The true American free man holds in reserve, forever, a stern power, which though it lie asleep for scores and fifties of years because no occasion compels it, must never be given up altogether. It is the iron arm of rebellion.
To supersede they who are in power, when it is the pleasure of these states, full provision is made,
And I say the time has arrived to use it with a strong hand.
Let every one answer! let those who sleep be waked! let none evade!
With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent shoots, we all duly awake,
Poem as in a rapt and prophetic vision—intimating the future of America:
As a strong bird on pinions free,
Such be the thought I’d think of thee America,
Thou too by pathways broad and new,
To the ideal tendest.
Beautiful world of new superber birth that rises to my eyes,
I watch thee advancing, absorbing the present, transcending the past,
Thee risen in potent cheerfulness and joy, in endless great hilarity,
A world primal again, vistas of glory incessant and branching,
Like a limitless golden cloud filling the western sky.
Think not our chant, our show, merely for products gross or lucre, to become a conqueror nation, or to achieve the glory of mere military, or diplomatic, or commercial superiority,
The meanings and maturer purposes of these states are not the constructing of a new world of politics merely, and physical comforts for the million.
A freer, vast, electric world, to be constructed here,
As of the building of some varied, vast, perpetual edifice—
First the duties of today, the lessons of the concrete,
Wealth, order, travel, shelter, products, plenty,
Whence to arise inevitable in time, the towering roofs, the lamps,
The true New World, the world of orbic science, morals, literatures to come,
The solid-planted spires tall shooting to the stars.
The true nationality of the states, the genuine Union, when we come to a mortal crisis, is, and is to be, after all, neither the written law, nor, (as is generally supposed,) either self-interest, or common pecuniary or material objects—but the fervid and tremendous idea, melting everything else with resistless heat, and solving all lesser and definite distinctions in vast, indefinite, spiritual, emotional power.
The main thing is the average, the bodily, the concrete, the democratic, the popular, on which all the superstructures of the future are to permanently rest;
The pride of the United States leaves the wealth and finesse of the cities and all returns of commerce and agriculture to become the grand producing land of nobler men and women, to enjoy the breed of full-sized men or one full-sized man, unconquerable and simple.
I announce as a glory of these states, that they respectfully listen to propositions, reforms, fresh views and doctrines, from successions of men and women, each age with its own growth.
The hour has come for democracy in America to inaugurate itself, to radiate in subtle ways, not only in art, but the practical and familiar—in the transactions between employers and employ’d persons, in business and wages, and sternly in the army and navy—and revolutionizing them.
America is at present a vast seething mass of varied material, human and other, but without fusion or definite heroic identity in form and purpose or organization, which can only come by native schools of great ideas—religion, poets, literature—and will surely come.
A modern image-making creation is indispensable to fuse and surmount the modern political and scientific creations, and to define and express America,
Comprehending and effusing for the men and women of the states, what is universal, native, common to all—
All those inimitable American areas fused in the alembic of a perfect poem, or other esthetic work, entirely western, fresh and limitless.
The true growth-characteristics of the democracy of the New World are henceforth to radiate in superior literary, artistic, and religious expressions, far more than in its republican forms, universal suffrage, and frequent elections (though these are unspeakably important—the heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself, the choosing, the main.)
Dead poets, philosophs, priests, artists, long since on other shores,
I dare not proceed till I respectfully credit what you have left wafted hither.
In religion and poetry the old Asiatic land dominates to this day, and will until the world shall rise to peaks still higher than the Hebrew Bible, the Ionian Iliad, and the great epics of India;
There is something in those sayings and doings that effuses directly from the soul,
They do not send it out at second hand, but fresh and alive,
I have perused it, own it is admirable,
Think nothing can ever deserve more than it deserves.
Regarding it all intently a long while, then dismissing it,
I stand in my place with my own day here.
We see London, Paris, Italy—second-hand here, where they do not belong—
Our road is our own.
But where, on her own soil, do we see, in any faithful, highest, proud expression, America herself?
I sometimes question whether she has a corner in her own house.
Who of all these swarms of writers and speakers courageously steps up to celebrate the savage and free genius of these states? I know not one. Days, years, pass by. They yet sleep.
Democracy has been hurried on through time by measureless tides and winds, resistless as the revolution of the globe, and as far-reaching and rapid. But in the highest walks of art it has not yet had a single representative worthy of it anywhere upon the earth.
Brain of the New World, what a task is thine,
To formulate the modern out of thyself,
Out of the peerless grandeur of the modern, the great esthetic, moral, scientific future,
The true revolutions, which are of the interior life, and of the arts, (of which the vulgar material and political present is but as the preparatory tuning of instruments by an orchestra,)
To recast poems, churches, art,
Recast, maybe discard them, end them—maybe their work is done, who knows?
The real and permanent grandeur of these states must be their religion,
A sublime and serious religious democracy sternly taking command,
A great moral and religious civilization—the only justification of a great material one.
I say that there is today little, perhaps no, religion—it is a matter of dress only—
Really, what has America to do with all this mummery of prayer and rituals and the rant of exhorters and priests?
The future religion of America must arise, outstripping all others, fit for live men,
No mean, fossil, second-hand, or atheistic religion will do.
The main test is: What reference has it to this divine aggregate, the people—
Free children of the states, aspiring to know and do greater things, sweeping on with the rest—with this universe, this globe, its mysterious miracles,
Inaugurating a New World, mental and spiritual, as much as any, rising glittering amid new combinations, more copious, more turbulent than earth’s preceding times.
I say that a religion which raises its house aloof, an exile, from those vast ranges of life in the great cities—which, to them, enters not, nor comprehends them, nor they it—is no religion for these athletic and living states;
Somewhere within their walls shall all that forwards perfect human life be started,
Tried, taught, advanced, visibly exhibited.
A picture of America as an immortal mother,
Surrounded by all her children, young and old,
She is neither youthful nor aged,
She is beautiful beyond the beauty of virginity.
(Make her picture, painters! And you, her statue, sculptors!
Try, age after age, till you achieve it!)
It is for thee, the soul in thee, electric, spiritual!
Thee in thy moral wealth and civilization, (until which thy proudest material civilization must remain in vain,)
Thee in thy all-supplying, all-enclosing worship—thee in no single bible, saviour, merely,
Thy saviours countless, latent within thyself, thy bibles incessant within thyself, equal to any, divine as any.
Religion needs rare combinations—sublime faculties, ecstatic, with inherent vision—to release the investigation and treatment of religion from all tyranny of authority, and throw it open to the investigation of great minds, as something which is not settled but has to be now taken up de novo.
Where may we procure them?
Call for new great masters—plenty of them, male and female—to comprehend new arts, new perfections, new wants.
There is nutriment here today for artist souls, great as humanity can know,
Derived from the general buoyancy and intensity of the spirit of life,
From the action of humanity in larger, far larger masses than ever before,
Impossible to resist, like the whirling of mighty winds, to be carried along by which is glorious.
I say there can be no salvation for these states without innovators—without free tongues, and ears willing to hear the tongues.
Of the traits of the brotherhood of writers, musicians, inventors, and artists nothing is finer than silent defiance advancing from new free forms,
Equals and mixers with the rest, springing from all trades and employments, from sailors and landsmen, from the city and the country,
Making the vaunted past but a support to their feet and so treading it under their feet.
Then you will not need to adopt the heirs of others,
You will have true heirs, begotten of yourself,
The aggregation of a cluster of mighty poets, artists, teachers, fit for us, national expressers,
Musicians, singers, artists, unborn yet, but certain.
O centuries, centuries yet ahead!
Here must arise the great poets and orators that all new centuries continually wait for.
It seems to me called for to inaugurate a revolution in American oratory.
A great leading representative man, with perfect power, perfect confidence in his power, persevering, ranging up and down the states—
Such a man, above all things, would give it a fair start.
O voices of greater orators and oratresses, so broad and spacious, launched out with fire!
I pause—I listen for you!
O for mightier broods of orators, artists, and singers!
You must become a force in the state, and a real and great force,
Just as real and great as the president and congress—greater than they,
To make a superb American intellect and character in any or all the states,
A mighty breed of male and female, represented no longer in their legislatures and executives, but represented better by their successions of poets, orators, musicians, philosophers.
I have dream’d out, hinted already—a little or a larger band—a band of brave and true, unprecedented yet—arm’d and equipt at every point—the members separated, it may be, by different dates and states, or south, or north, or east, or west——a year, a century here, and other centuries there—but always one, compact in soul, conscience-conserving, God-inculcating, inspired achievers in all art—a new, undying order, dynasty, from age to age transmitted—to produce such a public that great performances will not be received with noisy applause but as matters of course—
Poets, musicians, philosophers whom the rest of the world shall not deny, because their greatness shall accept the rest of the world as much as any, and incorporate it and send back all that it has sent to them with interest more than a thousand fold.
I see them already, there they stand—
Music, poems, dictionaries, biographies, essays—
How complete, how interfused, each easy in its place, no one supersedes the rest.
They seem to me like nature at last,
They seem to me like the sky with clouds, like trees with rustling leaves,
Like stretching waters with ships sailing on in the distance,
They seem to me at last as good as animals and as the rocks, earth, and weeds.
America has given rise to them, and I have also,
We all labor together transmitting the same charge and succession, indifferent of lands, indifferent of times.
We, enclosers of all continents, all castes, allowers of all theologies,
Compassionaters, perceivers, rapport of men,
We are reach’d at by divisions, jealousies, recriminations on every side,
Yet we walk unheld, free, the whole earth over, journeying up and down till we make our ineffaceable mark upon time and the diverse eras,
Till we saturate time and eras, that the men and women of races, ages to come, may prove brethren and lovers as we are.
NEXT: AMERICAN POETRY