Walt Whitman: Poems

Chants Democratic: Europe, The Seventy-Second and Seventy-Third Years of These States


Suddenly, out of its stale and drowsy lair, the lair of slaves,

Like lightning it leaped forth, half startled at itself,

Its feet upon the ashes and the rags--its hands tight to the throats of


O hope and faith!

O aching close of exiled patriots' lives!

O many a sickened heart!

Turn back unto this day, and make yourselves afresh.


And you, paid to defile the People! you liars, mark!

Not for numberless agonies, murders, lusts,

For court thieving in its manifold mean forms, worming from his simplicity

the poor man's wages,

For many a promise sworn by royal lips, and broken, and laughed at in the


Then in their power, not for all these did the blows strike revenge, or the

heads of the nobles fall;

The People scorned the ferocity of kings.


But the sweetness of mercy brewed bitter destruction, and the frightened

rulers come back;

Each comes in state with his train--hangman, priest, tax-gatherer,

Soldier, lawyer, lord, jailer, and sycophant.


Yet behind all, lowering, stealing--lo, a Shape,

Vague as the night, draped interminably, head, front, and form, in scarlet


Whose face and eyes none may see:

Out of its robes only this--the red robes, lifted by the arm--

One finger crooked, pointed high over the top, like the head of a snake



Meanwhile, corpses lie in new-made graves--bloody corpses of young men;

The rope of the gibbet hangs heavily, the bullets of princes are flying,

the creatures of power laugh aloud,

And all these things bear fruits--and they are good.

Those corpses of young men,

Those martyrs that hang from the gibbets--those hearts pierced by the grey


Cold and motionless as they seem, live elsewhere with unslaughtered


They live in other young men, O kings!

They live in brothers, again ready to defy you!

They were purified by death--they were taught and exalted.

Not a grave of the murdered for freedom but grows seed for freedom, in its

turn to bear seed,

Which the winds carry afar and resow, and the rains and the snows nourish.

Not a disembodied spirit can the weapons of tyrants let loose,

But it stalks invisibly over the earth, whispering, counselling,



Liberty! let others despair of you! I never despair of you.

Is the house shut? Is the master away?

Nevertheless, be ready--be not weary of watching:

He will soon return--his messengers come anon.

[Footnote 1: The years 1848 and 1849.]