America: An Unfinished Experiment


It is a rare thing in a man here to understand the states.
To my mind America, vast and fruitful as it appears today, is even yet, for its most important results, entirely in the tentative state.
I consider our American republic itself to be experimental.
America, in a sort of geological formation state, trying continually new experiments, counts for her justification and success (for who, as yet, dare claim success?) almost entirely on the future.

Do you think liberty and equality have now done with America?
That the work is finished, and the dwelling is henceforth secure?
No!

Others take finish, but America is not finished, perhaps never will be,
The republic is ever constructive and ever keeps vista.
Far, far, indeed, stretch, in distance, our vistas! How much is still to be disentangled, freed! 

Union always swarming with blatherers and always sure and impregnable,
The present holds thee not—for such vast growth as thine,
For such unparallel’d flight as thine, such brood as thine,
The future only holds thee and can hold thee.
Thou wonder world yet undefined, unform’d,
I do not undertake to define thee, hardly to comprehend thee,
How can I pierce the impenetrable blank of the future, that hidden-tangled problem of our fate, whose long unraveling stretches mysteriously through time?

No matter what stage of excellence and grandeur a nation has arrived to, it shall be but the start to further excellence and grandeur;
If it once settle down, placidly, content with what is, or with the past, it begins then to decay;
America is an illustration of it.
Few see the result—few have any faith in it,
Many desperately cling to the old age,
Yet continues the divine whirl, the conflict.
It is not events of danger and threatening storms that I dread;
Give us turbulence, give us excitement, give us the rage and disputes of hell,
Anything rather than this lethargy of death that spreads like a vapor of decaying corpses on our 
land—
Agitation, experiment, etc. must be a gain, one way or another, here in the U. S.

Though I think I fully comprehend the absence of moral tone in our current politics and business, I still do not share the depression and despair on the subject which I find possessing many good people;
1 do not so much alarm myself—though very painful and full of dismay—at the corruption in all public life. It is but an outlet and expression on the surface of something far deeper—namely in the blood.
I look on all such things exactly as I look on a cloudy and evil state of weather—
It is a natural results of things, a growth of something deeper, has its uses, and will hasten to exhaust itself and yield to something better.
We old stagers take things very coolly, and count on coming out all right in due time.

Nature sows countless seeds, makes incessantly crude attempts, thankful to get now and then something approximately good,
Yes, first steps, attempts, approaches—for must we not first creep, as a babe, even toward the grandest?
That there should be a good deal of waste land and many sterile spots, is an inherent necessity of the case—perhaps that the greater part should be waste.
The morbid facts of politics and society everywhere are but passing incidents and flanges of our unbounded impetus of growth,
Weeds, annuals, of the rank, rich soil—not central, enduring, perennial things,
Far, far greater through what they prelude and necessitate, and are to be in future.
Foams and ferments the wine? It serves to purify.

This common marvel I beheld—the parent thrush I watch’d feeding its young,
If worms, snakes, loathsome grubs, may to sweet spiritual songs be turn’d,
If vermin so transposed, so used and bless’d may be,
Then may I trust in you, your fortunes, days, my country.
American democracy’s stomach is fully strong enough not only to digest the morbific matter always presented, not to be turn’d aside, and perhaps, indeed, intuitively gravitating thither—but even to change such contributions into nutriment for highest use and life.

Mother, bend down, bend close to me your face,
Who knows but these may be the lessons fit for you?
I know not what these plots and wars and deferments are for,
I know not fruition’s success, but I know that through war and crime your work goes on, and must yet go on.
For you too, as for all lands, the struggle, the long postponement, the ceaseless need of revolutions, prophets, thunderstorms, deaths, births, new projections and invigorations of ideas and men;
From these your future song may rise with joyous trills.

While the surfaces of current society here show so much that is dismal, noisome, and vapory, with tremendous streaks of crudeness, and with deficiencies and faults arousing deepest anxiety, there are, beyond question, inexhaustible supplies, as of true gold ore, in the mines of America’s general humanity—all the elements, promise, and certainty of a democratic nationality on the largest scales and humanities en-masse such as have yet existed only in dreams.

Some colossal foundry, the flaming of the fire, the melted metal, the pounding trip-hammers, the surging crowds of workmen, the murky shadows, the rolling haze, the discord, the crudeness, the deafening din, the disorder, the dross and clouds of dust, the waste and extravagance of material—the mighty castings, many of them not yet fitted, perhaps delay’d long, yet each in its due time, with definite place and use and meaning—such is a symbol of America.

Now America is a divine true sketch,
The United States have emerged from nebulous vagueness and suspense, and are henceforth to enter upon their real history—
All the hitherto experience of the states has been but preparation, adolescence.

History is long, long, long.
America fully and fairly construed is the legitimate result and evolutionary outcome of the past;
The history of the United States, grandly developing, exfoliating, stretching through the future, is yet to be enacted,
Only to be written at the remove of hundreds, perhaps a thousand, years hence.
In nothing is there more evolution than the American mind,
As ever, all tends to followings—America, too, is a prophecy.

Of these years I sing,
How they pass through convulsed pains, fearful and varied and long-continued storm and stress stages, as through parturitions,
A conflict between the passions and paradoxes of one and the same identity.
Out of it we are born to real life and identity,
Perhaps the only terms on which that identity could really become fused, homogeneous and lasting,
(Strange, that battles, martyrs, agonies, blood, even assassination, should so condense—perhaps only really, lastingly condense—a nationality.)

Our American politics are in an unusually effervescent condition, with perhaps divers alarming and deadly portending shows and signals.
We, this age, pass through the terrible transitions to the new age,
We are now going through the parturition,
We sail a dangerous sea of seething currents, cross and under-currents, vortices—all so dark, untried—and whither shall we turn?
Are these two or three drops any sample of the storm that is cooking for us?
Is all then lost? Perhaps I shall see the crash.

Let others tremble and turn pale,
I welcome this menace—welcome the storm—welcome the trial—
Fall around, black clouds of death, I welcome thee with joy.
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails,
Now I shall see what the old ship is made of,
Now I shall know whether there is anything in you, Libertad,

I shall see how much you can stand,
(Anybody can sail with a fair wind, or a smooth sea.)

The storm shall dash thy face, the murk of war and worse than war shall cover thee all over,
In many a smiling mask death shall approach beguiling thee, thou in disease shalt swelter,
The livid cancer spread its hideous claws, clinging upon thy breasts, seeking to strike thee deep within,
Consumption of the worst, moral consumption, shall rouge thy face with hectic.
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
Thou shalt face thy fortunes, thy diseases, and surmount them all,
They each and all shall lift and pass away and cease from 
thee—
Justice, health, self-esteem, clear the way with irresistible power.

NEXT: AMERICA: EVIDENCE OF PROGRESS