Category Archives: poetry
The above may–may–be the only existing sound recording of Walt Whitman himself. The case is complicated, and you can read about it here. Whether or not it is Walt himself, enjoy!
Election Day, November, 1884
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show, 'Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado, Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing, Nor Oregon's white cones—nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi's stream: —This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name—the still small voice vibrating—America's choosing day, (The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,) The stretch of North and South arous'd—sea-board and inland— Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California, The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict, The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict, Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the peaceful choice of all, Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross: —Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows: These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships, Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.
Sea-beauty! stretch'd and basking! One side thy inland ocean laving, broad, with copious commerce, steamers, sails, And one the Atlantic's wind caressing, fierce or gentle—mighty hulls dark-gliding in the distance. Isle of sweet brooks of drinking-water—healthy air and soil! Isle of the salty shore and breeze and brine!
As at Thy Portals Also Death
As at thy portals also death, Entering thy sovereign, dim, illimitable grounds, To memories of my mother, to the divine blending, maternity, To her, buried and gone, yet buried not, gone not from me, (I see again the calm benignant face fresh and beautiful still, I sit by the form in the coffin, I kiss and kiss convulsively again the sweet old lips, the cheeks, the closed eyes in the coffin;) To her, the ideal woman, practical, spiritual, of all of earth, life, love, to me the best, I grave a monumental line, before I go, amid these songs, And set a tombstone here.
You Felons on Trial in Courts
You felons on trial in courts, You convicts in prison-cells, you sentenced assassins chain'd and handcuff'd with iron, Who am I too that I am not on trial or in prison? Me ruthless and devilish as any, that my wrists are not chain'd with iron, or my ankles with iron? You prostitutes flaunting over the trottoirs or obscene in your rooms, Who am I that I should call you more obscene than myself? O culpable! I acknowledge—I expose! (O admirers, praise not me—compliment not me—you make me wince, I see what you do not—I know what you do not.) Inside these breast-bones I lie smutch'd and choked, Beneath this face that appears so impassive hell's tides continually run, Lusts and wickedness are acceptable to me, I walk with delinquents with passionate love, I feel I am of them—I belong to those convicts and prostitutes myself, And henceforth I will not deny them—for how can I deny myself?
It Is Later Than You Think
Lone amid the cafe’s cheer,
Sad of heart am I to-night;
Dolefully I drink my beer,
But no single line I write.
There’s the wretched rent to pay,
Yet I glower at pen and ink:
Oh, inspire me, Muse, I pray,
It is later than you think!
Hello! there’s a pregnant phrase.
Bravo! let me write it down;
Hold it with a hopeful gaze,
Gauge it with a fretful frown;
Tune it to my lyric lyre . . .
Ah! upon starvation’s brink,
How the words are dark and dire:
It is later than you think.
Weigh them well. . . . Behold yon band,
Students drinking by the door,
Madly merry, bock in hand,
Saucers stacked to mark their score.
Get you gone, you jolly scamps;
Let your parting glasses clink;
Seek your long neglected lamps:
It is later than you think.
Look again: yon dainty blonde,
All allure and golden grace,
Oh so willing to respond
Should you turn a smiling face.
Play your part, poor pretty doll;
Feast and frolic, pose and prink;
There’s the Morgue to end it all,
And it’s later than you think.
Yon’s a playwright — mark his face,
Puffed and purple, tense and tired;
Pasha-like he holds his place,
Hated, envied and admired.
How you gobble life, my friend;
Wine, and woman soft and pink!
Well, each tether has its end:
Sir, it’s later than you think.
See yon living scarecrow pass
With a wild and wolfish stare
At each empty absinthe glass,
As if he saw Heaven there.
Poor damned wretch, to end your pain
There is still the Greater Drink.
Yonder waits the sanguine Seine . . .
It is later than you think.
Lastly, you who read; aye, you
Who this very line may scan:
Think of all you planned to do . . .
Have you done the best you can?
See! the tavern lights are low;
Black’s the night, and how you shrink!
God! and is it time to go?
Ah! the clock is always slow;
It is later than you think;
Sadly later than you think;
Far, far later than you think.
Lastly came Winter cloathed all in frize,
Chattering his teeth for cold that did him chill;
Whilst on his hoary beard his breath did freese,
And the dull drops, that from his purpled bill
As from a limebeck did adown distill:
In his right hand a tipped staffe he held,
With which his feeble steps he stayed still;
For he was faint with cold, and weak with eld;
That scarce his loosed limbes he hable was to weld.
–Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (1589-96), Canto VII. Legend of Constancie, Stanza 31; courtesy of Wikiquote