The Flight of the Eagle

by John Burroughs (1877)

To Walt Whitman

I, thirty-six years old, in perfect health, begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

—Chants Democratic
They say that thou art sick, art growing old,
    Thou Poet of unconquerable health,
    With youth far-stretching, through the golden wealth
Of autumn, to Death's frostful, friendly cold.
The never-blenching eyes, that did behold
    Life's fair and foul, with measureless content,
    And gaze ne'er sated, saddened as they bent
Over the dying soldier in the fold
    Of thy large comrade love;—then broke the tear!
War-dream, field-vigil, the bequeathed kiss,
    Have brought old age to thee; yet, Master, now,
Cease not thy song to us; lest we should miss
    A death-chant of indomitable cheer,
Blown as a gale from God;—oh sing it thou!

—Arran Leigh (England)


Whoever has witnessed the flight of any of the great birds, as the eagle, the condor, the sea-gulls, the proud hawks, has perhaps felt that the poetic suggestion of the feathered tribes is not all confined to the sweet and tiny songsters,—the thrushes, canaries, and mockingbirds of the groves and orchards, or of the gilded cage in my lady's chamber. It is by some such analogy that I would indicate the character of the poetry I am about to discuss, compared with that of the more popular and melodious singer,—the poetry of the strong wing and the daring flight.

Well and profoundly has a Danish critic said, in "For Ide og Virkelighed" ("For the Idea and the Reality"), a Copenhagen magazine:—

"It may be candidly admitted that the American poet has not the elegance, special melody, nor recherché aroma of the accepted poets of Europe or his own country; but his compass and general harmony are infinitely greater. The sweetness and spice, the poetic ennui, the tender longings, the exquisite art-finish of those choice poets are mainly unseen and unmet in him,—perhaps because he cannot achieve them, more likely because he disdains them. But there is an electric living soul in his poetry, far more fermenting and bracing. His wings do not glitter in their movement from rich and varicolored plumage, nor are his notes those of the accustomed song-birds; but his flight is the flight of the eagle."

Yes, there is not only the delighting of the ear with the outpouring of sweetest melody and its lessons, but there is the delighting of the eye and soul through that soaring and circling in the vast empyrean of "a strong bird on pinions free,"—lessons of freedom, power, grace, and spiritual suggestion,—vast, unparalleled, formless lessons.

It is now upwards of twenty years since Walt Whitman printed (in 1855) his first thin beginning volume of "Leaves of Grass;" and, holding him to the test which he himself early proclaimed, namely, "that the proof of the poet shall be sternly deferred till his country has absorb'd him as affectionately as he has absorb'd it," he is yet on trial, yet makes his appeal to an indifferent or to a scornful audience. That his complete absorption, however, by his own country and by the world, is ultimately to take place, is one of the beliefs that grows stronger and stronger within me as time passes, and I suppose it is with a hope to help forward this absorption that I write of him now. Only here and there has he yet effected a lodgment, usually in the younger and more virile minds. But considering the unparalleled audacity of his undertaking, and the absence in most critics and readers of anything like full-grown and robust aesthetic perception, the wonder really is not that he should have made such slow progress, but that he should have gained any foothold at all. The whole literary technique of the race for the last two hundred years has been squarely against him, laying, as it does, the emphasis upon form and scholarly endowments instead of upon aboriginal power and manhood.

My own mastery of the poet, incomplete as it is, has doubtless been much facilitated by contact—talks, meals, and jaunts—with him, stretching through a decade of years, and by seeing how everything in his personnel was resumed and carried forward in his literary expression; in fact, how the one was a living commentary upon the other. After the test of time, nothing goes home like the test of actual intimacy; and to tell me that Whitman is not a large, fine, fresh, magnetic personality, making you love him and want always to be with him, were to tell me that my whole past life is a deception, and all the impression of my perceptive faculties a fraud. I have studied him as I have studied the birds, and have found that the nearer I got to him the more I saw. Nothing about a first-class man can be overlooked; he is to be studied in every feature,—in his physiology and phrenology, in the shape of his head, in his brow, his eye, his glance, his nose, his ear (the ear is as indicative in a man as in a horse), his voice. In Whitman all these things are remarkably striking and suggestive. His face exhibits a rare combination of harmony and sweetness with strength,—strength like the vaults and piers of the Roman architecture. Sculptor never carved a finer ear or a more imaginative brow. Then his heavy-lidded, absorbing eye, his sympathetic voice, and the impression which he makes of starting from the broad bases of the universal human traits. (If Whitman was grand in his physical and perfect health, I think him far more so now (1877), cheerfully mastering paralysis, penury, and old age.) You know, on seeing the man and becoming familiar with his presence, that, if he achieve the height at all, it will be from where every man stands, and not from some special genius, or exceptional and adventitious point. He does not make the impression of the scholar or artist or littérateur, but such as you would imagine the antique heroes to make,—that of a sweet-blooded, receptive, perfectly normal, catholic man, with, further than that, a look about him that is best suggested by the word elemental or cosmical. It was this, doubtless, that led Thoreau to write, after an hour's interview, that he suggested "something a little more than human." In fact, the main clew to Walt Whitman's life and personality, and the expression of them in his poems, is to be found in about the largest emotional element that has appeared anywhere. This, if not controlled by a potent rational balance, would either have tossed him helplessly forever, or wrecked him as disastrously as ever storm and gale drove ship to ruin. These volcanic emotional fires appear everywhere in his books; and it is really these, aroused to intense activity and unnatural strain during the four years of the war and his persistent labors in the hospitals, that have resulted in his illness and paralysis since.

It has been impossible, I say, to resist these personal impressions and magnetisms, and impossible with me not to follow them up in the poems, in doing which I found that his "Leaves of Grass" was really the drama of himself, played upon various and successive stages of nature, history, passion, experience, patriotism, and that he had not made, nor had he intended to make, mere excellent "poems," tunes, statues, or statuettes, in the ordinary sense.

Before the man's complete acceptance and assimilation by America, he may have to be first passed down through the minds of critics and commentators, and given to the people with some of his rank new quality taken off,—a quality like that which adheres to objects in the open air, and makes them either forbidding or attractive, as one's mood is healthful and robust or feeble and languid. The processes are silently at work. Already seen from a distance, and from other atmospheres and surroundings, he assumes magnitude and orbic coherence; for in curious contrast to the general denial of Whitman in this country (though he has more lovers and admirers here than is generally believed) stands the reception accorded him in Europe. The poets there, almost without exception, recognize his transcendent quality, the men of science his thorough scientific basis, the republicans his inborn democracy, and all his towering picturesque personality and modernness. Professor Clifford says he is more thoroughly in harmony with the spirit and letter of advanced scientism than any other living poet. Professor Tyrrell and Mr. Symonds find him eminently Greek, in the sense in which to be natural and "self-regulated by the law of perfect health" is to be Greek. The French "Revue des Deux Mondes" pronounces his war poems the most vivid, the most humanly passionate, and the most modern, of all the verse of the nineteenth century. Freiligrath translated him into German, and hailed him as the founder of a new democratic and modern order of poetry, greater than the old. But I do not propose to go over the whole list here; I only wish to indicate that the absorption is well commenced abroad, and that probably her poet will at last reach America by way of those far-off, roundabout channels. The old mother will first masticate and moisten the food which is still too tough for her offspring.

When I first fell in with "Leaves of Grass," I was taken by isolated passages scattered here and there through the poems; these I seized upon, and gave myself no concern about the rest. Single lines in it often went to the bottom of the questions that were vexing me. The following, though less here than when encountered in the frame of mind which the poet begets in you, curiously settled and stratified a certain range of turbid, fluctuating inquiry:—

There was never any more inception than there is now,—
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

These lines, also, early had an attraction for me I could not define, and were of great service:—

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.

In the following episode, too, there was to me something far deeper than the words or the story:—

The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside;
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the wood-pile;
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log, and led him in, and assured him,
And brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and     bruis'd feet,
And gave him a room that entered from my own, and gave him some     coarse clean clothes;
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles:
He stayed with me a week before he was recuperated and pass'd North;
(I had him sit next me at table—my firelock lean'd in the corner.)

But of the book as a whole I could form no adequate conception, and it was not for many years, and after I had known the poet himself, as already stated, that I saw in it a teeming, rushing globe well worthy my best days and strength to surround and comprehend.

One thing that early took me in the poems was (as before alluded to) the tremendous personal force back of them, and felt through them as the sun through vapor; not merely intellectual grasp or push, but a warm, breathing, towering, magnetic Presence that there was no escape from.

Another fact I was quick to perceive, namely, that this man had almost in excess a quality in which every current poet was lacking,—I mean the faculty of being in entire sympathy with actual nature, and the objects; and shows of nature, and of rude, abysmal man; and appalling directness of utterance therefrom, at first hand, without any intermediate agency or modification.

The influence of books and works of art upon an author may be seen in all respectable writers. If knowledge alone made literature, or culture genius, there would be no dearth of these things among the moderns. But I feel bound to say that there is something higher and deeper than the influence or perusal of any or all books, or all other productions of genius,—a quality of information which the masters can never impart, and which all the libraries do not hold. This is the absorption by an author, previous to becoming so, of the spirit of nature, through the visible objects of the universe, and his affiliation with them subjectively and objectively. Not more surely is the blood quickened and purified by contact with the unbreathed air than is the spirit of man vitalized and made strong by intercourse with the real things of the earth. The calm, all-permitting, wordless spirit of nature,—yet so eloquent to him who hath ears to hear! The sunrise, the heaving sea, the woods and mountains, the storm and the whistling winds, the gentle summer day, the winter sights and sounds, the night and the high dome of stars,—to have really perused these, especially from childhood onward, till what there is in them, so impossible to define, finds its full mate and echo in the mind,—this only is the lore which breathes the breath of life into all the rest. Without it, literary productions may have the superb beauty of statues, but with it only can they have the beauty of life.

I was never troubled at all by what the critics called Whitman's want of art, or his violation of art. I saw that he at once designedly swept away all which the said critics have commonly meant by that term. The dominant impression was of the living presence and voice. He would have no curtains, he said, not the finest, between himself and his reader; and in thus bringing me face to face with his subject I perceived he not only did not escape conventional art, but I perceived an enlarged, enfranchised art in this very abnegation of art. "When half-gods go, whole gods arrive." It was obvious to me that the new style gained more than it lost, and that in this fullest operatic launching forth of the voice, though it sounded strange at first, and required the ear to get used to it, there might be quite as much science, and a good deal more power, than in the tuneful but constricted measures we were accustomed to.

To the eye the page of the new poet presented about the same contrast with the page of the popular poets that trees and the free, unbidden growths of nature do with a carefully clipped hedge; and to the spirit the contrast was about the same. The hedge is the more studiedly and obviously beautiful, but, ah! there is a kind of beauty and satisfaction in trees that one would not care to lose. There are symmetry and proportion in the sonnet, but to me there is something I would not exchange for them in the wild swing and balance of many free and unrhymed passages in Shakespeare; like the one, for instance, in which these lines occur:—

To be imprisoned in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round
About the pendent world.

Here is the spontaneous grace and symmetry of a forest tree, or a soughing mass of foliage.

And this passage from my poet I do not think could be improved by the verse-maker's art:—

This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look'd at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my Spirit, When we become the enfolders of those orbs
    and the pleasure and knowledge of everything in them, shall we be
    fill'd and satisfied then?

And my Spirit said, No, we but level that lift, to pass and continue

Such breaking with the routine poetic, and with the grammar of verse, was of course a dangerous experiment, and threw the composer absolutely upon his intrinsic merits, upon his innately poetic and rhythmic quality. He must stand or fall by these alone, since he discarded all artificial, all adventitious helps. If interior, spontaneous rhythm could not be relied on, and the natural music and flexibility of language, then there was nothing to shield the ear from the pitiless hail of words,—not one softly padded verse anywhere.

All poets, except those of the very first order, owe immensely to the form, the art, the stereotyped metres, and stock figures they find ready to hand. The form is suggestive,—it invites and aids expression, and lends itself readily, like fashion, to conceal, or extenuate, or eke out poverty of thought and feeling in the verse. The poet can "cut and cover," as the farmer says, in a way the prose-writer never can, nor one whose form is essentially prose, like Whitman's.

I, too, love to see the forms worthily used, as they always are by the master; and I have no expectation that they are going out of fashion right away. A great deal of poetry that serves, and helps sweeten one's cup, would be impossible without them,—would be nothing when separated from them. It is for the ear, and for the sense of tune and of carefully carved and modeled forms, and is not meant to arouse the soul with the taste of power, and to start off on journeys for itself. But the great inspired utterances, like the Bible,—what would they gain by being cast in the moulds of metrical verse? In all that concerns art, viewed from any high standpoint,—proportion, continence, self-control, unfaltering adherence to natural standards, subordination of parts, perfect adjustment of the means to the end, obedience to inward law, no trifling, no levity, no straining after effect, impartially attending to the back and loins as well as to the head, and even holding toward his subject an attitude of perfect acceptance and equality,—principles of art to which alone the great spirits are amenable,—in all these respects, I say, this poet is as true as an orb in astronomy.

To his literary expression pitched on scales of such unprecedented breadth and loftiness, the contrast of his personal life comes in with a foil of curious homeliness and simplicity. Perhaps never before has the absolute and average commonness of humanity been so steadily and unaffectedly adhered to. I give here a glimpse of him in Washington on a Navy Yard horse-car, toward the close of the war, one summer day at sundown. The car is crowded and suffocatingly hot, with many passengers on the rear platform, and among them a bearded, florid-faced man, elderly but agile, resting against the dash, by the side of the young conductor, and evidently his intimate friend. The man wears a broad-brim white hat. Among the jam inside, near the door, a young Englishwoman, of the working class, with two children, has had trouble all the way with the youngest, a strong, fat, fretful, bright babe of fourteen or fifteen months, who bids fair to worry the mother completely out, besides becoming a howling nuisance to everybody. As the car tugs around Capitol Hill the young one is more demoniac than ever, and the flushed and perspiring mother is just ready to burst into tears with weariness and vexation. The car stops at the top of the hill to let off most of the rear platform passengers, and the white-hatted man reaches inside, and, gently but firmly disengaging the babe from its stifling place in the mother's arms, takes it in his own, and out in the air. The astonished and excited child, partly in fear, partly in satisfaction at the change, stops its screaming, and, as the man adjusts it more securely to his breast, plants its chubby hands against him, and, pushing off as far as it can, gives a good long look squarely in his face,—then, as if satisfied, snuggles down with its head on his neck, and in less than a minute is sound and peacefully asleep without another whimper, utterly fagged out. A square or so more and the conductor, who has had an unusually hard and uninterrupted day's work, gets off for his first meal and relief since morning. And now the white-hatted man, holding the slumbering babe, also acts as conductor the rest of the distance, keeping his eye on the passengers inside, who have by this time thinned out greatly. He makes a very good conductor, too, pulling the bell to stop or to go on as needed, and seems to enjoy the occupation. The babe meanwhile rests its fat cheeks close on his neck and gray beard, one of his arms vigilantly surrounding it, while the other signals, from time to time, with the strap; and the flushed mother inside has a good half hour to breathe, and to cool and recover herself.


No poem of our day dates and locates itself as absolutely as "Leaves of Grass;" but suppose it had been written three or four centuries ago, and had located itself in mediaeval Europe, and was now first brought to light, together with a history of Walt Whitman's simple and disinterested life, can there be any doubt about the cackling that would at once break out in the whole brood of critics over the golden egg that had been uncovered? This reckon would be a favorite passage with all:—

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean;
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers;
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me;
We must have a turn together—I undress—hurry me out of sight of
    the land;
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse;
Dash me with amorous wet—I can repay you.

Sea of stretch'd ground-swells!
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths!
Sea of the brine of life! sea of unshovel'd yet always ready graves!
Howler and scooper of storms! capricious and dainty sea!
I am integral with you—I too am of one phase, and of all phases.

This other passage would afford many a text for the moralists and essayists:—

Of persons arrived at high positions, ceremonies, wealth, scholarship,
    and the like;
To me, all that those persons have arrived at sinks away from them,
    except as it results to their Bodies and Souls,
So that often, to me, they appear gaunt and naked,
And often, to me, each one mocks the others, and mocks himself
    or herself,
And of each one, the core of life, namely happiness, is full of
    the rotten excrement of maggots;
And often, to me, those men and women pass unwittingly the true
    realities of life, and go toward false realities,
And often, to me, they are alive after what custom has served
    them, but nothing more,
And often, to me, they are sad, hasty, unwaked somnambules,
    walking the dusk.

Ah, Time, you enchantress! what tricks you play with us! The old is already proved,—the past and the distant hold nothing but the beautiful.

Or let us take another view. Suppose Walt Whitman had never existed, and some bold essayist, like Mr. Higginson or Matthew Arnold, had projected him in abstract, outlined him on a scholarly ideal background, formulated and put in harmless critical periods the principles of art which he illustrates, and which are the inevitable logic of his poems,—said essayist would have won great applause. "Yes, indeed, that were a poet to cherish; fill those shoes and you have a god."

How different a critic's account of Shakespeare from Shakespeare himself,—the difference between the hewn or sawed timber and the living tree! A few years ago we had here a lecturer from over seas, who gave to our well-dressed audiences the high, moral, and intellectual statement of the poet Burns. It was very fine, and people were greatly pleased, vastly more so, I fear, than they were with Burns himself. Indeed, I could not help wondering how many of those appreciative listeners had any original satisfaction in the Scotch poet at first hand, or would have accepted him had he been their neighbor and fellow-citizen. But as he filtered through the scholarly mind in trickling drops, oh, he was so sweet!

Everybody stirred with satisfaction as the lecturer said: "When literature becomes dozy, respectable, and goes in the smooth grooves of fashion, and copies and copies again, something must be done; and to give life to that dying literature a man must be found not educated under its influence." I applauded with the rest, for it was a bold saying; but I could not help thinking how that theory, brought home to ourselves and illustrated in a living example, would have sent that nodding millinery and faultless tailory flying downstairs, as at an alarm of fire.

One great service of Walt Whitman is that he exerts a tremendous influence to bring the race up on this nether side,—to place the emotional, the assimilative, the sympathetic, the spontaneous, intuitive man, the man of the fluids and of the affections, flush with the intellectual man. That we moderns have fallen behind here is unquestionable, and we in this country more than the Old World peoples. All the works of Whitman, prose and verse, are embosomed in a sea of emotional humanity, and they float deeper than they show; there is far more in what they necessitate and imply than in what they say.

It is not so much of fatty degeneration that we are in danger in America, but of calcareous. The fluids, moral and physical, are evaporating; surfaces are becoming encrusted, there is a deposit of flint in the veins and arteries, outlines are abnormally sharp and hard, nothing is held in solution, all is precipitated in well-defined ideas and opinions.

But when I think of the type of character planted and developed by my poet, I think of a man or a woman rich above all things in the genial human attributes, one "nine times folded" in an atmosphere of tenderest, most considerate humanity,—an atmosphere warm with the breath of a tropic heart, that makes your buds of affection and of genius start and unfold like a south wind in May. Your intercourse with such a character is not merely intellectual; it is deeper and better than that. Walter Scott carried such a fund of sympathy and goodwill that even the animals found fellowship with him, and the pigs understood his great heart.

It was the large endowment of Whitman, in his own character in this respect, that made his services in the army hospitals during the war so ministering and effective, and that renders his "Drum-Taps" the tenderest and most deeply yearning and sorrowful expression of the human heart in poetry that ever war called forth. Indeed, from my own point of view, there is no false or dangerous tendency among us, in life or in letters, that this poet does not offset and correct. Fret and chafe as much as we will, we are bound to gravitate, more or less, toward this mountain, and feel its bracing, rugged air.

Without a certain self-surrender there is no greatness possible in literature, any more than in religion, or in anything else. It is always a trait of the master that he is not afraid of being compromised by the company he keeps. He is the central and main fact in any company. Nothing so lowly but he will do it reverence; nothing so high but he can stand in its presence. His theme is the river, and he the ample and willing channel. Little natures love to disparage and take down; they do it in self-defense; but the master gives you all, and more than your due. Whitman does not stand aloof, superior, a priest or a critic: he abandons himself to all the strong human currents; he enters into and affiliates with every phase of life; he bestows himself royally upon whoever and whatever will receive him. There is no competition between himself and his subject; he is not afraid of over-praising, or making too much of the commonest individual. What exalts others exalts him.

We have had great help in Emerson in certain ways,—first-class service. He probes the conscience and the moral purpose as few men have done, and gives much needed stimulus there. But, after him, the need is all the more pressing for a broad, powerful, opulent, human personality to absorb these ideals, and to make something more of them than fine sayings. With Emerson alone we are rich in sunlight, but poor in rain and dew,—poor, too, in soil, and in the moist, gestating earth principle. Emerson's tendency is not to broaden and enrich, but to concentrate and refine.

Then, is there not an excessive modesty, without warrant in philosophy or nature, dwindling us in this country, drying us up in the viscera? Is there not a decay—a deliberate, strange abnegation and dread—of sane sexuality, of maternity and paternity, among us, and in our literary ideals and social types of men and women? For myself, I welcome any evidence to the contrary, or any evidence that deeper and counteracting agencies are at work, as unspeakably precious. I do not know where this evidence is furnished in such ample measure as in the pages of Walt Whitman. The great lesson of nature, I take it, is that a sane sensuality must be preserved at all hazards, and this, it seems to me, is also the great lesson of his writings. The point is fully settled in him that, however they may have been held in abeyance or restricted to other channels, there is still sap and fecundity, and depth of virgin soil in the race, sufficient to produce a man of the largest mould and the most audacious and unconquerable egotism, and on a plane the last to be reached by these qualities; a man of antique stature, of Greek fibre and gripe, with science and the modern added, without abating one jot or tittle of his native force, adhesiveness, Americanism, and democracy.

As I have already hinted, Whitman has met with by far his amplest acceptance and appreciation in Europe. There is good reason for this, though it is not what has been generally claimed, namely, that the cultivated classes of Europe are surfeited with respectability, half dead with ennui and routine, and find an agreeable change in the daring unconventionality of the new poet. For the fact is, it is not the old and jaded minds of London, or Paris, or Dublin, or Copenhagen, that have acknowledged him, but the fresh, eager, young minds. Nine tenths of his admirers there are the sturdiest men in the fields of art, science, and literature.

In many respects, as a race, we Americans have been pampered and spoiled; we have been brought up on sweets. I suppose that, speaking literally, no people under the sun consume so much confectionery, so much pastry and cake, or indulge in so many gassy and sugared drinks. The soda-fountain, with its syrups, has got into literature, and furnishes the popular standard of poetry. The old heroic stamina of our ancestors, that craved the bitter but nourishing home-brewed, has died out, and in its place there is a sickly cadaverousness that must be pampered and cosseted. Among educated people here there is a mania for the bleached, the double-refined,—white houses, white china, white marble, and white skins. We take the bone and sinew out of the flour in order to have white bread, and are bolting our literature as fast as possible.

It is for these and kindred reasons that Walt Whitman is more read abroad than in his own country. It is on the rank, human, and emotional side—sex, magnetism, health, physique,—that he is so full. Then his receptivity and assimilative powers are enormous, and he demands these in his reader. In fact, his poems are physiological as much as they are intellectual. They radiate from his entire being, and are charged to repletion with that blended quality of mind and body—psychic and physiologic—which the living form and presence send forth. Never before in poetry has the body received such ennoblement. The great theme is IDENTITY, and identity comes through the body; and all that pertains to the body, the poet teaches, is entailed upon the spirit. In his rapt gaze, the body and the soul are one, and what debases the one debases the other. Hence he glorifies the body. Not more ardently and purely did the great sculptors of antiquity carve it in the enduring marble than this poet has celebrated it in his masculine and flowing lines. The bearing of his work in this direction is invaluable. Well has it been said that the man or the woman who has "Leaves of Grass" for a daily companion will be under the constant, invisible influence of sanity, cleanliness, strength, and a gradual severance from all that corrupts and makes morbid and mean.

In regard to the unity and construction of the poems, the reader sooner or later discovers the true solution to be, that the dependence, cohesion, and final reconciliation of the whole are in the Personality of the poet himself. As in Shakespeare everything is strung upon the plot, the play, and loses when separated from it, so in this poet every line and sentence refers to and necessitates the Personality behind it, and derives its chief significance therefrom. In other words, "Leaves of Grass" is essentially a dramatic poem, a free representation of man in his relation to the outward world,—the play, the interchanges between him and it, apart from social and artificial considerations,—in which we discern the central purpose or thought to be for every man and woman his or her Individuality, and around that, Nationality. To show rather than to tell,—to body forth as in a play how these arise and blend; how the man is developed and recruited, his spirit's descent; how he walks through materials absorbing and conquering them; how he confronts the immensities of time and space; where are the true sources of his power, the soul's real riches,—that which "adheres and goes forward and is not dropped by death;" how he is all defined and published and made certain through his body; the value of health and physique; the great solvent, Sympathy,—to show the need of larger and fresher types in art and in life, and then how the state is compacted, and how the democratic idea is ample and composite, and cannot fail us,—to show all this, I say, not as in a lecture or a critique, but suggestively and inferentially,—to work it out freely and picturesquely, with endless variations, with person and picture and parable and adventure, is the lesson and object of "Leaves of Grass." From the first line, where the poet says,

I loafe and invite my Soul,

to the last, all is movement and fusion,—all is clothed in flesh and blood. The scene changes, the curtain rises and falls, but the theme is still Man,—his opportunities, his relations, his past, his future, his sex, his pride in himself, his omnivorousness, his "great hands," his yearning heart, his seething brain, the abysmal depths that underlie him and open from him, all illustrated in the poet's own character,—he the chief actor always. His personality directly facing you, and with its eye steadily upon you, runs through every page, spans all the details, and rounds and completes them, and compactly holds them. This gives the form and the art conception, and gives homogeneousness.

When Tennyson sends out a poem, it is perfect, like an apple or a peach; slowly wrought out and dismissed, it drops from his boughs holding a conception or an idea that spheres it and makes it whole. It is completed, distinct, and separate,—might be his, or might be any man's. It carries his quality, but it is a thing of itself, and centres and depends upon itself. Whether or not the world will hereafter consent, as in the past, to call only beautiful creations of this sort poems, remains to be seen. But this is certainly not what Walt Whitman does, or aims to do, except in a few cases. He completes no poems apart and separate from himself, and his pages abound in hints to that effect:—

Let others finish specimens—I never finish specimens;
I shower them by exhaustless laws, as Nature does, fresh
    and modern continually.

His lines are pulsations, thrills, waves of force, indefinite dynamics, formless, constantly emanating from the living centre, and they carry the quality of the author's personal presence with them in a way that is unprecedented in literature.

Occasionally there is a poem or a short piece that detaches itself, and assumes something like ejaculatory and statuesque proportion, as "O Captain, my Captain," "Pioneers," "Beat, Beat, Drums," and others in "Drum-Taps;" but all the great poems, like "Walt Whitman," "Song of the Open Road," "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," "To Working Men," "Sleep-Chasings," etc., are out-flamings, out-rushings, of the pent fires of the poet's soul. The first-named poem, which is the seething, dazzling sun of his subsequent poetic system, shoots in rapid succession waves of almost consuming energy. It is indeed a central orb of fiercest light and heat, swept by wild storms of emotion, but at the same time of sane and beneficent potentiality. Neither in it nor in either of the others is there the building-up of a fair verbal structure, a symmetrical piece of mechanism, whose last stone is implied and necessitated in the first.

"The critic's great error," says Heine, "lies in asking, 'What ought the artist to do?' It would be far more correct to ask, 'What does the artist intend?'"

It is probably partly because his field is so large, his demands so exacting, his method so new (necessarily so), and from the whole standard of the poems being what I may call an astronomical one, that the critics complain so generally of want of form in him. And the critics are right enough, as far as their objection goes. There is no deliberate form here, any more than there is in the forces of nature. Shall we say, then, that nothing but the void exists? The void is filled by a Presence. There is a controlling, directing, overarching will in every page, every verse, that there is no escape from. Design and purpose, natural selection, growth, culmination, are just as pronounced as in any poet.

There is a want of form in the unfinished statue, because it is struggling into form; it is nothing without form; but there is no want of form in the elemental laws and effusions,—in fire, or water, or rain, or dew, or the smell of the shore or the plunging waves. And may there not be the analogue of this in literature,—a potent, quickening, exhilarating quality in words, apart from and without any consideration of constructive form? Under the influence of the expansive, creative force that plays upon me from these pages, like sunlight or gravitation, the question of form never comes up, because I do not for one moment escape the eye, the source from which the power and action emanate.

I know that Walt Whitman has written many passages with reference far more to their position, interpretation, and scanning ages hence, than for current reading. Much of his material is too near us; it needs time. Seen through the vista of long years, perhaps centuries, it will assume quite different hues. Perhaps those long lists of trades, tools, and occupations would not be so repellent if we could read them, as we read Homer's catalogue of the ships, through the retrospect of ages. They are justified in the poem aside from their historic value, because they are alive and full of action,—panoramas of the whole mechanical and industrial life of America, north, east, south, west,—bits of scenery, bird's-eye views, glimpses of moving figures, caught as by a flash, characteristic touches indoors and out, all passing in quick succession before you. They have in the fullest measure what Lessing demands in poetry,—the quality of ebbing and flowing action, as distinct from the dead water of description; they are thoroughly dramatic, fused, pliant, and obedient to the poet's will. No glamour is thrown over them, no wash of sentiment; and if they have not the charm of novelty and distance, why, that is an accident that bars them in a measure to us, but not to the future. Very frequently in these lists or enumerations of objects, actions, shows, there are sure to occur lines of perfect description:—

Where the heifers browse—where geese nip their food with short
Where sun-down shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome
Where herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles
    far and near;
Where the splash of swimmers and divers cools the warm noon;
Where the katydid works her chromatic reed on the walnut-tree
    over the well.

Spar-makers in the spar-yard, the swarming row of well-grown
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.

Always these compact lands—lands tied at the hips with the belt
    stringing the huge oval lakes.

Far breath'd land! Arctic braced! Mexican breez'd!—the diverse!
    the compact!

Tried by the standards of the perfect statuesque poems, these pages will indeed seem strange enough; but viewed as a part of the poetic compend of America, the swift gathering-in, from her wide-spreading, multitudinous, material life, of traits and points and suggestions that belong here and are characteristic, they have their value. The poet casts his great seine into events and doings and material progress, and these are some of the fish, not all beautiful by any means, but all terribly alive, and all native to these waters.

In the "Carol of Occupations" occur, too, those formidable inventories of the more heavy and coarsegrained trades and tools that few if any readers have been able to stand before, and that have given the scoffers and caricaturists their favorite weapons. If you detach a page of these and ask, "Is it poetry? have the 'hog-hook,' the 'killing-hammer,' 'the cutter's cleaver,' 'the packer's maul,' met with a change of heart, and been converted into celestial cutlery?" I answer, No, they are as barren of poetry as a desert is of grass; but in their place in the poem, and in the collection, they serve as masses of shade or neutral color in pictures, or in nature, or in character,—a negative service, but still indispensable. The point, the moral of the poem, is really backed up and driven home by this list. The poet is determined there shall be no mistake about it. He will not put in the dainty and pretty things merely,—he will put in the coarse and common things also, and he swells the list till even his robust muse begins to look uneasy. Remember, too, that Whitman declaredly writes the lyrics of America, of the masses, of democracy, and of the practical labor of mechanics, boatmen, and farmers:—

The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are;
All doctrines, all politics and civilization, exude from you;
All sculpture and monuments, and anything inscribed anywhere, are
    tallied in you;
The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records
    reach, is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same:
If you were not breathing and walking here, where would they
    all be?
The most renown'd poems would be ashes, orations and plays would
    be vacuums.

All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it;
(Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the lines of
    the arches and cornices?)

All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the
It is not the violins and the cornets—it is not the oboe, nor
    the beating drums—nor the score of the baritone singer singing
    his sweet romanza—nor that of the men's chorus, nor that of
    the women's chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.

Out of this same spirit of reverence for man and all that pertains essentially to him, and the steady ignoring of conventional and social distinctions and prohibitions, and on the same plane as the universal brotherhood of the poems, come those passages in "Leaves of Grass" that have caused so much abuse and fury,—the allusions to sexual acts and organs,—the momentary contemplation of man as the perpetuator of his species. Many good judges, who have followed Whitman thus far, stop here and refuse their concurrence. But if the poet has failed in this part, he has failed in the rest. It is of a piece with the whole. He has felt in his way the same necessity as that which makes the anatomist or the physiologist not pass by, or neglect, or falsify, the loins of his typical personage. All the passages and allusions that come under this head have a scientific coldness and purity, but differ from science, as poetry always must differ, in being alive and sympathetic, instead of dead and analytic. There is nothing of the forbidden here, none of those sweet morsels that we love to roll under the tongue, such as are found in Byron and Shakespeare, and even in austere Dante. If the fact is not lifted up and redeemed by the solemn and far-reaching laws of maternity and paternity, through which the poet alone contemplates it, then it is irredeemable, and one side of our nature is intrinsically vulgar and mean.

Again: Out of all the full-grown, first-class poems, no matter what their plot or theme, emerges a sample of Man, each after its kind, its period, its nationality, its antecedents. The vast and cumbrous Hindu epics contribute their special types of both man and woman, impossible except from far-off Asia and Asian antiquity. Out of Homer, after all his gorgeous action and events, the distinct personal identity, the heroic and warlike chieftain of Hellas only permanently remains. In the same way, when the fire and fervor of Shakespeare's plots and passions subside, the special feudal personality, as lord or gentleman, still towers in undying vitality. Even the Sacred Writings themselves, considered as the first great poems, leave on record, out of all the rest, the portraiture of a characteristic Oriental Man. Far different from these (and yet, as he says, "the same old countenance pensively looking forth," and "the same red running blood"), "Leaves of Grass" and "Two Rivulets" also bring their contribution; nay, behind every page that is the main purport,—to outline a New World Man and a New World Woman, modern, complete, democratic, not only fully and nobly intellectual and spiritual, but in the same measure physical, emotional, and even fully and nobly carnal.

An acute person once said to me, "As I read and re-read these poems, I more and more think their inevitable result in time must be to produce

'A race of splendid and savage old men,'

of course dominated by moral and spiritual laws, but with volcanoes of force always alive beneath the surface."

And still again: One of the questions to be put to any poem assuming a first-class importance among us—and I especially invite this inquiry toward "Leaves of Grass"—is, How far is this work consistent with, and the outcome of, that something which secures to the race ascendency, empire, and perpetuity? There is in every dominant people a germ, a quality, an expansive force, that, no matter how it is overlaid, gives them their push and their hold upon existence,—writes their history upon the earth, and stamps their imprint upon the age. To what extent is your masterpiece the standard-bearer of this quality,—helping the race to victory? helping me to be more myself than I otherwise would?


Not the least of my poet's successes is in his thorough assimilation of the modern sciences, transmuting them into strong poetic nutriment, and in the extent to which all his main poems are grounded in the deepest principles of modern philosophical inquiry.

Nearly all the old literatures may be said to have been founded upon fable, and upon a basis and even superstructure of ignorance, that, however charming it may be, we have not now got, and could not keep if we had. The bump of wonder and the feeling of the marvelous,—a kind of half-pleasing fear, like that of children in the dark or in the woods,—were largely operative with the old poets, and I believe are necessary to any eminent success in this field; but they seem nearly to have died out of the modern mind, like organs there is no longer any use for. The poetic temperament has not yet adjusted itself to the new lights, to science, and to the vast fields and expanses opened up in the physical cosmos by astronomy and geology, and in the spiritual or intellectual world by the great German metaphysicians. The staple of a large share of our poetic literature is yet mainly the result of the long age of fable and myth that now lies behind us. "Leaves of Grass" is, perhaps, the first serious and large attempt at an expression in poetry of a knowledge of the earth as one of the orbs, and of man as a microcosm of the whole, and to give to the imagination these new and true fields of wonder and romance. In it fable and superstition are at an end, priestcraft is at an end, skepticism and doubt are at an end, with all the misgivings and dark forebodings that have dogged the human mind since it began to relax its hold upon tradition and the past; and we behold man reconciled, happy, ecstatic, full of reverence, awe, and wonder, reinstated in Paradise,—the paradise of perfect knowledge and unrestricted faith.

It needs but a little pondering to see that the great poet of the future will not be afraid of science, but will rather seek to plant his feet upon it as upon a rock. He knows that, from an enlarged point of view, there is no feud between Science and Poesy, any more than there is between Science and Religion, or between Science and Life. He sees that the poet and the scientist do not travel opposite but parallel roads, that often approach each other very closely, if they do not at times actually join. The poet will always pause when he finds himself in opposition to science; and the scientist is never more worthy the name than when he escapes from analysis into synthesis, and gives us living wholes. And science, in its present bold and receptive mood, may be said to be eminently creative, and to have made every first-class thinker and every large worker in any aesthetic or spiritual field immeasurably its debtor. It has dispelled many illusions, but it has more than compensated the imagination by the unbounded vistas it has opened up on every hand. It has added to our knowledge, but it has added to our ignorance in the same measure: the large circle of light only reveals the larger circle of darkness that encompasses it, and life and being and the orbs are enveloped in a greater mystery to the poet to-day than they were in the times of Homer or Isaiah. Science, therefore, does not restrict the imagination, but often compels it to longer flights. The conception of the earth as an orb shooting like a midnight meteor through space, a brand cast by the burning sun with the fire at its heart still unquenched, the sun itself shooting and carrying the whole train of worlds with it, no one knows whither,—what a lift has science given the imagination in this field! Or the tremendous discovery of the correlation and conservation of forces, the identity and convertibility of heat and force and motion, and that no ounce of power is lost, but forever passed along, changing form but not essence, is a poetic discovery no less than a scientific one. The poets have always felt that it must be so, and, when the fact was authoritatively announced by science, every profound poetic mind must have felt a thrill of pleasure. Or the nebular hypothesis of the solar system,—it seems the conception of some inspired madman, like William Blake, rather than the cool conclusion of reason, and to carry its own justification, as great power always does. Indeed, our interest in astronomy and geology is essentially a poetic one,—the love of the marvelous, of the sublime, and of grand harmonies. The scientific conception of the sun is strikingly Dantesque, and appalls the imagination. Or the hell of fire through which the earth has passed, and the aeons of monsters from which its fair forms have emerged,—from which of the seven circles of the Inferno did the scientist get his hint? Indeed, science everywhere reveals a carnival of mightier gods than those that cut such fantastic tricks in the ancient world. Listen to Tyndall on light, or to Youmans on the chemistry of a sunbeam, and see how fable pales its ineffectual fires, and the boldest dreams of the poets are eclipsed.

The vibratory theory of light and its identity with the laws of sound, the laws of the tides and the seasons, the wonders of the spectroscope, the theory of gravitation, of electricity, of chemical affinity, the deep beneath deep of the telescope, the world within world of the microscope,—in these and many other fields it is hard to tell whether it is the scientist or the poet we are listening to. What greater magic than that you can take a colorless ray of light, break it across a prism, and catch upon a screen all the divine hues of the rainbow?

In some respects science has but followed out and confirmed the dim foreshadowings of the human breast. Man in his simplicity has called the sun father and the earth mother. Science shows this to be no fiction, but a reality; that we are really children of the sun, and that every heart-beat, every pound of force we exert, is a solar emanation. The power with which you now move and breathe came from the sun just as literally as the bank-notes in your pocket came from the bank.

The ancients fabled the earth as resting upon the shoulders of Atlas, and Atlas as standing upon a turtle; but what the turtle stood upon was a puzzle. An acute person says that science has but changed the terms of the equation, but that the unknown quantity is the same as ever. The earth now rests upon the sun,—in his outstretched palm; the sun rests upon some other sun, and that upon some other; but what they all finally rest upon, who can tell? Well may Tennyson speak of the "fairy tales of science," and well may Walt Whitman say:—

I lie abstracted, and hear beautiful tales of things, and the
    reasons of things;
They are so beautiful, I nudge myself to listen.

But, making all due acknowledgments to science, there is one danger attending it that the poet alone can save us from,—the danger that science, absorbed with its great problems, will forget Man. Hence the especial office of the poet with reference to science is to endow it with a human interest. The heart has been disenchanted by having disclosed to it blind, abstract forces where it had enthroned personal humanistic divinities. In the old time, man was the centre of the system; everything was interested in him, and took sides for or against him. There were nothing but men and gods in the universe. But in the results of science the world is more and more, and man is less and less. The poet must come to the rescue, and place man again at the top, magnify him, exalt him, reinforce him, and match these wonders from without with equal wonders from within. Welcome to the bard who is not appalled by the task, and who can readily assimilate and turn into human emotions these vast deductions of the savants! The minor poets do nothing in this direction; only men of the largest calibre and the most heroic fibre are adequate to the service. Hence one finds in Tennyson a vast deal more science than he would at first suspect; but it is under his feet; it is no longer science, but faith, or reverence, or poetic nutriment. It is in "Locksley Hall," "The Princess," "In Memoriam," "Maud," and in others of his poems. Here is a passage from "In Memoriam:"—

            They say,
The solid earth whereon we tread

In tracts of fluent heat began,
    And grew to seeming-random forms,
    The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
Till at the last arose the man;

Who throve and branch'd from clime to clime,
    The herald of a higher race,
    And of himself in higher place
If so he type this work of time

Within himself, from more to more;
    Or, crown'd with attributes of woe,
    Like glories, move his course, and show
That life is not as idle ore,

But iron dug from central gloom,
    And heated hot with burning fears,
    And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter'd with the shocks of doom

To shape and use. Arise and fly
    The reeling Faun, the sensual feast;
    Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.

Or in this stanza behold how the science is disguised or turned into the sweetest music:—

Move eastward, happy earth, and leave
    Yon orange sunset waning slow;
From fringes of the faded eve,
    O happy planet, eastward go;
    Till over thy dark shoulder glow
Thy silver sister-world, and rise
To glass herself in dewy eyes
    That watch me from the glen below.

A recognition of the planetary system, and of the great fact that the earth moves eastward through the heavens, in a soft and tender love-song!

But in Walt Whitman alone do we find the full, practical absorption, and re-departure therefrom, of the astounding idea that the earth is a star in the heavens like the rest, and that man, as the crown and finish, carries in his moral consciousness the flower, the outcome, of all this wide field of turbulent unconscious nature. Of course in his handling it is no longer science, or rather it is science dissolved in the fervent heat of the poet's heart, and charged with emotion. "The words of true poems," he says, "are the tufts and final applause of science." Before Darwin or Spencer he proclaimed the doctrine of evolution:—

I am stuccoed with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
And call anything close again when I desire it.

In vain the speeding and shyness;
In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach;
In vain the mastodon retreats beneath his own powder'd bones;
In vain objects stand leagues off, and assume manifold shapes;
In vain the ocean settling in hollows, and the great monsters
    lying low.

In the following passage the idea is more fully carried out, and man is viewed through a vista which science alone has laid open; yet how absolutely a work of the creative imagination is revealed:—

I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I am incloser of things
    to be.
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs;
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the
All below duly travel'd, and still I mount and mount.

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me;
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing—I know I was even there;
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the foetid carbon.

Long I was hugg'd close—long and long,
Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have help'd me,
Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings;
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother, generations guided me;
My embryo has never been torpid—nothing could overlay it,
For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long low strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths, and deposited
    it with care;
All forces have been steadily employ'd to complete and delight
Now on this spot I stand with my robust Soul.

I recall no single line of poetry in the language that fills my imagination like that beginning the second stanza:—

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.

One seems to see those huge Brocken shadows of the past sinking and dropping below the horizon like mountain peaks, as he presses onward on his journey. Akin to this absorption of science is another quality in my poet not found in the rest, except perhaps a mere hint of it now and then in Lucretius,—a quality easier felt than described. It is a tidal wave of emotion running all through the poems, which is now and then crested with such passages as this:—

I am he that walks with the tender and growing night;
I call to the earth and sea, half held by the night.

Press close, bare-bosom'd night! Press close, magnetic,
    nourishing night!
Night of south winds! night of the large, few stars!
Still, nodding night! mad, naked, summer night.

Smile, O voluptuous, cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset! Earth of the mountains, misty topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon, just tinged with
Earth of shine and dark, mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds, brighter and clearer for my
Far-swooping, elbow'd earth! rich, apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes!

Professor Clifford calls it "cosmic emotion,"—a poetic thrill and rhapsody in contemplating the earth as a whole,—its chemistry and vitality, its bounty, its beauty, its power, and the applicability of its laws and principles to human, aesthetic, and art products. It affords the key to the theory of art upon which Whitman's poems are projected, and accounts for what several critics call their sense of magnitude,—"something of the vastness of the succession of objects in Nature."

I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those
    of the earth!
I swear there can be no theory of any account, unless it corroborate
    the theory of the earth!
No politics, art, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account,
    unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude
    of the earth.

Or again, in his "Laws for Creation:"—

All must have reference to the ensemble of the world, and the
    compact truth of the world,
There shall be no subject too pronounced—All works shall illustrate
    the divine law of indirections.

Indeed, the earth ever floats in this poet's mind as his mightiest symbol,—his type of completeness and power. It is the armory from which he draws his most potent weapons. See, especially, "To the Sayers of Words," "This Compost," "The Song of the Open Road," and "Pensive on her Dead gazing I heard the Mother of all."

The poet holds essentially the same attitude toward cosmic humanity, well illustrated in "Salut au Monde:"—

My spirit has pass'd in compassion and determination around the
    whole earth;
I have look'd for equals and lovers, and found them ready for me
    in all lands;
I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them.

O vapors! I think I have risen with you and moved away to distant
    continents, and fallen down there for reasons;
I think I have blown with you, O winds;
O waters, I have finger'd every shore with you.

Indeed, the whole book is leavened with vehement Comradeship. Not only in the relations of individuals to each other shall loving good-will exist and be cultivated,—not only between the different towns and cities, and all the States of this indissoluble, compacted Union,—but it shall make a tie of fraternity and fusion holding all the races and peoples and countries of the whole earth.

Then the National question. As Whitman's completed works now stand, in their two volumes, it is certain they could only have grown out of the Secession War; and they will probably go to future ages as in literature the most characteristic identification of that war,—risen from and portraying it, representing its sea of passions and progresses, partaking of all its fierce movements and perturbed emotions, and yet sinking the mere military parts of that war, great as those were, below and with matters far greater, deeper, more human, more expanding, and more enduring.

I must not close this paper without some reference to Walt Whitman's prose writings, which are scarcely less important than his poems. Never has Patriotism, never has the antique Love of Country, with even doubled passion and strength, been more fully expressed than in these contributions. They comprise two thin volumes,—now included in "Two Rivulets,"—called Democratic Vistas and "Memoranda during the War;" the former exhibiting the personality of the poet in more vehement and sweeping action even than do the poems, and affording specimens of soaring vaticination and impassioned appeal impossible to match in the literature of our time. The only living author suggested is Carlyle; but so much is added, the presence is so much more vascular and human, and the whole page so saturated with faith and love and democracy, that even the great Scotchman is overborne. Whitman, too, radiates belief, while at the core of Carlyle's utterances is despair. The style here is eruptive and complex, or what Jeremy Taylor calls agglomerative, and puts the Addisonian models utterly to rout,—a style such as only the largest and most Titanic workman could effectively use. A sensitive lady of my acquaintance says reading the "Vistas" is like being exposed to a pouring hailstorm,—the words fairly bruise her mind. In its literary construction the book is indeed a shower, or a succession of showers, multitudinous, wide-stretching, down-pouring,—the wrathful bolt and the quick veins of poetic fire lighting up the page from time to time. I can easily conceive how certain minds must be swayed and bent by some of these long, involved, but firm and vehement passages. I cannot deny myself the pleasure of quoting one or two pages. The writer is referring to the great literary relics of past times:—

For us, along the great highways of time, those monuments stand,—those forms of majesty and beauty. For us those beacons burn through all the nights. Unknown Egyptians, graving hieroglyphs; Hindus, with hymn and apothegm and endless epic; Hebrew prophet, with spirituality, as in flames of lightning, conscience like red-hot iron, plaintive songs and screams of vengeance for tyrannies and enslavement; Christ, with bent head, brooding love and peace, like a dove; Greek, creating eternal shapes of physical and aesthetic proportion; Roman, lord of satire, the sword, and the codex,—of the figures, some far off and veiled, others near and visible; Dante, stalking with lean form, nothing but fibre, not a grain of superfluous flesh; Angelo, and the great painters, architects, musicians; rich Shakespeare, luxuriant as the sun, artist and singer of Feudalism in its sunset, with all the gorgeous colors, owner thereof, and using them at will;—and so to such as German Kant and Hegel, where they, though near us, leaping over the ages, sit again, impassive, imperturbable, like the Egyptian gods. Of these, and the like of these, is it too much, indeed, to return to our favorite figure, and view them as orbs, moving in free paths in the spaces of that other heaven, the cosmic intellect, the Soul?
Ye powerful and resplendent ones! ye were, in your atmospheres, grown not for America, but rather for her foes, the Feudal and the old—while our genius is democratic and modern. Yet could ye, indeed, but breathe your breath of life into our New World's nostrils—not to enslave us as now, but, for our needs, to breed a spirit like your own—perhaps (dare we to say it?) to dominate, even destroy what you yourselves have left! On your plane, and no less, but even higher and wider, will I mete and measure for our wants to-day and here. I demand races of orbic bards, with unconditional, uncompromising sway. Come forth, sweet democratic despots of the west!

Here is another passage of a political cast, but showing the same great pinions and lofty flight:—

It seems as if the Almighty had spread before this nation charts of imperial destinies, dazzling as the sun, yet with lines of blood, and many a deep intestine difficulty, and human aggregate of cankerous imperfection,—saying, Lo! the roads, the only plans of development, long, and varied with all terrible balks and ebullitions. You said in your soul, I will be empire of empires, overshadowing all else, past and present, putting the history of Old World dynasties, conquests, behind me as of no account,—making a new history, the history of Democracy, making old history a dwarf,—I alone inaugurating largeness, culminating time. If these, O lands of America, are indeed the prizes, the determinations of your Soul, be it so. But behold the cost, and already specimens of the cost. Behold the anguish of suspense, existence itself wavering in the balance, uncertain whether to rise or fall; already, close behind you and around you, thick winrows of corpses on battlefields, countless maimed and sick in hospitals, treachery among Generals, folly in the Executive and Legislative departments, schemers, thieves everywhere,—cant, credulity, make-believe everywhere. Thought you greatness was to ripen for you, like a pear? If you would have greatness, know that you must conquer it through ages, centuries,—must pay for it with a proportionate price. For you, too, as for all lands, the struggle, the traitor, the wily person in office, scrofulous wealth, the surfeit of prosperity, the demonism of greed, the hell of passion, the decay of faith, the long postponement, the fossil-like lethargy, the ceaseless need of revolutions, prophets, thunder-storms, deaths, births, new projections, and invigorations of ideas and men.

The "Memoranda during the War" is mainly a record of personal experiences, nursing the sick and wounded soldiers in the hospitals: most of it is in a low key, simple, unwrought, like a diary kept for one's self; but it reveals the large, tender, sympathetic soul of the poet even more than his elaborate works, and puts in practical form that unprecedented and fervid comradeship which is his leading element. It is printed almost verbatim, just as the notes were jotted down at the time and on the spot. It is impossible to read it without the feeling of tears, while there is elsewhere no such portrayal of the common soldier, and such appreciation of him, as is contained in its pages. It is heart's blood, every word of it, and along with "Drum-Taps" is the only literature of the war thus far entirely characteristic and worthy of serious mention. There are in particular two passages in the "Memoranda" that have amazing dramatic power, vividness, and rapid action, like some quick painter covering a large canvas. I refer to the account of the assassination of President Lincoln, and to that of the scenes in Washington after the first battle of Bull Run. What may be called the mass-movement of Whitman's prose style—the rapid marshaling and grouping together of many facts and details, gathering up, and recruiting, and expanding as the sentences move along, till the force and momentum become like a rolling flood, or an army in echelon on the charge—is here displayed with wonderful effect.

Noting and studying what forces move the world, the only sane explanation that comes to me of the fact that such writing as these little volumes contain has not, in this country especially, met with its due recognition and approval, is that, like all Whitman's works, they have really never yet been published at all in the true sense,—have never entered the arena where the great laurels are won. They have been printed by the author, and a few readers have found them out, but to all intents and purposes they are unknown.

I have not dwelt on Whitman's personal circumstances, his age (he is now, 1877, entering his fifty-ninth year), paralysis, seclusion, and the treatment of him by certain portions of the literary classes, although these have all been made the subjects of wide discussion of late, both in America and Great Britain, and have, I think, a bearing under the circumstances on his character and genius. It is an unwritten tragedy that will doubtless always remain unwritten. I will but mention an eloquent appeal of the Scotch poet, Robert Buchanan, published in London in March, 1876, eulogizing and defending the American bard, in his old age, illness, and poverty, from the swarms of maligners who still continue to assail him. The appeal has this fine passage:—

He who wanders through the solitudes of far-off Uist or lonely Donegal may often behold the Golden Eagle sick to death, worn with age or famine, or with both, passing with weary waft of wing from promontory to promontory, from peak to peak, pursued by a crowd of rooks and crows, which fall back screaming whenever the noble bird turns his indignant head, and which follow frantically once more, hooting behind him, whenever he wends again upon his way.

Skipping many things I should yet like to touch upon,—for this paper is already too long,—I will say in conclusion that, if any reader of mine is moved by what I have here written to undertake the perusal of "Leaves of Grass," or the later volume, "Two Rivulets," let me yet warn him that he little suspects what is before him. Poetry in the Virgilian, Tennysonian, or Lowellian sense it certainly is not. Just as the living form of man in its ordinary garb is less beautiful (yet more beautiful) than the marble statue; just as the living woman and child that may have sat for the model is less beautiful (yet more so) than one of Raphael's finest Madonnas, or just as a forest of trees addresses itself less directly to the feeling of what is called art and form than the house or other edifice built from them; just as you, and the whole spirit of our current times, have been trained to feed on and enjoy, not Nature or Man, or the aboriginal forces, or the actual, but pictures, books, art, and the selected and refined,—just so these poems will doubtless first shock and disappoint you. Your admiration for the beautiful is never the feeling directly and chiefly addressed in them, but your love for the breathing flesh, the concrete reality, the moving forms and shows of the universe. A man reaches and moves you, not an artist. Doubtless, too, a certain withholding and repugnance has first to be overcome, analogous to a cold sea plunge; and it is not till you experience the reaction, the after-glow, and feel the swing and surge of the strong waves, that you know what Walt Whitman's pages really are. They don't give themselves at first,—like the real landscape and the sea, they are all indirections. You may have to try them many times; there is something of Nature's rudeness and forbiddingness, not only at the first, but probably always. But after you have mastered them by resigning yourself to them, there is nothing like them anywhere in literature for vital help and meaning. The poet says:—

The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections,
That scorn the best I can do to relate them.

And the press of your mind to these pages will certainly start new and countless problems that poetry and art have never before touched, and that afford a perpetual stimulus and delight.

It has been said that the object of poetry and the higher forms of literature is to escape from the tyranny of the real into the freedom of the ideal; but what is the ideal unless ballasted and weighted with the real? All these poems have a lofty ideal background; the great laws and harmonies stretch unerringly above them, and give their vista and perspective. It is because Whitman's ideal is clothed with rank materiality, as the soul is clothed with the carnal body, that his poems beget such warmth and desire in the mind, and are the reservoirs of so much power. No one can feel more than I how absolutely necessary it is that the facts of nature and experience be born again in the heart of the bard, and receive the baptism of the true fire before they be counted poetical; and I have no trouble on this score with the author of "Leaves of Grass." He never fails to ascend into spiritual meanings. Indeed, the spirituality of Walt Whitman is the chief fact after all, and dominates every page he has written.

Observe that this singer and artist makes no direct attempt to be poetical, any more than he does to be melodious or rhythmical. He approaches these qualities and results as it were from beneath, and always indirectly; they are drawn to him, not he to them; and if they appear absent from his page at first, it is because we have been looking for them in the customary places on the outside, where he never puts them, and have not yet penetrated the interiors. As many of the fowls hide their eggs by a sort of intuitive prudery and secretiveness, Whitman always half hides, or more than half hides, his thought, his glow, his magnetism, his most golden and orbic treasures.

Finally, as those men and women respect and love Walt Whitman best who have known him longest and closest personally, the same rule will apply to "Leaves of Grass" and the later volume, "Two Rivulets." It is indeed neither the first surface reading of those books, nor perhaps even the second or third, that will any more than prepare the student for the full assimilation of the poems. Like Nature, and like the Sciences, they suggest endless suites of chambers opening and expanding more and more and continually.

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