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A Song of Joys
O to make the most jubilant song!
Full of music—full of manhood, womanhood, infancy!
Full of common employments—full of grain and trees.
O for the voices of animals—O for the swiftness and balance of fishes!
O for the dropping of raindrops in a song!
O for the sunshine and motion of waves in a song!
O the joy of my spirit—it is uncaged—it darts like lightning!
It is not enough to have this globe or a certain time,
I will have thousands of globes and all time.
O the engineer's joys! to go with a locomotive!
To hear the hiss of steam, the merry shriek, the steam-whistle, the
To push with resistless way and speed off in the distance.
O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds, the moist fresh
stillness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all through the forenoon.
O the horseman's and horsewoman's joys!
The saddle, the gallop, the pressure upon the seat, the cool
gurgling by the ears and hair.
O the fireman's joys!
I hear the alarm at dead of night,
I hear bells, shouts! I pass the crowd, I run!
The sight of the flames maddens me with pleasure.
O the joy of the strong-brawn'd fighter, towering in the arena in
perfect condition, conscious of power, thirsting to meet his opponent.
O the joy of that vast elemental sympathy which only the human soul is
capable of generating and emitting in steady and limitless floods.
O the mother's joys!
The watching, the endurance, the precious love, the anguish, the
patiently yielded life.
O the of increase, growth, recuperation,
The joy of soothing and pacifying, the joy of concord and harmony.
O to go back to the place where I was born,
To hear the birds sing once more,
To ramble about the house and barn and over the fields once more,
And through the orchard and along the old lanes once more.
O to have been brought up on bays, lagoons, creeks, or along the coast,
To continue and be employ'd there all my life,
The briny and damp smell, the shore, the salt weeds exposed at low water,
The work of fishermen, the work of the eel-fisher and clam-fisher;
I come with my clam-rake and spade, I come with my eel-spear,
Is the tide out? I Join the group of clam-diggers on the flats,
I laugh and work with them, I joke at my work like a mettlesome young man;
In winter I take my eel-basket and eel-spear and travel out on foot
on the ice—I have a small axe to cut holes in the ice,
Behold me well-clothed going gayly or returning in the afternoon,
my brood of tough boys accompanying me,
My brood of grown and part-grown boys, who love to be with no
one else so well as they love to be with me,
By day to work with me, and by night to sleep with me.
Another time in warm weather out in a boat, to lift the lobster-pots
where they are sunk with heavy stones, (I know the buoys,)
O the sweetness of the Fifth-month morning upon the water as I row
just before sunrise toward the buoys,
I pull the wicker pots up slantingly, the dark green lobsters are
desperate with their claws as I take them out, I insert
wooden pegs in the 'oints of their pincers,
I go to all the places one after another, and then row back to the shore,
There in a huge kettle of boiling water the lobsters shall be boil'd
till their color becomes scarlet.
Another time mackerel-taking,
Voracious, mad for the hook, near the surface, they seem to fill the
water for miles;
Another time fishing for rock-fish in Chesapeake bay, I one of the
Another time trailing for blue-fish off Paumanok, I stand with braced body,
My left foot is on the gunwale, my right arm throws far out the
coils of slender rope,
In sight around me the quick veering and darting of fifty skiffs, my
O boating on the rivers,
The voyage down the St. Lawrence, the superb scenery, the steamers,
The ships sailing, the Thousand Islands, the occasional timber-raft
and the raftsmen with long-reaching sweep-oars,
The little huts on the rafts, and the stream of smoke when they cook
supper at evening.
(O something pernicious and dread!
Something far away from a puny and pious life!
Something unproved! something in a trance!
Something escaped from the anchorage and driving free.)
O to work in mines, or forging iron,
Foundry casting, the foundry itself, the rude high roof, the ample
and shadow'd space,
The furnace, the hot liquid pour'd out and running.
O to resume the joys of the soldier!
To feel the presence of a brave commanding officer—to feel his sympathy!
To behold his calmness—to be warm'd in the rays of his smile!
To go to battle—to hear the bugles play and the drums beat!
To hear the crash of artillery—to see the glittering of the bayonets
and musket-barrels in the sun!
To see men fall and die and not complain!
To taste the savage taste of blood—to be so devilish!
To gloat so over the wounds and deaths of the enemy.
O the whaleman's joys! O I cruise my old cruise again!
I feel the ship's motion under me, I feel the Atlantic breezes fanning me,
I hear the cry again sent down from the mast-head, There—she blows!
Again I spring up the rigging to look with the rest—we descend,
wild with excitement,
I leap in the lower'd boat, we row toward our prey where he lies,
We approach stealthy and silent, I see the mountainous mass,
I see the harpooneer standing up, I see the weapon dart from his
O swift again far out in the ocean the wounded whale, settling,
running to windward, tows me,
Again I see him rise to breathe, we row close again,
I see a lance driven through his side, press'd deep, turn'd in the wound,
Again we back off, I see him settle again, the life is leaving him fast,
As he rises he spouts blood, I see him swim in circles narrower and
narrower, swiftly cutting the water—I see him die,
He gives one convulsive leap in the centre of the circle, and then
falls flat and still in the bloody foam.
O the old manhood of me, my noblest joy of all!
My children and grand-children, my white hair and beard,
My largeness, calmness, majesty, out of the long stretch of my life.
O ripen'd joy of womanhood! O happiness at last!
I am more than eighty years of age, I am the most venerable mother,
How clear is my mind—how all people draw nigh to me!
What attractions are these beyond any before? what bloom more
than the bloom of youth?
What beauty is this that descends upon me and rises out of me?
O the orator's joys!
To inflate the chest, to roll the thunder of the voice out from the
ribs and throat,
To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire, with yourself,
To lead America—to quell America with a great tongue.
O the joy of my soul leaning pois'd on itself, receiving identity through
materials and loving them, observing characters and absorbing them,
My soul vibrated back to me from them, from sight, hearing, touch,
reason, articulation, comparison, memory, and the like,
The real life of my senses and flesh transcending my senses and flesh,
My body done with materials, my sight done with my material eyes,
Proved to me this day beyond cavil that it is not my material eyes
which finally see,
Nor my material body which finally loves, walks, laughs, shouts,
O the farmer's joys!
Ohioan's, Illinoisian's, Wisconsinese', Kanadian's, Iowan's,
Kansian's, Missourian's, Oregonese' joys!
To rise at peep of day and pass forth nimbly to work,
To plough land in the fall for winter-sown crops,
To plough land in the spring for maize,
To train orchards, to graft the trees, to gather apples in the fall.
O to bathe in the swimming-bath, or in a good place along shore,
To splash the water! to walk ankle-deep, or race naked along the shore.
O to realize space!
The plenteousness of all, that there are no bounds,
To emerge and be of the sky, of the sun and moon and flying
clouds, as one with them.
O the joy a manly self-hood!
To be servile to none, to defer to none, not to any tyrant known or unknown,
To walk with erect carriage, a step springy and elastic,
To look with calm gaze or with a flashing eye,
To speak with a full and sonorous voice out of a broad chest,
To confront with your personality all the other personalities of the earth.
Knowist thou the excellent joys of youth?
Joys of the dear companions and of the merry word and laughing face?
Joy of the glad light-beaming day, joy of the wide-breath'd games?
Joy of sweet music, joy of the lighted ball-room and the dancers?
Joy of the plenteous dinner, strong carouse and drinking?
Yet O my soul supreme!
Knowist thou the joys of pensive thought?
Joys of the free and lonesome heart, the tender, gloomy heart?
Joys of the solitary walk, the spirit bow'd yet proud, the suffering
and the struggle?
The agonistic throes, the ecstasies, joys of the solemn musings day
Joys of the thought of Death, the great spheres Time and Space?
Prophetic joys of better, loftier love's ideals, the divine wife,
the sweet, eternal, perfect comrade?
Joys all thine own undying one, joys worthy thee O soul.
O while I live to be the ruler of life, not a slave,
To meet life as a powerful conqueror,
No fumes, no ennui, no more complaints or scornful criticisms,
To these proud laws of the air, the water and the ground, proving
my interior soul impregnable,
And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me.
For not life's joys alone I sing, repeating—the joy of death!
The beautiful touch of Death, soothing and benumbing a few moments,
Myself discharging my excrementitious body to be burn'd, or render'd
to powder, or buried,
My real body doubtless left to me for other spheres,
My voided body nothing more to me, returning to the purifications,
further offices, eternal uses of the earth.
O to attract by more than attraction!
How it is I know not—yet behold! the something which obeys none
of the rest,
It is offensive, never defensive—yet how magnetic it draws.
O to struggle against great odds, to meet enemies undaunted!
To be entirely alone with them, to find how much one can stand!
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, face to face!
To mount the scaffold, to advance to the muzzles of guns with
To be indeed a God!
O to sail to sea in a ship!
To leave this steady unendurable land,
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks and the
To leave you O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship,
To sail and sail and sail!
O to have life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on!
To be a sailor of the world bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship full of rich words, full of joys.
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Song of the Broad-Axe
Weapon shapely, naked, wan,
Head from the mother's bowels drawn,
Wooded flesh and metal bone, limb only one and lip only one,
Gray-blue leaf by red-heat grown, helve produced from a little seed sown,
Resting the grass amid and upon,
To be lean'd and to lean on.
Strong shapes and attributes of strong shapes, masculine trades,
sights and sounds.
Long varied train of an emblem, dabs of music,
Fingers of the organist skipping staccato over the keys of the great organ.
Welcome are all earth's lands, each for its kind,
Welcome are lands of pine and oak,
Welcome are lands of the lemon and fig,
Welcome are lands of gold,
Welcome are lands of wheat and maize, welcome those of the grape,
Welcome are lands of sugar and rice,
Welcome the cotton-lands, welcome those of the white potato and
Welcome are mountains, flats, sands, forests, prairies,
Welcome the rich borders of rivers, table-lands, openings,
Welcome the measureless grazing-lands, welcome the teeming soil of
orchards, flax, honey, hemp;
Welcome just as much the other more hard-faced lands,
Lands rich as lands of gold or wheat and fruit lands,
Lands of mines, lands of the manly and rugged ores,
Lands of coal, copper, lead, tin, zinc,
Lands of iron—lands of the make of the axe.
The log at the wood-pile, the axe supported by it,
The sylvan hut, the vine over the doorway, the space clear'd for garden,
The irregular tapping of rain down on the leaves after the storm is lull'd,
The walling and moaning at intervals, the thought of the sea,
The thought of ships struck in the storm and put on their beam ends,
and the cutting away of masts,
The sentiment of the huge timbers of old-fashion'd houses and barns,
The remember'd print or narrative, the voyage at a venture of men,
The disembarkation, the founding of a new city,
The voyage of those who sought a New England and found it, the outset
The settlements of the Arkansas, Colorado, Ottawa, Willamette,
The slow progress, the scant fare, the axe, rifle, saddle-bags;
The beauty of all adventurous and daring persons,
The beauty of wood-boys and wood-men with their clear untrimm'd faces,
The beauty of independence, departure, actions that rely on themselves,
The American contempt for statutes and ceremonies, the boundless
impatience of restraint,
The loose drift of character, the inkling through random types, the
The butcher in the slaughter-house, the hands aboard schooners and
sloops, the raftsman, the pioneer,
Lumbermen in their winter camp, daybreak in the woods, stripes of
snow on the limbs of trees, the occasional snapping,
The glad clear sound of one's own voice, the merry song, the natural
life of the woods, the strong day's work,
The blazing fire at night, the sweet taste of supper, the talk, the
bed of hemlock-boughs and the bear-skin;
The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises according as they
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes of the men, their
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in pins, holding on by
posts and braces,
The hook'd arm over the plate, the other arm wielding the axe,
The floor-men forcing the planks close to be nail'd,
Their postures bringing their weapons downward on the bearers,
The echoes resounding through the vacant building:
The huge storehouse carried up in the city well under way,
The six framing-men, two in the middle and two at each end, carefully
bearing on their shoulders a heavy stick for a cross-beam,
The crowded line of masons with trowels in their right hands rapidly
laying the long side-wall, two hundred feet from front to rear,
The flexible rise and fall of backs, the continual click of the
trowels striking the bricks,
The bricks one after another each laid so workmanlike in its place,
and set with a knock of the trowel-handle,
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar-boards, and the
steady replenishing by the hod-men;
Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row of well-grown apprentices,
The swing of their axes on the square-hew'd log shaping it toward
the shape of a mast,
The brisk short crackle of the steel driven slantingly into the pine,
The butter-color'd chips flying off in great flakes and slivers,
The limber motion of brawny young arms and hips in easy costumes,
The constructor of wharves, bridges, piers, bulk-heads, floats,
stays against the sea;
The city fireman, the fire that suddenly bursts forth in the
The arriving engines, the hoarse shouts, the nimble stepping and daring,
The strong command through the fire-trumpets, the falling in line,
the rise and fall of the arms forcing the water,
The slender, spasmic, blue-white jets, the bringing to bear of the
hooks and ladders and their execution,
The crash and cut away of connecting wood-work, or through floors
if the fire smoulders under them,
The crowd with their lit faces watching, the glare and dense shadows;
The forger at his forge-furnace and the user of iron after him,
The maker of the axe large and small, and the welder and temperer,
The chooser breathing his breath on the cold steel and trying the
edge with his thumb,
The one who clean-shapes the handle and sets it firmly in the socket;
The shadowy processions of the portraits of the past users also,
The primal patient mechanics, the architects and engineers,
The far-off Assyrian edifice and Mizra edifice,
The Roman lictors preceding the consuls,
The antique European warrior with his axe in combat,
The uplifted arm, the clatter of blows on the helmeted head,
The death-howl, the limpsy tumbling body, the rush of friend and foe
The siege of revolted lieges determin'd for liberty,
The summons to surrender, the battering at castle gates, the truce
The sack of an old city in its time,
The bursting in of mercenaries and bigots tumultuously and disorderly,
Roar, flames, blood, drunkenness, madness,
Goods freely rifled from houses and temples, screams of women in the
gripe of brigands,
Craft and thievery of camp-followers, men running, old persons despairing,
The hell of war, the cruelties of creeds,
The list of all executive deeds and words just or unjust,
The power of personality just or unjust.
Muscle and pluck forever!
What invigorates life invigorates death,
And the dead advance as much as the living advance,
And the future is no more uncertain than the present,
For the roughness of the earth and of man encloses as much as the
delicatesse of the earth and of man,
And nothing endures but personal qualities.
What do you think endures?
Do you think a great city endures?
Or a teeming manufacturing state? or a prepared constitution? or the
best built steamships?
Or hotels of granite and iron? or any chef-d'oeuvres of engineering,
Away! these are not to be cherish'd for themselves,
They fill their hour, the dancers dance, the musicians play for them,
The show passes, all does well enough of course,
All does very well till one flash of defiance.
A great city is that which has the greatest men and women,
If it be a few ragged huts it is still the greatest city in the
The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretch'd
wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers or the
anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings or shops
selling goods from the rest of the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools, nor the place where
money is plentiest,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.
Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov'd by these, and loves them in
return and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of
Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of
death pours its sweeping and unript waves,
Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President,
Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men;
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,
There the great city stands.
How beggarly appear arguments before a defiant deed!
How the floridness of the materials of cities shrivels before a
man's or woman's look!
All waits or goes by default till a strong being appears;
A strong being is the proof of the race and of the ability of the universe,
When he or she appears materials are overaw'd,
The dispute on the soul stops,
The old customs and phrases are confronted, turn'd back, or laid away.
What is your money-making now? what can it do now?
What is your respectability now?
What are your theology, tuition, society, traditions, statute-books, now?
Where are your jibes of being now?
Where are your cavils about the soul now?
A sterile landscape covers the ore, there is as good as the best for
all the forbidding appearance,
There is the mine, there are the miners,
The forge-furnace is there, the melt is accomplish'd, the hammersmen
are at hand with their tongs and hammers,
What always served and always serves is at hand.
Than this nothing has better served, it has served all,
Served the fluent-tongued and subtle-sensed Greek, and long ere the Greek,
Served in building the buildings that last longer than any,
Served the Hebrew, the Persian, the most ancient Hindustanee,
Served the mound-raiser on the Mississippi, served those whose
relics remain in Central America,
Served Albic temples in woods or on plains, with unhewn pillars and
Served the artificial clefts, vast, high, silent, on the
snow-cover'd hills of Scandinavia,
Served those who time out of mind made on the granite walls rough
sketches of the sun, moon, stars, ships, ocean waves,
Served the paths of the irruptions of the Goths, served the pastoral
tribes and nomads,
Served the long distant Kelt, served the hardy pirates of the Baltic,
Served before any of those the venerable and harmless men of Ethiopia,
Served the making of helms for the galleys of pleasure and the
making of those for war,
Served all great works on land and all great works on the sea,
For the mediaeval ages and before the mediaeval ages,
Served not the living only then as now, but served the dead.
I see the European headsman,
He stands mask'd, clothed in red, with huge legs and strong naked arms,
And leans on a ponderous axe.
(Whom have you slaughter'd lately European headsman?
Whose is that blood upon you so wet and sticky?)
I see the clear sunsets of the martyrs,
I see from the scaffolds the descending ghosts,
Ghosts of dead lords, uncrown'd ladies, impeach'd ministers, rejected kings,
Rivals, traitors, poisoners, disgraced chieftains and the rest.
I see those who in any land have died for the good cause,
The seed is spare, nevertheless the crop shall never run out,
(Mind you O foreign kings, O priests, the crop shall never run out.)
I see the blood wash'd entirely away from the axe,
Both blade and helve are clean,
They spirt no more the blood of European nobles, they clasp no more
the necks of queens.
I see the headsman withdraw and become useless,
I see the scaffold untrodden and mouldy, I see no longer any axe upon it,
I see the mighty and friendly emblem of the power of my own race,
the newest, largest race.
(America! I do not vaunt my love for you,
I have what I have.)
The axe leaps!
The solid forest gives fluid utterances,
They tumble forth, they rise and form,
Hut, tent, landing, survey,
Flail, plough, pick, crowbar, spade,
Shingle, rail, prop, wainscot, lamb, lath, panel, gable,
Citadel, ceiling, saloon, academy, organ, exhibition-house, library,
Cornice, trellis, pilaster, balcony, window, turret, porch,
Hoe, rake, pitchfork, pencil, wagon, staff, saw, jack-plane, mallet,
Chair, tub, hoop, table, wicket, vane, sash, floor,
Work-box, chest, string'd instrument, boat, frame, and what not,
Capitols of States, and capitol of the nation of States,
Long stately rows in avenues, hospitals for orphans or for the poor or sick,
Manhattan steamboats and clippers taking the measure of all seas.
The shapes arise!
Shapes of the using of axes anyhow, and the users and all that
Cutters down of wood and haulers of it to the Penobscot or Kenebec,
Dwellers in cabins among the Californian mountains or by the little
lakes, or on the Columbia,
Dwellers south on the banks of the Gila or Rio Grande, friendly
gatherings, the characters and fun,
Dwellers along the St. Lawrence, or north in Kanada, or down by the
Yellowstone, dwellers on coasts and off coasts,
Seal-fishers, whalers, arctic seamen breaking passages through the ice.
The shapes arise!
Shapes of factories, arsenals, foundries, markets,
Shapes of the two-threaded tracks of railroads,
Shapes of the sleepers of bridges, vast frameworks, girders, arches,
Shapes of the fleets of barges, tows, lake and canal craft, river craft,
Ship-yards and dry-docks along the Eastern and Western seas, and in
many a bay and by-place,
The live-oak kelsons, the pine planks, the spars, the
hackmatack-roots for knees,
The ships themselves on their ways, the tiers of scaffolds, the
workmen busy outside and inside,
The tools lying around, the great auger and little auger, the adze,
bolt, line, square, gouge, and bead-plane.
The shapes arise!
The shape measur'd, saw'd, jack'd, join'd, stain'd,
The coffin-shape for the dead to lie within in his shroud,
The shape got out in posts, in the bedstead posts, in the posts of
the bride's bed,
The shape of the little trough, the shape of the rockers beneath,
the shape of the babe's cradle,
The shape of the floor-planks, the floor-planks for dancers' feet,
The shape of the planks of the family home, the home of the friendly
parents and children,
The shape of the roof of the home of the happy young man and
woman, the roof over the well-married young man and woman,
The roof over the supper joyously cook'd by the chaste wife, and joyously
eaten by the chaste husband, content after his day's work.
The shapes arise!
The shape of the prisoner's place in the court-room, and of him or
her seated in the place,
The shape of the liquor-bar lean'd against by the young rum-drinker
and the old rum-drinker,
The shape of the shamed and angry stairs trod by sneaking foot- steps,
The shape of the sly settee, and the adulterous unwholesome couple,
The shape of the gambling-board with its devilish winnings and losings,
The shape of the step-ladder for the convicted and sentenced
murderer, the murderer with haggard face and pinion'd arms,
The sheriff at hand with his deputies, the silent and white-lipp'd
crowd, the dangling of the rope.
The shapes arise!
Shapes of doors giving many exits and entrances,
The door passing the dissever'd friend flush'd and in haste,
The door that admits good news and bad news,
The door whence the son left home confident and puff'd up,
The door he enter'd again from a long and scandalous absence,
diseas'd, broken down, without innocence, without means.
Her shape arises,
She less guarded than ever, yet more guarded than ever,
The gross and soil'd she moves among do not make her gross and soil'd,
She knows the thoughts as she passes, nothing is conceal'd from her,
She is none the less considerate or friendly therefor,
She is the best belov'd, it is without exception, she has no reason
to fear and she does not fear,
Oaths, quarrels, hiccupp'd songs, smutty expressions, are idle to
her as she passes,
She is silent, she is possess'd of herself, they do not offend her,
She receives them as the laws of Nature receive them, she is strong,
She too is a law of Nature—there is no law stronger than she is.
The main shapes arise!
Shapes of Democracy total, result of centuries,
Shapes ever projecting other shapes,
Shapes of turbulent manly cities,
Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the whole earth,
Shapes bracing the earth and braced with the whole earth.