Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SONG OF THE BANNER AT DAY-BREAK, by WALT WHITMAN



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SONG OF THE BANNER AT DAY-BREAK, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O a new song, a free song
Last Line: Flapping up there in the wind.
Subject(s): Flags - United States; American Flag


Poet

O a new song, a free song,
Flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping, by sounds, by voices clearer,
By the wind's voice and that of the drum,
By the banner's voice and child's voice and sea's voice and
father's voice,
Low on the ground and high in the air,
On the ground where father and child stand,
In the upward air where their eyes turn,
Where the banner at daybreak is flapping.

Words! book-words! what are you?
Words no more, for hearken and see,
My song is there in the open air, and I must sing,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping.

I'll weave the chord and twine in,
Man's desire and babe's desire, I'll twine them in, I'll put in life,
I'll put the bayonet's flashing point, I'll let bullets and
slugs whizz,
(As one carrying a symbol and menace far into the future,
Crying with trumpet voice, Arouse and beware! Beware and arouse!)
I'll pour the verse with streams of blood, full of
volition, full of joy,
Then loosen, launch forth, to go and compete,
With the banner and pennant a-flapping.

Pennant

Come up here, bard, bard,
Come up here, soul, soul,
Come up here, dear little child,
To fly in the clouds and winds with me, and play with the
measureless light.

Child

Father what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?
And what does it say to me all the while?

Father

Nothing my babe you see in the sky,
And nothing at all to you it says -- but look you my babe,
Look at these dazzling things in the houses, and see you
the moneyshops opening,
And see you the vehicles preparing to crawl along the
streets with goods;
These, ah these, how valued and toil'd for these!
How envied by all the earth!

Poet

Fresh and rosy red the sun is mounting high,
On floats the sea in distant blue careering through its channels,
On floats the wind over the breast of the sea setting in toward land,
The great steady wind from west or west-by-south,
Floating so buoyant with milk-white foam on the waters.

But I am not the sea nor the red sun,
I am not the wind with girlish laughter,
Not the immense wind which strengthens, not the wind which lashes,
Not the spirit that ever lashes its own body to terror and death,
But I am that which unseen comes and sings, sings, sings,
Which babbles in brooks and scoots in showers on the land,
Which the birds know in the woods mornings and evenings,
And the shore-sands know and the hissing wave, and that
banner and pennant,
Aloft there flapping and flapping.

Child

O father it is alive -- it is full of people -- it has children,
O now it seems to me it is talking to its children,
I hear it -- it talks to me -- O it is wonderful!
O it stretches -- it spreads and runs so fast -- O my father,
It is so broad it covers the whole sky.

Father

Cease, cease, my foolish babe,
What you are saying is sorrowful to me, much it displeases me;
Behold with the rest again I say, behold not banners and
pennants aloft,
But the well-prepared pavements behold, and mark the
solid-wall'd houses.

Banner and Pennant

Speak to the child O bard out of Manhattan,
To our children all, or north or south of Manhattan,
Point this day, leaving all the rest, to us over all -- and
yet we know not why,
For what are we, mere strips of cloth profiting nothing,
Only flapping in the wind?

Poet

I hear and see not strips of cloth alone,
I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry,
I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men, I hear Liberty!
I hear the drums beat and the trumpets blowing,
I myself move abroad swift-rising flying then,
I use the wings of the land-bird and use the wings of the
sea-bird, and look down as from a height,
I do not deny the precious results of peace, I see populous
cities with wealth incalculable,
I see numberless farms, I see the farmers working in their
fields or barns,
I see mechanics working, I see buildings everywhere
founded, going up, or finish'd,
I see trains of cars swiftly speeding along railroad tracks
drawn by the locomotives,
I see the stores, depots, of Boston, Baltimore, Charleston,
New Orleans,
I see far in the West the immense area of grain, I dwell
awhile hovering,
I pass to the lumber forests of the North, and again to the
Southern plantation, and again to California;
Sweeping the whole I see the countless profit, the busy
gatherings, earn'd wages,
See the Identity formed out of thirty-eight spacious and
haughty States, (and many more to come,)
See forts on the shores of harbors, see ships sailing in and out;
Then over all, (aye! aye!) my little and lengthen'd pennant
shaped like a sword,
Runs swiftly up indicating war and defiance -- and now the
halyards have rais'd it,
Side of my banner broad and blue, side of my starry banner,
Discarding peace over all the sea and land.

Banner and Pennant

Yet louder, higher, stronger, bard! yet farther, wider cleave!
No longer let our children deem us riches and peace alone,
We may be terror and carnage, and are so now,
Not now are we any one of these spacious and haughty
States, (nor any five, nor ten,)
Nor market nor depot we, nor money-bank in the city,
But these and all, and the brown and spreading land, and
the mines below, are ours,
And the shores of the sea are ours, and the rivers great and small,
And the fields they moisten, and the crops and the fruits are ours,
Bays and channels and ships sailing in and out are ours --
while we over all,
Over the area spread below, the three or four millions of
square miles, the capitals,
The forty millions of people, -- O bard! in life and death supreme,
We, even we, henceforth flaunt out masterful, high up above,
Not for the present alone, for a thousand years chanting through you,
This song to the soul of one poor little child.

Child

O my father I like not the houses,
They will never to me be anything, nor do I like money,
But to mount up there I would like, O father dear, that banner I like,
That pennant I would be and must be.

Father

Child of mine you fill me with anguish,
To be that pennant would be too fearful,
Little you know what it is this day, and after this day forever,
It is to gain nothing, but risk and defy everything,
Forward to stand in front of wars -- and O, such wars! --
what have you to do with them?
With passions of demons, slaughter, premature death?

Banner

Demons and death then I sing,
Put in all, aye all will I, sword-shaped pennant for war,
And a pleasure new and ecstatic, and the prattled yearning
of children,
Blent with the sounds of the peaceful land and the liquid
wash of the sea,
And the black ships fighting on the sea envelop'd in smoke,
And the icy cool of the far, far north, with rustling
cedars and pines,
And the whirr of drums and the sound of soldiers marching,
and the hot sun shining south,
And the beach-waves combing over the beach on my Eastern
shore, and my Western shore the same,
And all between those shores, and my ever running
Mississippi with bends and chutes,
And my Illinois fields, and my Kansas fields, and my fields
of Missouri,
The Continent, devoting the whole identity without reserving an atom,
Pour in! whelm that which asks, which sings, with all and
the yield of all,
Fusing and holding, claiming, devouring the whole,
No more with tender lip, nor musical labial sound,
But out of the night emerging for good, our voice persuasive no more,
Croaking like crows here in the wind.

Poet

My limbs, my veins dilate, my theme is clear at last,
Banner so broad advancing out of the night, I sing you
haughty and resolute,
I burst through where I waited long, too long, deafen'd and blinded,
My hearing and tongue are come to me, (a little child taught me,)
I hear from above O pennant of war your ironical call and demand,
Insensate! insensate (yet I at any rate chant you,) O banner!
Not houses of peace indeed are you, nor any nor all their
prosperity, (if need be, you shall again have every
one of those houses to destroy them,
You thought not to destroy those valuable houses, standing
fast, full of comfort, built with money,
May they stand fast, then? not an hour except you above
them and all stand fast;)
O banner, not money so precious are you, not farm produce
you, nor the material good nutriment,
Nor excellent stores, nor landed on wharves from the ships,
Not the superb ships with sail-power or steam-power,
fetching and carrying cargoes,
Nor machinery, vehicles, trade, nor revenues -- but you as
henceforth I see you,
Running up out of the night, bringing your cluster of
stars, (ever-enlarging stars,)
Divider of daybreak you, cutting the air, touch'd by the
sun, measuring the sky,
(Passionately seen and yearn'd for by one poor little child,
While others remain busy or smartly talking, forever
teaching thrift, thrift;)
O you up there! O pennant! where you undulate like a snake
hissing so curious,
Out of reach, an idea only, yet furiously fought for,
risking bloody death, loved by me,
So loved -- O you banner leading the day with stars brought
from the night!
Valueless, object of eyes, over all and demanding all --
(absolute owner of all) -- O banner and pennant!
I too leave the rest -- great as it is, it is nothing --
houses, machines are nothing -- I see them not,
I see but you, O warlike pennant! O banner so broad, with
stripes, I sing you only,
Flapping up there in the wind.





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