Blogs > Cliopatria > Walt Whitman, “Election Day, November, 1884”.

Nov 4, 2008 5:42 pm


Walt Whitman, “Election Day, November, 1884”.



A friend sent me a Walt Whitman poem this morning. Honestly, it's not one of Whitman's great efforts. Still, when I was standing in line before 7 am, surrounded by people all focused on one duty, the majesty of this process, the way each small piece becomes part of a whole, did strike me. In that spirit, I reprint it below.

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,

'Twould not be you, Niagara--nor you, ye limitless prairies--nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,

Nor you, Yosemite--nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon's white cones--nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes--nor Mississippi's stream:

--This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name--the still small voice vibrating--America's choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen--the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)

The stretch of North and South arous'd--sea-board and inland--

Texas to Maine--the Prairie States--Vermont, Virginia, California,

The final ballot-shower from East to West--the paradox and conflict,

The countless snow-flakes falling--(a swordless conflict,

Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the peaceful choice of all,

Or good or ill humanity--welcoming the darker odds, the dross:

--Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify--while the heart pants, life glows:

These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,

Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

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