I heard that you ask’d for something to define America, her athletic democracy,
Therefore I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted.
I have charged myself, heeded or unheeded, to compose a free march for these states,
Marches humanitarian to be exhilarating music to them, years, centuries hence.
Americanos! For you a programme of chants,
States! These! to hold you together as firmly as the earth itself is held together,
To show that we, here and today, are eligible to the grandest and the best.
Take my leaves America, take them south and take them north,
Surround them east and west, for they would surround you,
Make welcome for them everywhere, for they are your own offspring.
The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem, the amplest poem,
Composed of many contradictory parts, like the body, but one and indivisible.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else;
The American compact is altogether with individuals.
This is the breath for America, because it is my breath,
America isolated yet embodying all, what is it finally except myself?
These states, what are they except myself?
It is not America who is so great,
It is I who am great or to be great, it is you up there, or anyone.
O I see flashing that this America is only you and me,
Its Congress is you and me, the officers, capitols, are you and me,
Its ample geography, the sierras, the prairies, deserts, forests, are you and me,
Its power, weapons, armies, ships, wars, peace, are you and me,
Its inventions, science, schools, are you and me,
Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, are you and me,
The perpetual arrival of immigrants are you and me,
Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you and me,
Failures, successes, births, deaths, are you and me,
Natural and artificial are you and me,
The north, south, east, west, are you and me,
Past, present, future, are only you and me.
All I love America for, is contained in men and women like you,
Once more I proclaim the whole of America for each individual, without exception.
Plowing up in earnest the interminable average fallows of humanity is the justification and main purpose of these United States,
With radical and resistless power to assert the individual—
Raise a refuge strong and free for practical average use, for man and woman.
Our American superiority and vitality are in the bulk of our people, not in a gentry.
The people! the common bulk, the general average horde,
The best no sooner than the worst,
None excluded—not the ignorant, not roughs or laboring persons, even prostitutes.
I include all other American robust classes, too,
All characters, movements, growths, a few noticed, myriads unnoticed—
This is what America is for; to justify this is what she means; if not she means nothing.
The distinctive genius of the United States is always most in the common people, some invisible spine and great sympathetic to these states, resident only in the identity and character of average people—
In their practical life, their physiology, their emotions—their nebulous yet fiery patriotism—their manners, speech, dress, friendships—their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy—their curiosity and welcome of novelty—their deathless attachment to freedom—the picturesque looseness of their carriage—the gait they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors.
I want no more of these deferences to authority, this taking off of hats and saying Sir,
I want to encourage the spirit that does not know what it is to feel that it stands in the presence of superiors.
America! America! thee, ever thee, I sing,
Who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children en-masse really are?
I do not vaunt my love for you,
I have what I have.
NEXT: AMERICAN IDEALS