Table of Contents
- I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing
- That Music Always Round Me
- Longings for Home
- The Mississippi at Midnight
- Our Old Feuillage
I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.
The music always round me, unceasing, unbeginning —
yet long untaught I did not hear.
But now the chorus I hear, and am elated,
A tenor, strong, ascending, with power and health,
with glad notes of day — break I hear,
A soprano, at intervals, sailing buoyantly over the tops
of immense waves,
A transparent base, shuddering lusciously under and
through the universe.
The triumphant tutti — the funeral wailings, with sweet
flutes and violins — All these I fill myself with;
I hear not the volumes of sound merely — I am moved
by the exquisite meanings,
I listen to the different voices winding in and out,
striving, contending with fiery vehemence to excel
each other in emotion,
I do not think the performers know themselves — But
now I think I begin to know them.
A Leaf for hand in hand!
You natural persons old and young! You on the
Eastern Sea, and you on the Western!
You on the Mississippi, and on all the branches and
bayous of the Mississippi!
You friendly boatmen and mechanics! You roughs!
You twain! And all processions moving along the
I wish to infuse myself among you till I see it common
for you to walk hand in hand.
Early in the morning,
Walking forth from the bower, refreshed with sleep,
Behold me where I pass — hear my voice — approach,
Touch me — touch the palm of your hand to my body
as I pass,
Be not afraid of my body.
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 silvery 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 slave 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 Tennessee 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;
An Arkansas prairie — a sleeping lake, or still bayou;
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!
How solemn! sweeping this dense black tide!
No friendly lights i’ the heaven o’er us;
A murky darkness on either side,
And kindred darkness all before us!
Now, drawn nearer, the shelving rim,
Weird-like shadows suddenly rise;
Shapes of mist and phantoms dim
Baffle the gazer’s straining eyes.
River fiends, with malignant faces!
Wild and wide their arms are thrown,
As if to clutch in fatal embraces
Him who sails their realms upon.
Then, by the trick of our swift motion,
Straight, tall giants, an army vast,
Rank by rank, like the waves of ocean,
On the shore march stiffly past,
How solemn! the river a trailing pall,
Which takes, but never again gives back;
And moonless and starless the heaven’s arch’d wall,
Responding an equal black!
Oh, tireless waters! like Life’s quick dream,
Onward and onward ever hurrying —
Like Death in this midnight hour you seem,
Life in your chill drops greedily burying!
ALWAYS our old feuillage!
Always Florida’s green peninsula — always the priceless delta of Louisiana — always the cotton-fields of Alabama and Texas,
Always California’s golden hills and hollows, and the silver mountains of New Mexico — always soft-breath’d Cuba,
Always the vast slope drain’d by the Southern sea, inseparable with the slopes drain’d by the Eastern and Western seas,
The area the eighty-third year of these States, the three and a half millions of square miles,
The eighteen thousand miles of sea-coast and bay-coast on the main, the thirty thousand miles of river navigation,
The seven millions of distinct families and the same number of dwellings — always these, and more, branching forth into numberless branches,
Always the free range and diversity — always the continent of Democracy;
Always the prairies, pastures, forests, vast cities, travelers, Kanada, the snows;
Always these compact lands tied at the hips with the belt stringing the huge oval lakes;
Always the West with strong native persons, the increasing density there, the habitans, friendly, threatening, ironical, scorning invaders;
All sights, South, North, East — all deeds, promiscuously done at all times,
All characters, movements, growths, a few noticed, myriads unnoticed,
Through Mannahatta’s streets I walking, these things gathering,
On interior rivers by night in the glare of pine knots, steamboats wooding up,
Sunlight by day on the valley of the Susquehanna, and on the valleys of the Potomac and Rappahannock, and the valleys of the Roanoke and Delaware,
In their northerly wilds beasts of prey haunting the Adirondacks the hills, or lapping the Saginaw waters to drink,
In a lonesome inlet a sheldrake lost from the flock, sitting on the water rocking silently,
In farmers’ barns oxen in the stable, their harvest labor done, they rest standing, they are too tired,
Afar on arctic ice the she-walrus lying drowsily while her cubs play around,
The hawk sailing where men have not yet sail’d, the farthest polar sea, ripply, crystalline, open, beyond the floes,
White drift spooning ahead where the ship in the tempest dashes,
On solid land what is done in cities as the bells strike midnight together,
In primitive woods the sounds there also sounding, the howl of the wolf, the scream of the panther, and the hoarse bellow of the elk,
In winter beneath the hard blue ice of Moosehead lake, in summer visible through the clear waters, the great trout swimming,
In lower latitudes in warmer air in the Carolinas the large black buzzard floating slowly high beyond the tree tops,
Below, the red cedar festoon’d with tylandria, the pines and cypresses growing out of the white sand that spreads far and flat,
Rude boats descending the big Pedee, climbing plants, parasites with color’d flowers and berries enveloping huge trees,
The waving drapery on the live-oak trailing long and low, noiselessly waved by the wind,
The camp of Georgia wagoners just after dark, the supper-fires and the cooking and eating by whites and negroes,
Thirty or forty great wagons, the mules, cattle, horses, feeding from troughs,
The shadows, gleams, up under the leaves of the old sycamore-trees, the flames with the black smoke from the pitch-pine curling and rising;
Southern fishermen fishing, the sounds and inlets of North Carolina’s coast, the shad-fishery and the herring-fishery, the large sweep-seines, the windlasses on shore work’d by horses, the clearing, curing, and packing-houses;
Deep in the forest in piney woods turpentine dropping from the incisions in the trees, there are the turpentine works,
There are the negroes at work in good health, the ground in all directions is cover’d with pine straw;
In Tennessee and Kentucky slaves busy in the coalings, at the forge, by the furnace-blaze, or at the corn-shucking,
In Virginia, the planter’s son returning after a long absence, joyfully welcom’d and kiss’d by the aged mulatto nurse,
On rivers boatmen safely moor’d at nightfall in their boats under shelter of high banks,
Some of the younger men dance to the sound of the banjo or fiddle, others sit on the gunwale smoking and talking;
Late in the afternoon the mocking-bird, the American mimic, singing in the Great Dismal Swamp,
There are the greenish waters, the resinous odor, the plenteous moss, the cypress-tree, and the juniper-tree;
Northward, young men of Mannahatta, the target company from an excursion returning home at evening, the musket-muz-zles all bear bunches of flowers presented by women;
Children at play, or on his father’s lap a young boy fallen asleep, (how his lips move! how he smiles in his sleep!)
The scout riding on horseback over the plains west of the Mississippi, he ascends a knoll and sweeps his eyes around; California life, the miner, bearded, dress’d in his rude costume,
the stanch California friendship, the sweet air, the graves one in passing meets solitary just aside the horse-path;
Down in Texas the cotton-field, the negro-cabins, drivers driving mules or oxen before rude carts, cotton bales piled on banks and wharves;
Encircling all, vast-darting up and wide, the American Soul, with equal hemispheres, one Love, one Dilation or Pride;
In arriere the peace-talk with the Iroquois the aborigines, the calumet, the pipe of good-will, arbitration, and indorsement,
The sachem blowing the smoke first toward the sun and then toward the earth,
The drama of the scalp-dance enacted with painted faces and guttural exclamations,
The setting out of the war-party, the long and stealthy march,
The single file, the swinging hatchets, the surprise and slaughter of enemies;
All the acts, scenes, ways, persons, attitudes of these States, reminiscences, institutions,
All these States compact, every square mile of these States without excepting a particle;
Me pleas’d, rambling in lanes and country fields, Paumanok’s fields,
Observing the spiral flight of two little yellow butterflies shuffling between each other, ascending high in the air,
The darting swallow, the destroyer of insects, the fall traveler southward but returning northward early in the spring,
The country boy at the close of the day driving the herd of cows and shouting to them as they loiter to browse by the roadside,
The city wharf, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans, San Francisco,
The departing ships when the sailors heave at the capstan;
Evening — me in my room — the setting sun,
The setting summer sun shining in my open window, showing the swarm of flies, suspended, balancing in the air in the centre of the room, darting athwart, up and down, casting swift shadows in specks on the opposite wall where the shine is; The athletic American matron speaking in public to crowds of listeners,
Males, females, immigrants, combinations, the copiousness, the individuality of the States, each for itself — the money- makers,
Factories, machinery, the mechanical forces, the windlass, lever, pulley, all certainties,
The certainty of space, increase, freedom, futurity, In space the sporades, the scatter’d islands, the stars — on the firm earth, the lands, my lands,
O lands! all so dear to me — what you are, (whatever it is,) I putting it at random in these songs, become a part of that, whatever it is,
Southward there, I screaming, with wings slow flapping, with the myriads of gulls wintering along the coasts of Florida, Otherways there atwixt the banks of the Arkansaw, the Rio Grande, the Nueces, the Brazos, the Tombigbee, the Red River, the Saskatchawan or the Osage, I with the spring waters laughing and skipping and running,
Northward, on the sands, on some shallow bay of Paumanok, I with parties of snowy herons wading in the wet to seek worms and aquatic plants,
Retreating, triumphantly twittering, the king-bird, from piercing the crow with its bill, for amusement — and I triumphantly twittering,
The migrating flock of wild geese alighting in autumn to refresh themselves, the body of the flock feed, the sentinels out- side move around with erect heads watching, and are from time to time reliev’d by other sentinels — and I feeding and taking turns with the rest,
In Kanadian forests the moose, large as an ox, corner’d by hunters, rising desperately on his hind-feet, and plunging with his fore-feet, the hoofs as sharp as knives — and I, plunging at the hunters, corner’d and desperate,
In the Mannahatta, streets, piers, shipping, store-houses, and the countless workmen working in the shops,
And I too of the Mannahatta, singing thereof — and no less in myself than the whole of the Mannahatta in itself,
Singing the song of These, my ever-united lands — my body no more inevitably united, part to part, and made out of a thousand diverse contributions one identity, any more than my lands are inevitably united and made One identity;
Nativities, climates, the grass of the great pastoral Plains,
Cities, labors, death, animals, products, war, good and evil — these me,
These affording, in all their particulars, the old feuillage to me and to America, how can I do less than pass the clew of the union of them, to afford the like to you?
Whoever you are! how can I but offer you divine leaves, that you also be eligible as I am?
How can I but as here chanting, invite you for yourself to collect bouquets of the incomparable feuillage of these States?
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn, 1855. Web. 10 August 2015. <https:// archive.org/ details/ LeavesOf Grass1855 Edition>.