February 22, 2011

Ah, not this granite, dead and cold!

On the birthday of George Washington, the aging Walt Whitman commemorated the completion of the famous obelisk monument to the first president in Washington, D.C. The poem that he wrote was published in the Philadelphia Free Press on February 22, 1885:

Ah, not this granite, dead and cold!
Far from its base and shaft expanding—the round zones circling, comprehending;
Thou, WASHINGTON, art all the worlds, the continent's entire—not yours alone, America;
Europe's as well, in every part, castle of lord or laborer's cot,
On frozen North, or sultry South—the Arab's in his tent—the African's;
Old Asia's there with venerable smile, seated amid her ruins;
(Greets the antique the hero new? 'tis but the same—the heir legitimate, continued ever,
The indomitable heart and arm—proofs of the never-broken line,
Courage, alertness, patience, faith, the same—e'en in defeat defeated not, the same:)
Wherever sails a ship, or house is built on land, or day or night,
Through teeming cities' streets, indoors or out, factories or farms,
Now, or to come, or past—where patriot wills existed or exist,
Wherever Freedom, poised by Toleration, swayed by Law,
Stands or is rising thy true monument.

Incidentally, Whitman's brother was named George Washington Whitman after the first president.

*Further reading: See the original pages where the poem was printed in the Free Press and the original manuscripts with Whitman's edits, both courtesy of the The Walt Whitman Archive. See also Jerome Loving's biography Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself.

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