labial gossip of night, sibilant chorals,
Footsteps gently ascending, mystical breezes wafted soft and low,
Ripples of unseen rivers, tides of a current flowing, forever flowing,
(Or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human
I see, just see skyward, great cloud-masses.
Mournfully, slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing,
With at times a half-dimm’d, sadden’d, far-off star
Appearing and disappearing.
(Some parturition, rather, some solemn, immortal birth;
On the frontiers, to eyes impenetrable,
Some soul is passing over.)
I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanic singing his as it should be, blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
11050 The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-hand
singing on the steam-boat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day — at night the party of young fel-
lows, robust, friendly,
Singing with melodious mouths their strong, melodious songs.
FAR hence amid an isle of wondrous beauty,
Crouching over a grave an ancient, sorrowful mother,
Once a queen, now lean and tatter’d, seated on the ground,
Her old, white hair drooping, dishevell’d, round her shoulders,
At her feet, fallen, an unused royal harp,
Long silent, she, too, long silent, mourning her shrouded hope and
Of all the earth most full of sorrow because most full of love.
Yet a word, ancient mother,
You need crouch there no longer on the cold ground, with forehead
between your knees,
Oh, you need not sit there veil’d in your old, white hair so dishevell’d,
For know you the one you mourn is not in that grave.
It was an illusion, the son you love was not really dead,
The Lord is not dead, He is risen again, young and strong, in
What you wept for was translated, pass’d from the grave.
The winds favor’d and the sea sail’d it,
And now with rosy and new blood,
Moves to-day in a new country.
1 By permission of Small, Maynard, & Co.