The Return of the Heroes
by Walt Whitman
For the lands and for these passionate days and for myself,
Now I awhile retire to thee O soil of autumn fields,
Reclining on thy breast, giving myself to thee,
Answering the pulses of thy sane and equable heart,
Tuning a verse for thee.
O earth that hast no voice, confide to me a voice,
O harvest of my lands--O boundless summer growths,
O lavish brown parturient earth--O infinite teeming womb,
A song to narrate thee.
Ever upon this stage,
Is acted God's calm annual drama,
Gorgeous processions, songs of birds,
Sunrise that fullest feeds and freshens most the soul,
The heaving sea, the waves upon the shore, the musical, strong waves,
The woods, the stalwart trees, the slender, tapering trees,
The liliput countless armies of the grass,
The heat, the showers, the measureless pasturages,
The scenery of the snows, the winds' free orchestra,
The stretching light-hung roof of clouds, the clear cerulean and the
The high-dilating stars, the placid beckoning stars,
The moving flocks and herds, the plains and emerald meadows,
The shows of all the varied lands and all the growths and products.
Thou art all over set in births and joys!
Thou groan'st with riches, thy wealth clothes thee as a swathing
Thou laughest loud with ache of great possessions,
A myriad-twining life like interlacing vines binds all thy vast
As some huge ship freighted to water's edge thou ridest into port,
As rain falls from the heaven and vapours rise from the earth, so
have the precious values fallen upon thee and risen out of
Thou envy of the globe! thou miracle!
Thou, bathed, choked, swimming in plenty,
Thou lucky Mistress of the tranquil barns,
Thou Prairie Dame that sittest in the middle and lookest out upon thy
world, and lookest East and lookest West,
Dispensatress, that by a word givest a thousand miles, a million
farms, and missest nothing,
Thou all-acceptress--thou hospitable (thou only art hospitable as
God is hospitable).
When late I sang sad was my voice,
Sad were the shows around me with deafening noises of hatred and
smoke of war;
In the midst of the conflict, the heroes, I stood,
Or pass'd with slow step through the wounded and dying.
But now I sing not war,
Nor the measur'd march of soldiers, nor the tents of camps,
Nor the regiments hastily coming up deploying in line of battle;
No more the sad, unnatural shows of war.
Ask'd room those flush'd immortal ranks, the first forth-stepping
Ask room alas the ghastly ranks, the armies dread that follow'd.
(Pass, pass, ye proud brigades, with your tramping sinewy legs,
With your shoulders young and strong, with your knapsacks and your
How elate I stood and watch'd you, where starting off you march'd.
Pass--then rattle drums again,
For an army heaves in sight, O another gathering army,
Swarming, trailing on the rear, O you dread accruing army,
O you regiments so piteous, with your mortal diarrhoea, with your
O my land's maim'd darlings, with the plenteous bloody bandage and the
Lo, your pallid army follows.)
But on these days of brightness,
On the far-stretching beauteous landscape, the roads and lanes, the
high-piled farm-wagons, and the fruits and barns,
Should the dead intrude?
Ah the dead to me mar not, they fit well in Nature,
They fit very well in the landscape under the trees and grass,
And along the edge of the sky in the horizon's far margin.
Nor do I forget you Departed,
Nor in winter or summer my lost ones,
But most in the open air as now when my soul is rapt and at peace, like
Your memories rising glide silently by me.
I saw the day the return of the heroes,
(Yet the heroes never surpass'd shall never return,
Them that day I saw not).
I saw the interminable corps, I saw the processions of armies,
I saw them approaching, defiling by with divisions,
Streaming northward, their work done, camping awhile in clusters of
No holiday soldiers--youthful, yet veterans,
Worn, swart, handsome, strong, of the stock of homestead and workshop,
Harden'd of many a long campaign and sweaty march,
Inured on many a hard-fought bloody field.
A pause--the armies wait,
A million flush'd embattled conquerors wait,
The world too waits, then soft as breaking night and sure as dawn,
They melt, they disappear.
Exult O lands! victorious lands!
Not there your victory on those red shuddering fields,
But here and hence your victory.
Melt, melt away ye armies--disperse ye blue-clad soldiers,
Resolve ye back again, give up for good your deadly arms,
Other the arms the fields henceforth for you, or South or North,
With saner wars, sweet wars, life-giving wars.
Loud O my throat, and clear O soul!
The season of thanks and the voice of full-yielding,
The chant of joy and power for boundless fertility.
All till'd and untill'd fields expand before me,
I see the true arenas of my race, or first or last,
Man's innocent and strong arenas.
I see the heroes at other toils,
I see well-wielded in their hands the better weapons.
I see where the Mother of All,
With full-spanning eye gazes forth, dwells long,
And counts the varied gathering of the products.
Busy the far, the sunlit panorama,
Prairie, orchard, and yellow grain of the North,
Cotton and rice of the South and Louisianian cane,
Open unseeded fallows, rich fields of clover and timothy,
Kine and horses feeding, and droves of sheep and swine,
And many a stately river flowing and many a jocund brook,
And healthy uplands with herby-perfumed breezes,
And the good green grass, that delicate miracle the ever-recurring
Toil on heroes! harvest the products!
Not alone on those warlike fields the Mother of All,
With dilated form and lambent eyes watch'd you.
Toil on heroes! toil well! handle the weapons well!
The Mother of All, yet here as ever she watches you.
Well-pleased America thou beholdest,
Over the fields of the West those crawling monsters,
The human-divine inventions, the labour-saving implements;
Beholdest moving in every direction imbued as with life the revolving
The steam-power reaping-machines and the horse-power machines,
The engines, thrashers of grain and cleaners of grain, well
separating the straw, the nimble work of the patent pitchfork,
Beholdest the newer saw-mill, the southern cotton-gin, and the
Beneath thy look O Maternal,
With these and else and with their own strong hands the heroes harvest.
All gather and all harvest,
Yet but for thee O Powerful, not a scythe might swing as now in
Not a maize-stalk dangle as now its silken tassels in peace.
Under thee only they harvest, even but a wisp of hay under thy great
Harvest the wheat of Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, every barbed spear
Harvest the maize of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, each ear in its
Gather the hay to its myriad mows in the odorous tranquil barns,
Oats to their bins, the white potato, the buckwheat of Michigan, to
Gather the cotton in Mississippi or Alabama, dig and hoard the
golden the sweet potato of Georgia and the Carolinas,
Clip the wool of California or Pennsylvania,
Cut the flax in the Middle States, or hemp or tobacco in the Borders,
Pick the pea and the bean, or pull apples from the trees or bunches of
grapes from the vines,
Or aught that ripens in all these States or North or South,
Under the beaming sun and under thee.
|from The Patriotic Poems of Walt Whitman (1918)|
|Spirit Whose Work Is Done||When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd|