Walt Whitman: Poems

Drum Taps: Song of the Banner at Daybreak


O a new song, a free song,

Flapping, flapping, flapping, flapping, by sounds, by voices clearer,

By the wind's voice and that of the drum,

By the banner's voice, and child's voice, and sea's voice, and father's


Low on the ground and high in the air,

On the ground where father and child stand,

In the upward air where their eyes turn,

Where the banner at daybreak is flapping.

Words! book-words! what are you?

Words no more, for hearken and see,

My song is there in the open air--and I must sing,

With the banner and pennant a-flapping.

I'll weave the chord and twine in,

Man's desire and babe's desire--I'll twine them in, I'll put in life;

I'll put the bayonet's flashing point--I'll let bullets and slugs whizz;

I'll pour the verse with streams of blood, full of volition, full of joy;

Then loosen, launch forth, to go and compete,

With the banner and pennant a-flapping.


Come up here, bard, bard;

Come up here, soul, soul;

Come up here, dear little child,

To fly in the clouds and winds with us, and play with the measureless



Father, what is that in the sky beckoning to me with long finger?

And what does it say to me all the while?


Nothing, my babe, you see in the sky;

And nothing at all to you it says. But look you, my babe,

Look at these dazzling things in the houses, and see you the money-shops


And see you the vehicles preparing to crawl along the streets with goods:

These! ah, these! how valued and toiled for, these!

How envied by all the earth!


Fresh and rosy red, the sun is mounting high;

On floats the sea in distant blue, careering through its channels;

On floats the wind over the breast of the sea, setting in toward land;

The great steady wind from west and west-by-south,

Floating so buoyant, with milk-white foam on the waters.

But I am not the sea, nor the red sun;

I am not the wind, with girlish laughter;

Not the immense wind which strengthens--not the wind which lashes;

Not the spirit that ever lashes its own body to terror and death:

But I am of that which unseen comes and sings, sings, sings,

Which babbles in brooks and scoots in showers on the land;

Which the birds know in the woods, mornings and evenings,

And the shore-sands know, and the hissing wave, and that banner and


Aloft there flapping and flapping.


O father, it is alive--it is full of people--it has children!

O now it seems to me it is talking to its children!

I hear it--it talks to me--O it is wonderful!

O it stretches--it spreads and runs so fast! O my father,

It is so broad it covers the whole sky!


Cease, cease, my foolish babe,

What you are saying is sorrowful to me--much it displeases me;

Behold with the rest, again I say--behold not banners and pennants aloft;

But the well-prepared pavements behold--and mark the solid-walled houses.


Speak to the child, O bard, out of Manhattan;

Speak to our children all, or north or south of Manhattan,

Where our factory-engines hum, where our miners delve the ground,

Where our hoarse Niagara rumbles, where our prairie-ploughs are ploughing;

Speak, O bard! point this day, leaving all the rest, to us over all--and

yet we know not why;

For what are we, mere strips of cloth, profiting nothing,

Only flapping in the wind?


I hear and see not strips of cloth alone;

I hear the tramp of armies, I hear the challenging sentry;

I hear the jubilant shouts of millions of men--I hear LIBERTY!

I hear the drums beat, and the trumpets blowing;

I myself move abroad, swift-rising, flying then;

I use the wings of the land-bird, and use the wings of the sea-bird, and

look down as from a height.

I do not deny the precious results of peace--I see populous cities, with

wealth incalculable;

I see numberless farms--I see the farmers working in their fields or barns;

I see mechanics working--I see buildings everywhere founded, going up, or


I see trains of cars swiftly speeding along railroad tracks, drawn by the


I see the stores, depots, of Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans;

I see far in the west the immense area of grain--I dwell a while, hovering;

I pass to the lumber forests of the north, and again to the southern

plantation, and again to California;

Sweeping the whole, I see the countless profit, the busy gatherings, earned


See the identity formed out of thirty-six spacious and haughty States, (and

many more to come;)

See forts on the shores of harbours--see ships sailing in and out;

Then over all, (aye! aye!) my little and lengthened pennant shaped like a


Runs swiftly up, indicating war and defiance--And now the halyards have

raised it,

Side of my banner broad and blue--side of my starry banner,

Discarding peace over all the sea and land.


Yet louder, higher, stronger, bard! yet farther, wider cleave!

No longer let our children deem us riches and peace alone;

We can be terror and carnage also, and are so now.

Not now are we one of these spacious and haughty States, (nor any five, nor


Nor market nor depot are we, nor money-bank in the city;

But these, and all, and the brown and spreading land, and the mines below,

are ours;

And the shores of the sea are ours, and the rivers great and small;

And the fields they moisten are ours, and the crops, and the fruits are


Bays and channels, and ships sailing in and out, are ours--and we over all,

Over the area spread below, the three millions of square miles--the


The thirty-five millions of people--O bard! in life and death supreme,

We, even we, from this day flaunt out masterful, high up above,

Not for the present alone, for a thousand years, chanting through you

This song to the soul of one poor little child.


O my father, I like not the houses;

They will never to me be anything--nor do I like money!

But to mount up there I would like, O father dear--that banner I like;

That pennant I would be, and must be.


Child of mine, you fill me with anguish,

To be that pennant would be too fearful;

Little you know what it is this day, and henceforth for ever;

It is to gain nothing, but risk and defy everything;

Forward to stand in front of wars--and O, such wars!--what have you to do

with them?

With passions of demons, slaughter, premature death?


Demons and death then I sing;

Put in all, aye all, will I--sword-shaped pennant for war, and banner so

broad and blue,

And a pleasure new and ecstatic, and the prattled yearning of children,

Blent with the sounds of the peaceful land, and the liquid wash of the sea;

And the icy cool of the far, far north, with rustling cedars and pines;

And the whirr of drums, and the sound of soldiers marching, and the hot sun

shining south;

And the beach-waves combing over the beach on my eastern shore, and my

western shore the same;

And all between those shores, and my ever-running Mississippi, with bends

and chutes;

And my Illinois fields, and my Kansas fields, and my fields of Missouri;

The CONTINENT--devoting the whole identity, without reserving an atom,

Pour in! whelm that which asks, which sings, with all, and the yield of



Aye all! for ever, for all!

From sea to sea, north and south, east and west,

Fusing and holding, claiming, devouring the whole;

No more with tender lip, nor musical labial sound,

But out of the night emerging for good, our voice persuasive no more,

Croaking like crows here in the wind.


My limbs, my veins dilate;

The blood of the world has filled me full--my theme is clear at last.

--Banner so broad, advancing out of the night, I sing you haughty and


I burst through where I waited long, too long, deafened and blinded;

My sight, my hearing and tongue, are come to me, (a little child taught


I hear from above, O pennant of war, your ironical call and demand;

Insensate! insensate! yet I at any rate chant you, O banner!

Not houses of peace are you, nor any nor all their prosperity; if need be,

you shall have every one of those houses to destroy them;

You thought not to destroy those valuable houses, standing fast, full of

comfort, built with money;

May they stand fast, then? Not an hour, unless you, above them and all,

stand fast.

--O banner! not money so precious are you, nor farm produce you, nor the

material good nutriment,

Nor excellent stores, nor landed on wharves from the ships;

Not the superb ships, with sail-power or steam-power, fetching and carrying


Nor machinery, vehicles, trade, nor revenues,--But you, as henceforth I see


Running up out of the night, bringing your cluster of stars, ever-enlarging


Divider of daybreak you, cutting the air, touched by the sun, measuring the


Passionately seen and yearned for by one poor little child,

While others remain busy, or smartly talking, for ever teaching thrift,


O you up there! O pennant! where you undulate like a snake, hissing so


Out of reach--an idea only--yet furiously fought for, risking bloody

death--loved by me!

So loved! O you banner, leading the day, with stars brought from the night!

Valueless, object of eyes, over all and demanding all--O banner and


I too leave the rest--great as it is, it is nothing--houses, machines are

nothing--I see them not;

I see but you, O warlike pennant! O banner so broad, with stripes, I sing

you only,

Flapping up there in the wind.