Thanksgiving Poems: Walt Whitman

by Anna Blanch on November 22, 2010

This is the fifth in a series of Thanksgiving Poems in preparation for next week. Do you have a favourite thanksgiving poem?
The pure contralto sings in the organ loft
From Leaves of Grass
Walt Whitman 
1900

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft;
The carpenter dresses his plank—the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp;
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner;
The pilot seizes the king-pin—he heaves down with a strong arm;
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat—lance and harpoon are ready;
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches;
The deacons are ordain’d with cross’d hands at the altar;
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel;
The farmer stops by the bars, as he walks on a First-day loafe, and looks at the oats and rye;
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum, a confirm’d case,
(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother’s bed-room;)
The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case,
He turns his quid of tobacco, while his eyes blurr with the manuscript;
The malform’d limbs are tied to the surgeon’s table,
What is removed drops horribly in a pail;
The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand—the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove;
The machinist rolls up his sleeves—the policeman travels his beat—the gate-keeper marks who pass;
The young fellow drives the express-wagon—(I love him, though I do not know him;)
The half-breed straps on his light boots to complete in the race;
The western turkey-shooting draws old and young—some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs,
Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece;
The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee;
As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle;
The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the dancers bow to each other;
The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof’d garret, and harks to the musical rain;
The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron;
The squaw, wrapt in her yellow-hemm’d cloth, is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale;
The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways;
As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat, the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers;
The young sister holds out the skein, while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots;
The one-year wife is recovering and happy, having a week ago borne her first child;
The clean-hair’d Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine, or in the factory or mill;
The nine months’ gone is in the parturition chamber, her faintness and pains are advancing;
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer—the reporter’s lead flies swiftly over the note-book—the sign-painter is lettering with red and gold;
The canal boy trots on the tow-path—the book-keeper counts at his desk—the shoemaker waxes his thread;
The conductor beats time for the band, and all the performers follow him;
The child is baptized—the convert is making his first professions;
The regatta is spread on the bay—the race is begun—how the white sails sparkle!
The drover, watching his drove, sings out to them that would stray;
The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent;)
The camera and plate are prepared, the lady must sit for her daguerreotype;
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly;
The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open’d lips;
The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck;
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other;
(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths, nor jeer you;)
The President, holding a cabinet council, is surrounded by the Great Secretaries;
On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms;
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold;
The Missourian crosses the plains, toting his wares and his cattle;
As the fare-collector goes through the train, he gives notice by the jingling of loose change;
The floor-men are laying the floor—the tinners are tinning the roof—the masons are calling for mortar;
In single file, each shouldering his hod, pass onward the laborers;
Seasons pursuing each other, the indescribable crowd is gather’d—it is the Fourth of Seventh-month—(What salutes of cannon and small arms!)
Seasons pursuing each other, the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground;
Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface;
The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe;
Flatboatmen make fast, towards dusk, near the cottonwood or pekan-trees;
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river, or through those drain’d by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansaw;
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahoochee or Altamahaw;
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grandsons around them;
In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day’s sport;
The city sleeps, and the country sleeps;
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time;
The old husband sleeps by his wife, and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them;
And such as it is to be of these, more or less, I am.

Anna Blanch is founder of Goannatree, and a PhD candidate in the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at St Mary’s College, University of St Andrews, Scotland. She is also a regular contributor to Transpositions.

  • Chris

    …ah..now this genius….

  • Chris

    (I meant to say..)…ah…now this is genius…
    My recent post Life’s A Beach

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