Poetry, Nature, and Science

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica on the side of a rock has,
I will have purposes as health or heat or snow have and be as regardless of observation.
Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

Nature, true nature, and the true idea of nature, long absent, must, above all, become fully restored, enlarged, and must furnish the pervading atmosphere to poems.

I have attempted to construct a poem on the open principles of nature,
My poems when complete should be a unity, in the same sense that the earth is, or that the human body, or that a perfect musical composition is.
Not the best laid out garden or parterre has been my model—never a garden with regular beds, and walks, and a marble fountain—but nature has been,
(The gardens are well represented in poetry, while nature little if at all.)
I do not mean the smooth walks, trimm’d hedges, poseys and nightingales, but the whole orb, with its geologic history, the kosmos,
The stretching landscape and distant sky, the rushing river or briny sea, the forest wild-wood at twilight—the waving oaks and cedars in the wind, and the impalpable odor
.

Never before have we so thoroughly had man in the open air, confronting, and a part of, nature and the seasons, and so squarely adjusted to the sun by day, the stars by night, and affiliated to their own spirit, as in these poems;
The singular problems of the subjectiveness of man in the objectiveness of the universe—so near, and yet so far—
Whitman unhesitatingly grapples with and solves them as far as they are capable of solution.

Between this beautiful but dumb earth, with all its manifold eloquent but inarticulate shows and objects,
And on the other part the being man, curious, questioning,
The full-grown poet came.
Out spake pleased nature (the round impassive globe, with all its shows of day and night,) saying, He is mine;
But out spake too the soul of man, proud, jealous and unreconciled, Nay he is mine alone.
The full-grown poet stood between the two, and took each by the hand,
And to-day and ever so stands, as blender, uniter, tightly holding hands,
Which he will never release until he reconciles the two,
And wholly and joyously blends them.
Nature and man shall be disjoin’d and diffused no more,
The true son of God shall absolutely fuse them.

The visions of poets will, now and ever, so link and tally the rational physical being of man, with the ensembles of time and space, and with this vast and multiform show, nature, surrounding him, ever tantalizing him, equally a part, and yet not a part of him, as to essentially harmonize, satisfy, and put at rest.

Perfume this book of mine O blood-red roses!
Give me of you O spring, before I close, to put between its pages!
O deathless grass, of you!
O for the dropping of raindrops in a song!
O for the sunshine and motion of waves in a song!

Had I the choice to tally greatest bards, O sea, all these I’d gladly barter,
Would you the undulation of one wave, its trick to me transfer,
Or breathe one breath of yours upon my verse,
And leave its odor there.
Crook-tongued waves! O, I will yet sing, some day, what you have said to me.

My book—the divine volume, the new Bible, full of life, infolding all life—ought to emanate buoyancy and gladness legitimately enough, for it was grown out of those elements,
 If the book does not contain exhaustively within itself, and forever emanate when read, the atmosphere of normal joy and exhilaration which enveloped the making of every page, it will be a failure in the most important respect.
Fortunately there is the original inexhaustible fund of buoyancy, normally resident in the race, forever eligible to be appeal’d to and relied on.
The pages may carry ray of sun, or smell of grass or corn, or call of bird, or gleam of stars by night, or snowflakes falling fresh and mystic, to denizen of heated city house, or tired workman or workwoman—or maybe in sick-room or prison—to serve as cooling breeze, or nature’s aroma, to some fever’d mouth or latent pulse.

Lo! keen-eyed towering science,
As from tall peaks the modern overlooking,
Successive absolute fiats issuing.
Exact science and its practical movements are no checks on the greatest poet but always his encouragement and support,
The outset and remembrance are there,
There the arms that lifted him first and brace him best.

There shall be love between the poet and the man of demonstrable science,
The words of poems are henceforth the tuft and final applause of the concrete realities and theories of the universe furnish’d by science, and henceforth the only irrefragable basis for anything,
Science, the final critic of all, has the casting vote for future poetry.

Imagination and actuality must be united,
Blending the real and ideal, and each made portion of the other,
The genius of the modern, singing the great achievements of the present,
Child of the real and ideal.

Fear not O muse! truly new ways and days receive, surround you,
A better, fresher, busier sphere, a wide, untried domain awaits, demands you.
She comes! I, my friends, can plainly see her,
I mark her step divine, her curious eyes a-turning, rolling,
Upon this very scene.
Vigorously clearing a path for herself, striding through the confusion,
By thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle undismay’d,
Bluff’d not a bit by drain-pipe, gasometers, artificial fertilizers,
Smiling and pleas’d with palpable intent to stay,
She’s here, install’d amid the kitchen ware!

Who, so ever-youthful, ‘cute and handsome, would wish to stay in mansions,
When offer’d quarters with all the modern improvements—
Our modern wonders, the labor-saving implements,
The great achievements of the present, the human-divine inventions, the strong light works of engineers—
With all the fun that’s going—and all the best
society,
All for the modern—all for the average man of today.

The real poems of the present must vocalize the vastness and splendor and reality with which scientism has invested man and the universe, and must henceforth launch humanity into new orbits, consonant with that vastness, splendor, and reality—
The old, old urge,
From science and the modern still impell’d,
Based on the ancient pinnacles, lo, newer, higher pinnacles,
Like new systems of orbs, balanced upon themselves, revolving in limitless space, more subtle than the stars.

The true use for the imaginative faculty of modern times is to give ultimate vivification to facts, to common lives, and to science,
Endowing them with the glows and glories and final illustriousness which belong to every real thing, and to real things only—
For there is another truth than the literal
truth.
(Less the reminders of properties told my words,
And more the reminders they of life untold, and of freedom and extrication.)

The highest and subtlest and broadest truths of modern science wait for their true assignment, and last vivid flashes of light,
Without that ultimate vivification—which the poet or other artist alone can give—reality would seem incomplete, and science, democracy, and life itself, finally in vain.
Modern science and democracy seem’d to be throwing out their challenge to poetry to put them in its statements in contradistinction to the songs and myths of the past. As I see it now I have unwittingly taken up that challenge and made an attempt at such statements.

Some great coming poet will absorb whatever science indicates, with spiritualism, and out of them will compose the great poem of death; Death, the future, the invisible faith, shall all be convey’d,
For song, issuing from its birth-place, after fulfilment, wandering, duly with love returns,
A voice triumphant, justifying all, bridging the way from life to death.
Then will man indeed confront nature, and confront time and space, both with science, and con amore, and take his right place, prepared for life, master of fortune and misfortune. And then that which was long wanted will be supplied, and the ship that had it not before in all her voyages, will have an anchor.

NEXT: THE LIMITS OF POETRY