Leaves of Grass

(1855 Edition)

by Walt Whitman

A Boston Ballad

Clear the way there Jonathan!
Way for the President's marshal! Way for the government cannon!
Way for the federal foot and dragoons . . . . and the phantoms afterward.

I rose this morning early to get betimes in Boston town;
Here's a good place at the corner . . . . I must stand and see the show.

I love to look on the stars and stripes . . . . I hope the fifes will play Yankee Doodle.

How bright shine the foremost with cutlasses,
Every man holds his revolver . . . . marching stiff through Boston town.

A fog follows . . . . antiques of the same come limping,
Some appear wooden-legged and some appear bandaged and bloodless.

Why this is a show! It has called the dead out of the earth,
The old graveyards of the hills have hurried to see;
Uncountable phantoms gather by flank and rear of it,
Cocked hats of mothy mould and crutches made of mist,
Arms in slings and old men leaning on young men's shoulders.

What troubles you, Yankee phantoms? What is all this chattering of bare gums?
Does the ague convulse your limbs? Do you mistake your crutches for firelocks, and level them?

If you blind your eyes with tears you will not see the President's marshal,
If you groan such groans you might balk the government cannon.

For shame old maniacs! . . . . Bring down those tossed arms, and let your white hair be;
Here gape your smart grandsons . . . . their wives gaze at them from the windows,
See how well-dressed . . . . see how orderly they conduct themselves.

Worse and worse . . . . Can't you stand it? Are you retreating?
Is this hour with the living too dead for you?

Retreat then! Pell-mell! . . . . Back to the hills, old limpers!
I do not think you belong here anyhow.
But there is one thing that belongs here . . . . Shall I tell you what it is, gentlemen of Boston?

I will whisper it to the Mayor . . . . he shall send a committee to England,
They shall get a grant from the Parliament, and go with a cart to the royal vault,
Dig out King George's coffin . . . . unwrap him quick from the graveclothes . . . . box up his bones for a journey:
Find a swift Yankee clipper . . . . here is freight for you blackbellied clipper,
Up with your anchor! shake out your sails! . . . . steer straight toward Boston bay.

Now call the President's marshal again, and bring out the government cannon,
And fetch home the roarers from Congress, and make another procession and guard it with foot and dragoons.

Here is a centrepiece for them:
Look! all orderly citizens . . . . look from the windows women.

The committee open the box and set up the regal ribs and glue those that will not stay,
And clap the skull on top of the ribs, and clap a crown on top of the skull.

You have got your revenge old buster! . . . . The crown is come to its own and more than its own.

Stick your hands in your pockets Jonathan . . . . you are a made man from this day,
You are mighty cute . . . . and here is one of your bargains.

Next: There Was a Child Went Forth

Monadnock Valley Press > Whitman > Leaves (1855)