The kernel of every object that can be seen or felt or thought of has its relation to the soul, and is significant of something there;
Only the kernel of every object nourishes.
Where is he who tears off all husks for you and me?
Where is he that undoes envelopes and stratagems of concealment for you and me?
Where is the develop’d soul, which has the quality to strike and to unclose?
The maker of poems, the answerer, he pierces the crusts that envelope the secrets of life,
What can be answer’d he answers—
The answer that waited thousands of years, easily understood after all—
And what cannot be answer’d he shows how it cannot be.
His brain is the ultimate brain, the glory and extract thus far of things and of the human race,
Having attained those insights and contents which the universe gives to men capable of comprehending it, he would publish the same, and persuade other men and women to the same.
I answer for him that answers for all, I tell the signs of the answerer:
Rare has the day been, likewise the spot, of the birth of the maker of poems, the answerer,
Vast and rare is the day, and divine is the place,
Not every century nor every five centuries contains such a day, nor does every nation hold such a place.
Only at last after many years, after chastity, friendship, procreation, prudence, and nakedness,
After treading ground and breasting river and lake,
After absorbing eras, temperaments, races, after knowledge, freedom, crimes,
After complete faith, after clarifyings, elevations, and removing obstructions,
After these and more, it is just possible there comes to a man or woman the divine power to speak words,
Curious envelop’d messages delivering, that embody the rude materials of the people and give them the best forms for the place and time,
Sparkles hot, seed ethereal down in the dirt dropping,
To ages and ages yet the growth of the seed leaving.
Toward that man or that woman swiftly hasten all,
Him all wait for, him all yield up to,
Him they accept, in him lave, in him perceive themselves as amid light,
Him they immerse and he immerses them.
None refuse, all attend, looking always toward the poet,
He has the pass-key of hearts,
To him the response of the prying of hands on the knobs.
The poet’s welcome is universal,
Having room for far and near, near and far are for him,
The flow of beauty is not more welcome or universal than he is.
Whoever he looks at in the traveler’s coffee-house claims him,
No matter what the work is, that he is the one to follow it or has follow’d it,
No matter what the nation, that he might find his brothers and sisters there.
He drinks up quickly all terms, all languages, and meanings,
To his curbless and bottomless powers, they be like ponds of rain water to the migrating herds of buffalo,
See! he has only passed this way, and they are drained dry.
Yet is no poet dear to a people unless he be of them and of the spirit of them,
His spirit surrounding his country’s spirit.
It is not that he gives his country great poems; it is that he gives his country the spirit which makes the greatest poems and the greatest material for poems,
And his spirit responds to his country’s spirit—a growth of the soil, the water, the climate, the age, the government, the religion, the leading characteristics,
Of them, standing among them, incarnating this land,
Making its cities, beginnings, events, diversities, wars, vocal in him,
Hanging on its neck with incomparable love,
Attracting it body and soul to himself, unclosed to good and evil,
Plunging his seminal muscle into its merits and demerits.
The poet is the equable man, he is the arbiter of the diverse, he is the key,
He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportions, neither more nor less,
He is the joiner—he sees how they join—
The great translator and joiner of the whole is the poet.
He has the divine grammar of all tongues,
He supplies what wants supplying and checks what wants checking,
He is the equalizer of his age and land.
The maker of poems settles justice, reality, immortality;
He builds, as it were, an impregnable and lofty tower overlooking all—the citadel of the primary volitions, the soul, the ever-reserved right of a deathless individuality—and these he occupies and dwells, and thence makes observations and issues verdicts.
His words shed light to the best souls; they do not admit of argument,
He is no arguer, he is judgment,
He judges not as the judge judges but as the sun falling round a helpless thing,
His word is decisive and final, arrogant, fluent, severe.
The great poet submits only to himself;
Many trouble themselves about conforming to laws,
A great poet is followed by laws—they conform to him,
Nature accepts him absolutely.
The master knows the earth’s words and uses them more than audible words,
Uses things—lilies, clouds, sunshine—poured copiously, things whirled like chain-shot rocks.
Out of the theory of the earth and of his or her body, he understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of large politics.
He resolves all tongues into his own and bestows it upon men;
He can make every word he speaks draw blood,
Make words stab, bleed, weep, rage, sing, dance, kiss, do the male and female act, bear children, or do anything that man or woman or the natural powers can do—
From each word, as from a womb, spring babes that shall grow to giants and beget superber breeds upon the earth.
It shall be the glory of the greatest master to make perfect compositions in words—
To make a perfect composition in words is more than to make the best building or machine, or the best statue or picture.
Words as solid as timbers, stone, iron, brick, glass, planks,
They exude in power and beauty from him—miracles from his hands—miracles from his mouth,
Recitative out of the miracles around you, the miracles of every day,
Vague and vast suggestions of the boundless vista and the horizon far and dim;
Of this broad and majestic universe, all in the visible world, and much in the greater world invisible, is owned by the poet,
He concentres in the real body and soul, and in the pleasure of things,
He possesses the superiority of genuineness over fiction and romance.
The rare, cosmical artist-mind, lit with the infinite, alone confronts his manifold and oceanic qualities,
His insight and power encircle things and the human race.
The great masters accept evil as well as good, ignorance as well as erudition, foreign-born materials as well as home-born, reject none, force discrepancies into range, surround the whole, concentrate them on present periods and places, show the application to each and anyone’s body and soul, and show the true use of precedents.
Without effort and without exposing in the least how it is done, the greatest poet brings the spirit of any or all events and passions and scenes and persons, some more and some less, to bear on your individual character as you hear or read.
A great work of a great poet is not remembered for its parts, but remembered as you remember the complete person and spirit of him or her you love. You cannot define too clearly what it is you love in a man or woman, or in a poem.
The great poet never stagnates;
Surrounding the essences of real things, old times and present times,
To him enter the essences of the real things and past and present events.
He says to the past, Rise and walk before me that I may realize you,
He drags the dead out of their coffins and stands them again on their feet.
The direct trial of him who would be the greatest poet is today—
He places his own times, reminiscences, parents, brothers and sisters, associations, employment, politics, so that the rest never shame them afterward, nor assume to command them.
The time straying toward infidelity and confections and persiflage he withholds by his steady faith.
He puts today out of himself with plasticity and love,
Forms the consistence of what is to be, from what has been and is,
Sees the solid and beautiful forms of the future where there are now no solid forms,
Places himself where the future becomes present—uniter of here and hereafter.
The prescient poet projects himself centuries ahead and judges performer or performance after the changes of time,
Does it live through them? Does it still hold on untired?
Have the marches of tens and hundreds and thousands of years made willing detours to the right hand and the left hand for his sake?
Is he beloved long and long after he is buried?
Does the young man think often of him? and the young woman think often of him? and do the middleaged and the old think of him?
As he sees the farthest he has the most faith,
In the dispute on God and eternity he is silent.
He sees eternity less like a play with a prologue and denouement,
He sees eternity in men and women—he does not see men and women as dreams or dots—
If he does not flood himself with the immediate age as with vast oceanic tides, and if he be not himself the age transfigured, if to him is not opened eternity, let him merge in the general run and wait his development.
The greatest poet does not moralize or make applications of morals, he knows the soul.
Folks expect him to indicate the path between reality and their souls,
He answers at last the craving and glut of the soul, until the boundless and unspeakable capacities of that mystery, the human soul, should be filled to the uttermost, and the problem of human cravingness be satisfied and destroyed.
Books, friendships, philosophers, priests, action, pleasure, pride, beat up and down seeking to give satisfaction,
He indicates the satisfaction, and indicates them that beat up and down also.
He absorbs the identity of others and the experiences of others,
But he presses them all through the powerful press of himself.
The insulter, the prostitute, the angry person, the beggar, see themselves in the ways of him, he strangely transmutes them,
They are not vile any more, they hardly know themselves they are so grown.
If he breathes into anything that was before thought small it dilates with the grandeur and life of the universe.
What the eyesight does to the rest he does to the rest,
Looking with friendly eyes upon the earth and men,
Eye to pierce the deepest deeps and sweep the world!
What the sun and sky do to the senses,
What the landscape and waters, hills, free vistas to the eye,
He has done to the soul.
NEXT: The Great Poet’s Character