It is a strange mixed business, this life,
What whirls of evil, bliss, and sorrow,
Love, joy, hope, aspiration, expectation, hauteur, rejection, shame, leer, envy, scorn, contempt,
Like the parti-colored world itself—like infinite, teeming, mocking life!
Sitting in dark days,
Lone, sulky, through the time’s thick murk looking in vain for light, for hope,
From unsuspected parts breaks forth a lightning flash,
A fierce and momentary proof:
Ah poverties, wincings, and sulky retreats,
You degradations, you meannesses, you tussle with passions and appetites,
You broken resolutions, you racking angers, you smother’d ennuis!
Ah think not you finally triumph.
Before all my arrogant poems, amid all the blab whose echoes recoil upon me, the real me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d,
My real self has yet to come forth—
It shall yet march forth o’ermastering, till all lies beneath me,
It shall yet stand up the soldier of ultimate victory.
Did we think victory great?
So it is—but now it seems to me, when it cannot be help’d, that defeat is great,
And that death and dismay are great.
Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fail,
Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.
I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer’d and slain persons,
To those who’ve fail’d, in aspiration vast, I’d rear laurel-cover’d monument,
High, high above the rest—To all cut off before their time,
Possess’d by some strange spirit of fire,
Quench’d by an early death.
Vivas to those who have fail’d, and all overcome heroes,
E’en in defeat defeated not,
Aye in defeat most desperate, most glorious.
Enough that they’ve survived at all, long life’s unflinching ones!
Forth from their struggles, trials, fights, to have emerged at all—in that alone,
True conquerors o’er all the rest.
Is the deferment long? bitter the slander, poverty, death?
Lies the seed unreck’d for centuries in the ground? lo, to God’s due occasion,
Uprising in the night, it sprouts, blooms,
And fills the earth with use and beauty.
Have former armies fail’d? then we send fresh armies, and fresh again,
Life, life an endless march, an endless army—
Ever the undiscouraged, resolute, struggling soul of man.
O helpless soul of me!
Where you stand, surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, ceaselessly musing,
Venturing to explore the vacant vast surrounding, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
Yet O my soul supreme! Know’st thou the joys of pensive thought?
Joys of the solemn musings day or night?
Joys of the solitary walk, the spirit bow’d yet proud, the suffering and the struggle, the agonistic throes, the ecstasies?
Joys of the free and lonesome heart, the tender, gloomy heart?
(Manure the fields of the heart, for it brings great crops.)
‘Mid the ruins pride colossal stands unshaken to the last, endurance, resolution to the last.
My three-score years of life summ’d up, and more, and past,
By any grand ideal tried, intentionless, the whole a nothing,
And haply yet some drop within God’s scheme’s ensemble—
Some wave, or part of wave, like one of yours, ye multitudinous ocean.
Thou! thou! the vital, universal, giant force resistless, sleepless, calm,
Holding humanity as in thy open hand, as some ephemeral toy,
How ill to e’er forget thee!
For I too have forgotten,
(Wrapt in these little potencies of progress, politics, culture, wealth, inventions, civilization,)
Have lost my recognition of your silent ever-swaying power, ye mighty, elemental throes,
Of your tides, your swell and ebb, enclosing me the same.
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence,
Others will enjoy the pouring-in of the scallop-edg’d waves of the flood-tide,
The falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
Ebb, ocean of life, the flow will return,
Through death and waning day and the ebb’s depletion—life, light, and the inbound tides,
In which and upon which we float, and every one of us is buoy’d.
Down-hearted doubters dull and excluded—
How the flukes splash!
How they contort, rapid as lightning, with spasms, and spouts of blood!
Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who justify these restless explorations?
Be at peace bloody flukes of doubters and sullen mopers,
Possess your soul in patience—
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are picks its way.
I do not know what you are for,
(I do not know what I am for myself, nor what anything is for,)
But I will search carefully for it even in being foil’d.
In defeat, poverty, misconception, imprisonment, (for they too are great,)
Not doubt, not decease shall dare to lay finger upon you.
The past is the push of you, me, all, precisely the same,
And what is yet untried and afterward is for you, me, all, precisely the same,
I know it will prove sufficient and cannot fail.
It cannot fail the young man who died and was buried,
Nor the young woman who died and was put by his side,
Nor the little child that peep’d in at the door, and then drew back and was never seen again,
Nor the old man who has lived without purpose, and feels it with bitterness worse than gall,
Nor anything in the earth, or down in the oldest graves of the earth,
Nor the present, nor the least wisp that is known.
The perpetual successions of shallow people—the little plentiful manikins skipping around in collars and tail’d coats—are not nothing as they go,
They are positively not worms or fleas,
I am aware who they are, I acknowledge the duplicates of myself.
Features of my equals would you trick me with your creas’d and cadaverous march?
Well, you cannot trick me, I see ‘neath the rims of your haggard and mean disguises,
Splay and twist as you like, you’ll be unmuzzled, you certainly will.
The pert apparel, the deform’d attitude, drunkenness, greed, premature death, all these I part aside.
As the faces the masks appear,
I see behind each mask that wonder a kindred soul,
I see your rounded never-erased flow,
Yourself I see, great as any, good as the best.
The weakest and shallowest is deathless with me,
I shall look again in a score or two of ages,
And I shall meet the real landlord perfect and unharm’d, every inch as good as myself.
Me and mine, little corpses drifted at random,
Buoy’d hither from the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the swell,
Out of fathomless workings fermented and thrown;
The sepulchre and the white linen have yielded me up,
What I do and say the same waits for them,
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of nature,
Just as much whence we come that blare of the cloud-trumpets,
Scattering for good the cloud that hung so long, that weigh’d so long upon the mind of man,
The puzzle, the thrice-tied knot, the deep and dark pool, all untied and illumin’d!
That shadow my likeness that goes to and fro seeking a livelihood, chattering, chaffering,
How often I find myself standing and looking at it where it flits,
How often I question and doubt whether that is really me;
But among my lovers and caroling these songs,
O I never doubt whether that is really me.
The terrible doubt of appearances,
The uncertainty after all, that we may be deluded,
That maybe reliance and hope are but speculations after all,
That maybe identity beyond the grave is a beautiful fable only—
To me these and the like of these are curiously answer’d by my lovers, my dear friends.
When he whom I love travels with me or sits a long while holding me by the hand,
I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of identity beyond the grave,
But then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom,
I walk or sit indifferent, I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.