Poets Walk: "I listened"

Poets Walk: "I listened"

Location: Band A-B on the Poet's Walk map


By the Blue Ontario by Walt Whitman


Passages of this poem were assembled and ordered for Poet's Walk by Rochester poet William Heyen, who served as first poet-in-residence at Walt Whitman's birthplace on Long Island, years ago, and has read at his Camden deathplace.

I listened to the Phantom by Ontario's shore,

I heard the voice arising demanding bards,

By them all native and grand, by them alone can these States be fused

            into the compact organism of a Nation.

To hold men together by paper and seal or by compulsion is no account,

That only holds men together which aggregates all in a living principle,

            as the hold of the limbs of the body or the fibres of plants.

Of all races and eras these States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets,

            and are to have the greatest, and use them the greatest,

Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall….

For the great Idea, the idea of perfect and free individuals,

For that, the bard walks in advance, leader of leaders,

The attitude of him cheers up slaves and horrifies foreign despots….

I have loved the earth, sun, animals, I have despised riches,

I have given alms to every one that ask'd, stood up for the stupid and crazy,

            devoted my income and labor to others,

Hated tyrants, argued not concerning God, had patience and indulgence

            toward the people, taken off my hat to nothing known or unknown,

Gone freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young, and with

            the mothers of families,

Read these leaves to myself in the open air, tried them by trees, stars, rivers,

Dismiss'd whatever insulted my own soul or defiled my body,

Claim'd nothing to myself which I have not carefully claim'd for others

            on the same terms….

Underneath all, individuals,

I swear nothing is good to me now that ignores individuals,

The American compact is altogether with individuals,

The only government is that which makes minute of individuals,

The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly to one single individual—

            namely, to You….

O I see flashing that this America is only you and me,

Its power, weapons, testimony, are you and me,

Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections, are you and me,

Its Congress is you and me, the officers, capitols, armies, ships, are you and me,

Its endless gestations of new States are you and me, …

Freedom, language, poems, employments, are you and me,

Past, present, future, are you and me….

Thus, by blue Ontario's shore….