Monthly Archives: July 2015
All Is Truth
O me, man of slack faith so long, Standing aloof, denying portions so long, Only aware to-day of compact all-diffused truth, Discovering to-day there is no lie or form of lie, and can be none, but grows as inevitably upon itself as the truth does upon itself, Or as any law of the earth or any natural production of the earth does. (This is curious and may not be realized immediately, but it must be realized, I feel in myself that I represent falsehoods equally with the rest, And that the universe does.) Where has fail'd a perfect return indifferent of lies or the truth? Is it upon the ground, or in water or fire? or in the spirit of man? or in the meat and blood? Meditating among liars and retreating sternly into myself, I see that there are really no liars or lies after all, And that nothing fails its perfect return, and that what are called lies are perfect returns, And that each thing exactly represents itself and what has preceded it, And that the truth includes all, and is compact just as much as space is compact, And that there is no flaw or vacuum in the amount of the truth—but that all is truth without exception; And henceforth I will go celebrate any thing I see or am, And sing and laugh and deny nothing.
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city, Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name. Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient, I see that the word of my city is that word from of old, Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb, Rich, hemm'd thick all around with sailships and steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded, Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies, Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown, The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands, the heights, the villas, The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model'd, The down-town streets, the jobbers' houses of business, the houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the river-streets, Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week, The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses, the brown-faced sailors, The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft, The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide, The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form'd, beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes, Trottoirs throng'd, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and shows, A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality— the most courageous and friendly young men, City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts! City nested in bays! my city!
O magnet-south! O glistening perfumed South! my South! O quick mettle, rich blood, impulse and love! good and evil! O all dear to me! O dear to me my birth-things—all moving things and the trees where I was born—the grains, plants, rivers, Dear to me my own slow sluggish rivers where they flow, distant, over flats of slivery sands or through swamps, Dear to me the Roanoke, the Savannah, the Altamahaw, the Pedee, the Tombigbee, the Santee, the Coosa and the Sabine, O pensive, far away wandering, I return with my soul to haunt their banks again, Again in Florida I float on transparent lakes, I float on the Okeechobee, I cross the hummock-land or through pleasant openings or dense forests, I see the parrots in the woods, I see the papaw-tree and the blossoming titi; Again, sailing in my coaster on deck, I coast off Georgia, I coast up the Carolinas, I see where the live-oak is growing, I see where the yellow-pine, the scented bay-tree, the lemon and orange, the cypress, the graceful palmetto, I pass rude sea-headlands and enter Pamlico sound through an inlet, and dart my vision inland; O the cotton plant! the growing fields of rice, sugar, hemp! The cactus guarded with thorns, the laurel-tree with large white flowers, The range afar, the richness and barrenness, the old woods charged with mistletoe and trailing moss, The piney odor and the gloom, the awful natural stillness, (here in these dense swamps the freebooter carries his gun, and the fugitive has his conceal'd hut;) O the strange fascination of these half-known half-impassable swamps, infested by reptiles, resounding with the bellow of the alligator, the sad noises of the night-owl and the wild-cat, and the whirr of the rattlesnake, The mocking-bird, the American mimic, singing all the forenoon, singing through the moon-lit night, The humming-bird, the wild turkey, the raccoon, the opossum; A Kentucky corn-field, the tall, graceful, long-leav'd corn, slender, flapping, bright green, with tassels, with beautiful ears each well-sheath'd in its husk; O my heart! O tender and fierce pangs, I can stand them not, I will depart; O to be a Virginian where I grew up! O to be a Carolinian! O longings irrepressible! O I will go back to old Tennessee and never wander more.
To a Locomotive in Winter
Thee for my recitative, Thee in the driving storm even as now, the snow, the winter-day declining, Thee in thy panoply, thy measur'd dual throbbing and thy beat convulsive, Thy black cylindric body, golden brass and silvery steel, Thy ponderous side-bars, parallel and connecting rods, gyrating, shuttling at thy sides, Thy metrical, now swelling pant and roar, now tapering in the distance, Thy great protruding head-light fix'd in front, Thy long, pale, floating vapor-pennants, tinged with delicate purple, The dense and murky clouds out-belching from thy smoke-stack, Thy knitted frame, thy springs and valves, the tremulous twinkle of thy wheels, Thy train of cars behind, obedient, merrily following, Through gale or calm, now swift, now slack, yet steadily careering; Type of the modern—emblem of motion and power—pulse of the continent, For once come serve the Muse and merge in verse, even as here I see thee, With storm and buffeting gusts of wind and falling snow, By day thy warning ringing bell to sound its notes, By night thy silent signal lamps to swing. Fierce-throated beauty! Roll through my chant with all thy lawless music, thy swinging lamps at night, Thy madly-whistled laughter, echoing, rumbling like an earthquake, rousing all, Law of thyself complete, thine own track firmly holding, (No sweetness debonair of tearful harp or glib piano thine,) Thy trills of shrieks by rocks and hills return'd, Launch'd o'er the prairies wide, across the lakes, To the free skies unpent and glad and strong.
The Mystic Trumpeter
8 Now trumpeter for thy close, Vouchsafe a higher strain than any yet, Sing to my soul, renew its languishing faith and hope, Rouse up my slow belief, give me some vision of the future, Give me for once its prophecy and joy. O glad, exulting, culminating song! A vigor more than earth's is in thy notes, Marches of victory—man disenthral'd—the conqueror at last, Hymns to the universal God from universal man—all joy! A reborn race appears—a perfect world, all joy! Women and men in wisdom innocence and health—all joy! Riotous laughing bacchanals fill'd with joy! War, sorrow, suffering gone—the rank earth purged—nothing but joy left! The ocean fill'd with joy—the atmosphere all joy! Joy! joy! in freedom, worship, love! joy in the ecstasy of life! Enough to merely be! enough to breathe! Joy! joy! all over joy!
We thought we were done with these things but we were wrong.
We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.
We thought the long train would run to the end of Time.
We thought the light would increase.
Now the long train stands derailed and the bandits loot it.
Now the boar and the asp have power in our time.
Now the night rolls back on the West and the night is solid.
Our fathers and ourselves sowed dragon’s teeth.
Our children know and suffer the armed men.
–Stephen Vincent Benét, “Litany for Dictatorships”; courtesy of Wikiquote
The Mystic Trumpeter
7 O trumpeter, methinks I am myself the instrument thou playest, Thou melt'st my heart, my brain—thou movest, drawest, changest them at will; And now thy sullen notes send darkness through me, Thou takest away all cheering light, all hope, I see the enslaved, the overthrown, the hurt, the opprest of the whole earth, I feel the measureless shame and humiliation of my race, it becomes all mine, Mine too the revenges of humanity, the wrongs of ages, baffled feuds and hatreds, Utter defeat upon me weighs—all lost—the foe victorious, (Yet 'mid the ruins Pride colossal stands unshaken to the last, Endurance, resolution to the last.)
The Mystic Trumpeter
6 Blow again trumpeter—conjure war's alarums. Swift to thy spell a shuddering hum like distant thunder rolls, Lo, where the arm'd men hasten—lo, mid the clouds of dust the glint of bayonets, I see the grime-faced cannoneers, I mark the rosy flash amid the smoke, I hear the cracking of the guns; Nor war alone—thy fearful music-song, wild player, brings every sight of fear, The deeds of ruthless brigands, rapine, murder—I hear the cries for help! I see ships foundering at sea, I behold on deck and below deck the terrible tableaus.