First to sound, and ever sound, the cry with thee O soul,
The past! the past! the past!
While the world of gain and appearance and mirth goes on,
So soon what is over forgotten, and waves wash the imprints off the sand.
Still there will come a time when nothing will be of more interest than authentic reminiscences of the past;
While memories subtly play, the past is vivid as ever,
(I warn you that in a little while others will find their past in you and your times.)
What is the present after all but a growth out of the past, the legitimate birth of the past,
As a projectile form’d, impell’d, passing a certain line, still keeps on,
So the present is utterly form’d, impell’d by the past—the dark unfathom’d retrospect—the teeming gulf—the sleepers and the shadows!
The countless years drawing themselves onward and arrived at these years,
Curious years each emerging from that which preceded it,
The many issuing cycles from their precedent minute.
Ages, precedents, have long been accumulating,
Each result and glory retracing itself and nestling close, always obligated,
As some perennial tree out of its roots, the present on the past.
What growth or advent is there that does not date back, back, until lost—perhaps its most tantalizing clues lost—in the receding horizons of the infinite greatness of the past?
No consummation exists without being from some long previous consummation, and that from some other,
Without the farthest conceivable one coming a bit nearer the beginning than any.
The best and most important part of history cannot be told. It eludes being examined or printed. It is above even dates and reliable information. By far the greatest part of the old statistics of history are only approaches to the truth and are often discrepant and suspicious—
The best poetry is the real history.
I look inward upon myself, I look around upon our own times, and how can I complain of the past?
Shall I denounce my own ancestry, the very ground under my feet that has been so long building?
I do not condemn either the past or the present,
Of present and past, I do not blame them for doing what they have done and are doing,
I know that they are and were what they could not but be,
I assert that all past days were what they must have been,
And that they could no-how have been better than they were,
And that today is what it must be, and that America is,
And that today and America could no-how be better.
What a nation likes is part of that nation, and what it dislikes is part of the same nation. Its politics and religion, whatever they are, are inevitable results of the days and events that have preceded the nation, just as much as the condition of the geology of that part of the earth is the result of former conditions.
Each of us is inevitable,
Slowly and surely we have passed on to this,
And slowly and surely we yet pass on.
NEXT: The Future