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(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

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1861

ARM’D year! year of the struggle!
No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you, terrible year!
Not you as some pale poetling, seated at a desk, lisping cadenzas
piano;
But as a strong man, erect, clothed in blue clothes, advancing,
carrying a rifle on your shoulder,
With well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands–with a knife in
the belt at your side,
As I heard you shouting loud–your sonorous voice ringing across the
continent;
Your masculine voice, O year, as rising amid the great cities,
Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you, as one of the workmen, the
dwellers in Manhattan;
Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois and
Indiana,
Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait, and descending the
Alleghanies;
Or down from the great lakes, or in Pennsylvania, or on deck along
the Ohio river;
Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers, or at
Chattanooga on the mountain top,
Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs, clothed in blue, bearing
weapons, robust year;
Heard your determin’d voice, launch’d forth again and again;
Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round-lipp’d cannon,
I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002
Edited: Saturday, October 01, 2011


Read poems about / on: river, sad, city, rose

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Comments about this poem (A Promise To California by Walt Whitman )

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  • Gajanan Mishra (3/28/2014 6:34:00 AM)

    very fine, I like it, thanks.

    0 person liked.
    1 person did not like.
  • Gajanan Mishra (3/28/2014 6:34:00 AM)

    very fine, I like it, thanks.

  • Walter White (1/4/2014 6:17:00 AM)

    In life is good times and bad times,1861 represents the latter.

  • Lydia Martin (10/1/2013 2:14:00 PM)

    Are we but pale poetlings dribbling chords of lost metaphors?

  • Kevin Straw (10/1/2012 1:07:00 PM)

    What a gay poem! Little Walt dreaming about all those tough sinewy men. Was this the decade when these warriors massacred hundreds of Indian men, women and children - when these heroes wrenched huge tracts of America off the rightful owners. nobly battling them using repeater rifles against their bows and arrows?

  • Carlos Echeverria (10/1/2012 10:47:00 AM)

    Whitman's protesting war without being didactic. Nicely done.

  • Karen Sinclair (10/1/2012 3:05:00 AM)

    The title eluded me so i had to google to find out the significance...... lines 3 and 4 are the most thought provoking.... it seems maybe he is not happy that he is unable to go to war, possibly aged and regretting the fact he must stay at home pale and as the cliche' goes armed with just a pen... he seems much in awe of those men in uniform.....interesting poem, some beautiful use of language and although i could never hope to write such a poetic piece there is just something missing for me here....tyvm karen

  • Ramesh T A (10/1/2010 12:55:00 PM)

    Historically significant situation Walt Whitman is best at expressing matters with his unique poetic skill!

  • Michael Harmon (10/2/2009 2:19:00 PM)

    I've always had mixed feelings about Whitman. I appreciate the fact that he's been canonized in American Poetry, but, aside from a few of his poems, I've never really liked his work (if ever given a choice between his poetry or, say, Dickinson's, I would invariably choose Dickinson) . He was a blatant self-advertiser in his lifetime, although he espoused much that I find admirable in his philosophy. Whether any war, however, is 'justified' or not is debatable. It has taken me decades to approach the belief that none really are, and that the 'call' to war is one of the horrible persistent traits the so-called 'masculine' among us seem so highly susceptible to. If this is an anti-war poem, please provide me with the evidence, and I'll gladly concede. Paraphrasing Siegfried Sassoon, that great WW1 English poet: war does not ennoble, it degrades. And this poem of Whitman's, despite any of its innovations and its politically-correct (for its time and place) philosophy, appears (to me, at least) to be glorifying war, yet again. Our 'masculine voice' indeed; give me any day the 'pale poetling' who desires not to kill...

  • Joseph Poewhit (10/1/2009 6:11:00 AM)

    1861 the beginning of the Civil War. Whitman captures the rugged character of the men of the time. Long forced marches,50 miles a day, give and take, to arrive at a battle zone, then to fight. Hard men, with the rawness of the country at the time and the CAUSES of the Civil War. Truly spirit and uplifting the words, a call.

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