THERE WAS A CHILD WENT FORTH
PREFACE TO LEAVES OF GRASS
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon and received with wonder or
pity or love or dread, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of
the day . . . . or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morningglories, and white and red
clover, and the song of the phœbe-bird,
And the March-born lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the
mare's foal, and the cow's calf, and the noisy brood of the
barnyard or by the mire of the pondside . . and the fish
suspending themselves so curiously below there . . and the
beautiful curious liquid . . and the water-plants with their
graceful flat heads . . all became part of him.
And the field-sprouts of April and May became part of him . . .
wintergrain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and
of the esculent roots of the garden,
And the appletrees covered with blossoms, and the fruit afterward
. . . . and woodberries . . and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the outhouse of the
tavern whence he had lately risen,
And the schoolmistress that passed on her way to the school . .
and the friendly boys that passed . . and the quarrelsome boys
. . and the tidy and freshcheeked girls . . and the
barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country wherever he went.
His own parents . . he that had propelled the fatherstuff at night,
and fathered him . . and she that conceived him in her womb
and birthed him . . . . they gave this child more of themselves
They gave him afterward every day . . . . they and of them became
part of him.
The mother at home quietly placing the dishes on the suppertable,
The mother with mild words . . . . clean her cap and gown . . . .
a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she
The father, strong, selfsufficeint, manly, mean, angered, unjust,
The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure
The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture . . . .
the yearning and swelling heart,
Affection that will not be gainsayed . . . . The sense of what is
real . . . . the thought if after all it should prove unreal,
The doubts of daytime and the doubts of nighttime . . . . the
curious whether and how,
Whether that which appears so is so . . . . Or is it all flashes and specks?
Men and women crowding fast in the streets . . if they are not
flashes and specks what are they?
The streets themselves, and the facades of houses . . . . the goods
in the windows,
Vehicles . . teams . . the tiered wharves, and the huge crossing at
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset . . . . the
Shadows . . aureola and mist . . light falling on roofs and gables of
white or brown, three miles off,
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide . . the little
boat slacktowed astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves and quickbroken crests and slapping;
The strata of colored clouds . . . . the long bar of maroontint away
solitary by itself . . . . the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon's edge, the flying seacrow, the fragrance of saltmarsh
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and
who now goes and will always go forth every day,
And these become of him or her that peruses them now.
A MARCH IN THE RANKS HARD-PREST, AND THE ROAD UNKNOWN
This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others,
Hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
Have patience and indulgence toward the people.
Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
or to any man or number of men,
Go freely with powerful uneducated persons,
And with the young, and with the mothers or families.
Re-examine all you have been told
in school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem…
And have the richest fluency, not only in its words,
But in the silent lines of its lips and face,
And between the lashes of your eyes,
and In every motion and joint of your body.
A march in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown,
A route through a heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness,
Our army foil'd with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating,
Till after midnight glimmer upon us the lights of a dim-lighted building,
We come to an open space in the woods, and halt by the dim-lighted building,
'Tis a large old church at the crossing roads, now an impromptu hospital,
Entering but for a minute I see a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made,
Shadows of deepest, deepest black, just lit by moving candles and lamps,
And by one great pitchy torch stationary with wild red flame and clouds of smoke,
By these, crowds, groups of forms vaguely I see on the floor, some in the pews laid down,
At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding to death, (he is shot in the abdomen,)
I stanch the blood temporarily, (the youngster's face is white as a lily,)
Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o'er the scene fain to absorb it all,
Faces, varieties, postures beyond description, most in obscurity, some of them dead,
Surgeons operating, attendants holding lights, the smell of ether, the odor of blood,
The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms, the yard outside also fill'd,
Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the death-spasm sweating,
An occasional scream or cry, the doctor's shouted orders or calls,
The glisten of the little steel instruments catching the glint of the torches,
These I resume as I chant, I see again the forms, I smell the odor,
Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, fall in;
But first I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me,
Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,
Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,
The unknown road still marching.