Poem of Joys
O TO make the most jubilant poem!
Even to set off these, and merge with these, the carols of Death.
O full of music! full of manhood, womanhood, infancy!
Full of common employments! full of grain and trees.
O for the voices of animals! O for the swiftness and balance of fishes!
O for the dropping of rain-drops in a poem!
O for the sunshine, and motion of waves in a poem.
O the joy of my spirit! it is uncaged! it darts like lightning!
It is not enough to have this globe, or a certain time—I will have thousands of
and all time.
O the engineer’s joys!
To go with a locomotive!
To hear the hiss of steam—the merry shriek—the steam-whistle—the laughing
To push with resistless way, and speed off in the distance.
O the gleesome saunter over fields and hill-sides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds—the moist fresh stillness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at day-break, and all through the forenoon.
O the horseman’s and horsewoman’s joys!
The saddle—the gallop—the pressure upon the seat—the cool gurgling by the
O the fireman’s joys!
I hear the alarm at dead of night,
I hear bells—shouts!—I pass the crowd—I run!
The sight of the flames maddens me with pleasure.
O the joy of the strong-brawn’d fighter, towering in the arena, in perfect condition,
conscious of power, thirsting to meet his opponent.
O the joy of that vast elemental sympathy which only the human Soul is capable of
and emitting in steady and limitless floods.
O the mother’s joys!
The watching—the endurance—the precious love—the anguish—the patiently
O the joy of increase, growth, recuperation;
The joy of soothing and pacifying—the joy of concord and harmony.
O to go back to the place where I was born!
To hear the birds sing once more!
To ramble about the house and barn, and over the fields, once more,
And through the orchard and along the old lanes once more.
O male and female!
O the presence of women! (I swear there is nothing more exquisite to me than the mere
O for the girl, my mate! O for the happiness with my mate!
O the young man as I pass! O I am sick after the friendship of him who, I fear, is
O the streets of cities!
The flitting faces—the expressions, eyes, feet, costumes! O I cannot tell how welcome
are to me.
O to have been brought up on bays, lagoons, creeks, or along the coast!
O to continue and be employ’d there all my life!
O the briny and damp smell—the shore—the salt weeds exposed at low water,
The work of fishermen—the work of the eel-fisher and clam-fisher.
O it is I!
I come with my clam-rake and spade! I come with my eel-spear;
Is the tide out? I join the group of clam-diggers on the flats,
I laugh and work with them—I joke at my work, like a mettlesome young man.
In winter I take my eel-basket and eel-spear and travel out on foot on the ice—I have
small axe to cut holes in the ice;
Behold me, well-clothed, going gaily, or returning in the afternoon—my brood of tough
My brood of grown and part-grown boys, who love to be with no one else so well as they
be with me,
By day to work with me, and by night to sleep with me.
Or, another time, in warm weather, out in a boat, to lift the lobster-pots, where they are
with heavy stones, (I know the buoys;)
O the sweetness of the Fifth-month morning upon the water, as I row, just before sunrise,
toward the buoys;
I pull the wicker pots up slantingly—the dark-green lobsters are desperate with their
claws, as I take them out—I insert wooden pegs in the joints of their pincers,
I go to all the places, one after another, and then row back to the shore,
There, in a huge kettle of boiling water, the lobsters shall be boil’d till their
Or, another time, mackerel-taking,
Voracious, mad for the hook, near the surface, they seem to fill the water for miles:
Or, another time, fishing for rock-fish, in Chesapeake Bay—I one of the brown-faced
Or, another time, trailing for blue-fish off Paumanok, I stand with braced body,
My left foot is on the gunwale—my right arm throws the coils of slender rope,
In sight around me the quick veering and darting of fifty skiffs, my companions.
O boating on the rivers!
The voyage down the Niagara, (the St.
Lawrence,)—the superb scenery—the
The ships sailing—the Thousand Islands—the occasional timber-raft, and the
with long-reaching sweep-oars,
The little huts on the rafts, and the stream of smoke when they cook their supper at
O something pernicious and dread!
Something far away from a puny and pious life!
Something unproved! Something in a trance!
Something escaped from the anchorage, and driving free.
O to work in mines, or forging iron!
Foundry casting—the foundry itself—the rude high roof—the ample and
The furnace—the hot liquid pour’d out and running.
O to resume the joys of the soldier:
To feel the presence of a brave general! to feel his sympathy!
To behold his calmness! to be warm’d in the rays of his smile!
To go to battle! to hear the bugles play, and the drums beat!
To hear the crash of artillery! to see the glittering of the bayonets and musket-barrels
To see men fall and die, and not complain!
To taste the savage taste of blood! to be so devilish!
To gloat so over the wounds and deaths of the enemy.
O the whaleman’s joys! O I cruise my old cruise again!
I feel the ship’s motion under me—I feel the Atlantic breezes fanning me,
I hear the cry again sent down from the mast-head—There—she blows!
—Again I spring up the rigging, to look with the rest—We see—we descend,
I leap in the lower’d boat—We row toward our prey, where he lies,
We approach, stealthy and silent—I see the mountainous mass, lethargic, basking,
I see the harpooneer standing up—I see the weapon dart from his vigorous arm:
O swift, again, now, far out in the ocean, the wounded whale, settling, running to
—Again I see him rise to breathe—We row close again,
I see a lance driven through his side, press’d deep, turn’d in the wound,
Again we back off—I see him settle again—the life is leaving him fast,
As he rises, he spouts blood—I see him swim in circles narrower and narrower, swiftly
cutting the water—I see him die;
He gives one convulsive leap in the centre of the circle, and then falls flat and still in
O the old manhood of me, my joy!
My children and grand-children—my white hair and beard,
My largeness, calmness, majesty, out of the long stretch of my life.
O the ripen’d joy of womanhood!
O perfect happiness at last!
I am more than eighty years of age—my hair, too, is pure white—I am the most
How clear is my mind! how all people draw nigh to me!
What attractions are these, beyond any before? what bloom, more than the bloom of youth?
What beauty is this that descends upon me, and rises out of me?
O the orator’s joys!
To inflate the chest—to roll the thunder of the voice out from the ribs and throat,
To make the people rage, weep, hate, desire, with yourself,
To lead America—to quell America with a great tongue.
O the joy of my soul leaning pois’d on itself—receiving identity through
and loving them—observing characters, and absorbing them;
O my soul, vibrated back to me, from them—from facts, sight, hearing, touch, my
phrenology, reason, articulation, comparison, memory, and the like;
The real life of my senses and flesh, transcending my senses and flesh;
My body, done with materials—my sight, done with my material eyes;
Proved to me this day, beyond cavil, that it is not my material eyes which finally see,
Nor my material body which finally loves, walks, laughs, shouts, embraces, procreates.
O the farmer’s joys!
Ohioan’s, Illinoisian’s, Wisconsinese’, Kanadian’s, Iowan’s,
Kansian’s, Missourian’s, Oregonese’ joys;
To rise at peep of day, and pass forth nimbly to work,
To plow land in the fall for winter-sown crops,
To plough land in the spring for maize,
To train orchards—to graft the trees—to gather apples in the fall.
O the pleasure with trees!
The orchard—the forest—the oak, cedar, pine, pekan-tree,
The honey-locust, black-walnut, cottonwood, and magnolia.
O Death! the voyage of Death!
The beautiful touch of Death, soothing and benumbing a few moments, for reasons;
Myself, discharging my excrementitious body, to be burn’d, or render’d to
My real body doubtless left to me for other spheres,
My voided body, nothing more to me, returning to the purifications, further offices,
uses of the earth.
O to bathe in the swimming-bath, or in a good place along shore!
To splash the water! to walk ankle-deep—to race naked along the shore.
O to realize space!
The plenteousness of all—that there are no bounds;
To emerge, and be of the sky—of the sun and moon, and the flying clouds, as one with
O the joy of a manly self-hood!
Personality—to be servile to none—to defer to none—not to any tyrant, known
To walk with erect carriage, a step springy and elastic,
To look with calm gaze, or with a flashing eye,
To speak with a full and sonorous voice, out of a broad chest,
To confront with your personality all the other personalities of the earth.
Know’st thou the excellent joys of youth?
Joys of the dear companions, and of the merry word, and laughing face?
Joys of the glad, light-beaming day—joy of the wide-breath’d games?
Joy of sweet music—joy of the lighted ball-room, and the dancers?
Joy of the friendly, plenteous dinner—the strong carouse, and drinking?
Yet, O my soul supreme!
Know’st thou the joys of pensive thought?
Joys of the free and lonesome heart—the tender, gloomy heart?
Joy of the solitary walk—the spirit bowed yet proud—the suffering and the
The agonistic throes, the extasies—joys of the solemn musings, day or night?
Joys of the thought of Death—the great spheres Time and Space?
Prophetic joys of better, loftier love’s ideals—the Divine Wife—the sweet,
eternal, perfect Comrade?
Joys all thine own, undying one—joys worthy thee, O Soul.
O, while I live, to be the ruler of life—not a slave,
To meet life as a powerful conqueror,
No fumes—no ennui—no more complaints, or scornful criticisms.
O me repellent and ugly!
To these proud laws of the air, the water, and the ground, proving my interior Soul
And nothing exterior shall ever take command of me.
O to attract by more than attraction!
How it is I know not—yet behold! the something which obeys none of the rest,
It is offensive, never defensive—yet how magnetic it draws.
O joy of suffering!
To struggle against great odds! to meet enemies undaunted!
To be entirely alone with them! to find how much one can stand!
To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, death, face to face!
To mount the scaffold! to advance to the muzzles of guns with perfect nonchalance!
To be indeed a God!
O, to sail to sea in a ship!
To leave this steady, unendurable land!
To leave the tiresome sameness of the streets, the sidewalks and the houses;
To leave you, O you solid motionless land, and entering a ship,
To sail, and sail, and sail!
O to have my life henceforth a poem of new joys!
To dance, clap hands, exult, shout, skip, leap, roll on, float on,
To be a sailor of the world, bound for all ports,
A ship itself, (see indeed these sails I spread to the sun and air,)
A swift and swelling ship, full of rich words—full of joys.
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