As I Sat Alone By Blue Ontario's Shores
AS I sat alone, by blue Ontario's shore,
As I mused of these mighty days, and of peace return'd, and the dead
that return no more,
A Phantom, gigantic, superb, with stern visage, accosted me;
Chant me the poem, it said, that comes from the soul of America--
chant me the carol of victory;
And strike up the marches of Libertad--marches more powerful yet;
And sing me before you go, the song of the throes of Democracy.
America, curious toward foreign characters, stands by its own at all
Stands removed, spacious, composite, sound--initiates the true use of
Does not repel them, or the past, or what they have produced under
Takes the lesson with calmness, perceives the corpse slowly borne
from the house,
Perceives that it waits a little while in the door--that it was
fittest for its days,
That its life has descended to the stalwart and well-shaped heir who
And that he shall be fittest for his days.
These States are the amplest poem,
Here is not merely a nation, but a teeming nation of nations,
Here the doings of men correspond with the broadcast doings of the
day and night,
Here is what moves in magnificent masses, careless of particulars,
Here are the roughs, beards, friendliness, combativeness, the Soul
Here the flowing trains--here the crowds, equality, diversity, the
Land of lands, and bards to corroborate! 70
Of them, standing among them, one lifts to the light his west-bred
To him the hereditary countenance bequeath'd, both mother's and
His first parts substances, earth, water, animals, trees,
Built of the common stock, having room for far and near,
Used to dispense with other lands, incarnating this land,
Attracting it Body and Soul to himself, hanging on its neck with
Plunging his seminal muscle into its merits and demerits,
Making its cities, beginnings, events, diversities, wars, vocal in
Making its rivers, lakes, bays, embouchure in him,
Mississippi with yearly freshets and changing chutes--Columbia,
Niagara, Hudson, spending themselves lovingly in him, 80
If the Atlantic coast stretch, or the Pacific coast stretch, he
stretching with them north or south,
Spanning between them, east and west, and touching whatever is
Growths growing from him to offset the growth of pine, cedar,
hemlock, live-oak, locust, chestnut, hickory, cottonwood,
Tangles as tangled in him as any cane-brake or swamp,
He likening sides and peaks of mountains, forests coated with
northern transparent ice,
Off him pasturage, sweet and natural as savanna, upland, prairie,
Through him flights, whirls, screams, answering those of the fish-
hawk, mocking-bird, night-heron, and eagle;
His spirit surrounding his country's spirit, unclosed to good and
Surrounding the essences of real things, old times and present times,
Surrounding just found shores, islands, tribes of red aborigines, 90
Weather-beaten vessels, landings, settlements, embryo stature and
The haughty defiance of the Year 1--war, peace, the formation of the
The separate States, the simple, elastic scheme, the immigrants,
The Union, always swarming with blatherers, and always sure and
The unsurvey'd interior, log-houses, clearings, wild animals,
Surrounding the multiform agriculture, mines, temperature, the
gestation of new States,
Congress convening every Twelfth-month, the members duly coming up
from the uttermost parts;
Surrounding the noble character of mechanics and farmers, especially
the young men,
Responding their manners, speech, dress, friendships--the gait they
have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the
presence of superiors,
The freshness and candor of their physiognomy, the copiousness and
decision of their phrenology, 100
The picturesque looseness of their carriage, their fierceness when
The fluency of their speech, their delight in music, their curiosity,
good temper, and open-handedness--the whole composite make,
The prevailing ardor and enterprise, the large amativeness,
The perfect equality of the female with the male, the fluid movement
of the population,
The superior marine, free commerce, fisheries, whaling, gold-digging,
Wharf-hemm'd cities, railroad and steamboat lines, intersecting all
Factories, mercantile life, labor-saving machinery, the north-east,
Manhattan firemen, the Yankee swap, southern plantation life,
Slavery--the murderous, treacherous conspiracy to raise it upon the
ruins of all the rest;
On and on to the grapple with it--Assassin! then your life or ours be
the stake--and respite no more. 110
(Lo! high toward heaven, this day,
Libertad! from the conqueress' field return'd,
I mark the new aureola around your head;
No more of soft astral, but dazzling and fierce,
With war's flames, and the lambent lightnings playing,
And your port immovable where you stand;
With still the inextinguishable glance, and the clench'd and lifted
And your foot on the neck of the menacing one, the scorner, utterly
crush'd beneath you;
The menacing, arrogant one, that strode and advanced with his
senseless scorn, bearing the murderous knife;
--Lo! the wide swelling one, the braggart, that would yesterday do so
To-day a carrion dead and damn'd, the despised of all the earth!
An offal rank, to the dunghill maggots spurn'd.)
Of These States, the poet is the equable man,
Not in him, but off from him, things are grotesque, eccentric, fail
of their full returns,
Nothing out of its place is good, nothing in its place is bad,
He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportion, neither
more nor less,
He is the arbiter of the diverse, he is the key,
He is the equalizer of his age and land,
He supplies what wants supplying--he checks what wants checking,
In peace, out of him speaks the spirit of peace, large, rich,
thrifty, building populous towns, encouraging agriculture,
arts, commerce, lighting the study of man, the Soul, health,
In war, he is the best backer of the war--he fetches artillery as
good as the engineer's--he can make every word he speaks draw
The years straying toward infidelity, he withholds by his steady
He is no argurer, he is judgment--(Nature accepts him absolutely;)
He judges not as the judge judges, but as the sun falling round a
As he sees the farthest, he has the most faith,
His thoughts are the hymns of the praise of things,
In the dispute on God and eternity he is silent,
He sees eternity less like a play with a prologue and denouement,
He sees eternity in men and women--he does not see men and women as
dreams or dots.
Who would assume to teach here, may well prepare himself, body and
He may well survey, ponder, arm, fortify, harden, make lithe,
He shall surely be question'd beforehand by me with many and stern
Who are you, indeed, who would talk or sing to America?
Have you studied out the land, its idioms and men?
Have you learn'd the physiology, phrenology, politics, geography,
pride, freedom, friendship, of the land? its substratums and
Have you consider'd the organic compact of the first day of the first
year of Independence, sign'd by the Commissioners, ratified by
The States, and read by Washington at the head of the army?
Have you possess'd yourself of the Federal Constitution?
Do you see who have left all feudal processes and poems behind them,
and assumed the poems and processes of Democracy?
Are you faithful to things? do you teach as the land and sea, the
bodies of men, womanhood, amativeness, angers, teach? 190
Have you sped through fleeting customs, popularities?
Can you hold your hand against all seductions, follies, whirls,
fierce contentions? are you very strong? are you really of the
Are you not of some coterie? some school or mere religion?
Are you done with reviews and criticisms of life? animating now to
Have you vivified yourself from the maternity of These States?
Have you too the old, ever-fresh forbearance and impartiality?
Do you hold the like love for those hardening to maturity; for the
last-born? little and big? and for the errant?
What is this you bring my America?
Is it uniform with my country?
Is it not something that has been better told or done before? 200
Have you not imported this, or the spirit of it, in some ship?
Is it not a mere tale? a rhyme? a prettiness? is the good old cause
Has it not dangled long at the heels of the poets, politicians,
literats, of enemies' lands?
Does it not assume that what is notoriously gone is still here?
Does it answer universal needs? will it improve manners?
Does it sound, with trumpet-voice, the proud victory of the Union, in
that secession war?
Can your performance face the open fields and the seaside?
Will it absorb into me as I absorb food, air--to appear again in my
strength, gait, face?
Have real employments contributed to it? original makers--not mere
Does it meet modern discoveries, calibers, facts face to face? 210
What does it mean to me? to American persons, progresses, cities?
Chicago, Kanada, Arkansas? the planter, Yankee, Georgian,
native, immigrant, sailors, squatters, old States, new States?
Does it encompass all The States, and the unexceptional rights of all
the men and women of the earth? (the genital impulse of These
Does it see behind the apparent custodians, the real custodians,
standing, menacing, silent--the mechanics, Manhattanese,
western men, southerners, significant alike in their apathy,
and in the promptness of their love?
Does it see what finally befalls, and has always finally befallen,
each temporizer, patcher, outsider, partialist, alarmist,
infidel, who has ever ask'd anything of America?
What mocking and scornful negligence?
The track strew'd with the dust of skeletons;
By the roadside others disdainfully toss'd.
Rhymes and rhymers pass away--poems distill'd from foreign poems pass
The swarms of reflectors and the polite pass, and leave ashes;
Admirers, importers, obedient persons, make but the soul of
America justifies itself, give it time--no disguise can deceive it,
or conceal from it--it is impassive enough,
Only toward the likes of itself will it advance to meet them,
If its poets appear, it will in due time advance to meet them--there
is no fear of mistake,
(The proof of a poet shall be sternly deferr'd, till his country
absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorb'd it.)
Already a nonchalant breed, silently emerging, appears on the
People's lips salute only doers, lovers, satisfiers, positive
knowers; There will shortly be no more priests--I say their
work is done, 230
Death is without emergencies here, but life is perpetual emergencies
Are your body, days, manners, superb? after death you shall be
Justice, health, self-esteem, clear the way with irresistible power;
How dare you place anything before a man?
Give me the pay I have served for!
Give me to sing the song of the great Idea! take all the rest;
I have loved the earth, sun, animals--I have despised riches,
I have given alms to every one that ask'd, stood up for the stupid
and crazy, devoted my income and labor to others, 240
I have hated tyrants, argued not concerning God, had patience and
indulgence toward the people, taken off my hat to nothing known
I have gone freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the
young, and with the mothers of families,
I have read these leaves to myself in the open air--I have tried them
by trees, stars, rivers,
I have dismiss'd whatever insulted my own Soul or defiled my Body,
I have claim'd nothing to myself which I have not carefully claim'd
for others on the same terms,
I have sped to the camps, and comrades found and accepted from every
(In war of you, as well as peace, my suit is good, America--sadly I
Upon this breast has many a dying soldier lean'd, to breathe his
This arm, this hand, this voice, have nourish'd, rais'd, restored,
To life recalling many a prostrate form:) 250
--I am willing to wait to be understood by the growth of the taste of
I reject none, I permit all.
I swear I begin to see the meaning of these things!
It is not the earth, it is not America, who is so great,
It is I who am great, or to be great--it is you up there, or any one;
It is to walk rapidly through civilizations, governments, theories,
Through poems, pageants, shows, to form great individuals.
O I see now, flashing, that this America is only you and me,
Its power, weapons, testimony, are you and me,
Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, slavery, are you and me, 280
Its Congress is you and me--the officers, capitols, armies, ships,
are you and me,
Its endless gestations of new States are you and me,
The war--that war so bloody and grim--the war I will henceforth
forget--was you and me,
Natural and artificial are you and me,
Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you and me,
Past, present, future, are you and me.
I swear I dare not shirk any part of myself,
Not any part of America, good or bad,
Not the promulgation of Liberty--not to cheer up slaves and horrify
Not to build for that which builds for mankind, 290
Not to balance ranks, complexions, creeds, and the sexes,
Not to justify science, nor the march of equality,
Nor to feed the arrogant blood of the brawn beloved of time.
Bards grand as these days so grand!
Bards of the great Idea! Bards of the peaceful inventions! (for the
war, the war is over!)
Yet Bards of the latent armies--a million soldiers waiting, ever-
Bards towering like hills--(no more these dots, these pigmies, these
little piping straws, these gnats, that fill the hour, to pass
for poets;) 340
Bards with songs as from burning coals, or the lightning's fork'd
Ample Ohio's bards--bards for California! inland bards--bards of the
(As a wheel turns on its axle, so I find my chants turning finally on
Bards of pride! Bards tallying the ocean's roar, and the swooping
You, by my charm, I invoke!