'Song Of The Exposition' by Walt Whitman

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AFTER all, not to create only, or found only,
But to bring, perhaps from afar, what is already founded,
To give it our own identity, average, limitless, free;
To fill the gross, the torpid bulk with vital religious fire;
Not to repel or destroy, so much as accept, fuse, rehabilitate;
To obey, as well as command--to follow, more than to lead;
These also are the lessons of our New World;
--While how little the New, after all--how much the Old, Old World!

Long, long, long, has the grass been growing,
Long and long has the rain been falling,10
Long has the globe been rolling round.

Come, Muse, migrate from Greece and Ionia;
Cross out, please, those immensely overpaid accounts,
That matter of Troy, and Achilles' wrath, and Eneas', Odysseus'
Placard "Removed" and "To Let" on the rocks of your snowy Parnassus;
Repeat at Jerusalem--place the notice high on Jaffa's gate, and on
Mount Moriah;
The same on the walls of your Gothic European Cathedrals, and German,
French and Spanish Castles;
For know a better, fresher, busier sphere--a wide, untried domain
awaits, demands you.

Responsive to our summons,
Or rather to her long-nurs'd inclination,20
Join'd with an irresistible, natural gravitation,

She comes! this famous Female--as was indeed to be expected;
(For who, so-ever youthful, 'cute and handsome, would wish to stay in
mansions such as those,
When offer'd quarters with all the modern improvements,
With all the fun that 's going--and all the best society?)

She comes! I hear the rustling of her gown;
I scent the odor of her breath's delicious fragrance;
I mark her step divine--her curious eyes a-turning, rolling,
Upon this very scene.

The Dame of Dames! can I believe, then,30
Those ancient temples classic, and castles strong and feudalistic,
could none of them restrain her?
Nor shades of Virgil and Dante--nor myriad memories, poems, old
associations, magnetize and hold on to her?
But that she 's left them all--and here?

Yes, if you will allow me to say so,
I, my friends, if you do not, can plainly see Her,
The same Undying Soul of Earth's, activity's, beauty's, heroism's
Out from her evolutions hither come--submerged the strata of her
former themes,
Hidden and cover'd by to-day's--foundation of to-day's;
Ended, deceas'd, through time, her voice by Castaly's fountain;
Silent through time the broken-lipp'd Sphynx in Egypt--silent those
century-baffling tombs;40
Closed for aye the epics of Asia's, Europe's helmeted warriors;
Calliope's call for ever closed--Clio, Melpomene, Thalia closed and
Seal'd the stately rhythmus of Una and Oriana--ended the quest of the
Holy Graal;
Jerusalem a handful of ashes blown by the wind--extinct;
The Crusaders' streams of shadowy, midnight troops, sped with the
Amadis, Tancred, utterly gone--Charlemagne, Roland, Oliver gone,
Palmerin, ogre, departed--vanish'd the turrets that Usk reflected,
Arthur vanish'd with all his knights--Merlin and Lancelot and
Galahad--all gone--dissolv'd utterly, like an exhalation;
Pass'd! pass'd! for us, for ever pass'd! that once so mighty World--
now void, inanimate, phantom World!

Embroider'd, dazzling World! with all its gorgeous legends, myths, 50
Its kings and barons proud--its priests, and warlike lords, and
courtly dames;
Pass'd to its charnel vault--laid on the shelf--coffin'd, with Crown
and Armor on,
Blazon'd with Shakspeare's purple page,
And dirged by Tennyson's sweet sad rhyme.

I say I see, my friends, if you do not, the Animus of all that World,
Escaped, bequeath'd, vital, fugacious as ever, leaving those dead
remains, and now this spot approaching, filling;
--And I can hear what maybe you do not--a terrible aesthetical
With howling, desperate gulp of "flower" and "bower,"
With "Sonnet to Matilda's Eyebrow" quite, quite frantic;
With gushing, sentimental reading circles turn'd to ice or stone;60
With many a squeak, (in metre choice,) from Boston, New York,
Philadelphia, London;
As she, the illustrious Emigré, (having, it is true, in her day,
although the same, changed, journey'd considerable,)
Making directly for this rendezvous--vigorously clearing a path for
herself--striding through the confusion,
By thud of machinery and shrill steam-whistle undismay'd,
Bluff'd not a bit by drain-pipe, gasometers, artificial fertilizers,
Smiling and pleased, with palpable intent to stay,
She 's here, install'd amid the kitchen ware!

But hold--don't I forget my manners?
To introduce the Stranger (what else indeed have I come for?) to
thee, Columbia:
In Liberty's name, welcome, Immortal! clasp hands,70
And ever henceforth Sisters dear be both.

Fear not, O Muse! truly new ways and days receive, surround you,
(I candidly confess, a queer, queer race, of novel fashion,)
And yet the same old human race--the same within, without,
Faces and hearts the same--feelings the same--yearnings the same,
The same old love--beauty and use the same.

We do not blame thee, Elder World--nor separate ourselves from thee:
(Would the Son separate himself from the Father?)
Looking back on thee--seeing thee to thy duties, grandeurs, through
past ages bending, building,
We build to ours to-day.80

Mightier than Egypt's tombs,
Fairer than Grecia's, Roma's temples,
Prouder than Milan's statued, spired Cathedral,
More picturesque than Rhenish castle-keeps,
We plan, even now, to raise, beyond them all,
Thy great Cathedral, sacred Industry--no tomb,
A Keep for life for practical Invention.

As in a waking vision,
E'en while I chant, I see it rise--I scan and prophesy outside and
Its manifold ensemble.90

Around a Palace,
Loftier, fairer, ampler than any yet,
Earth's modern Wonder, History's Seven outstripping,
High rising tier on tier, with glass and iron façades.

Gladdening the sun and sky--enhued in cheerfulest hues,
Bronze, lilac, robin's-egg, marine and crimson,
Over whose golden roof shall flaunt, beneath thy banner, Freedom,
The banners of The States, the flags of every land,
A brood of lofty, fair, but lesser Palaces shall cluster.

Somewhere within the walls of all,100
Shall all that forwards perfect human life be started,
Tried, taught, advanced, visibly exhibited.

Here shall you trace in flowing operation,
In every state of practical, busy movement,
The rills of Civilization.

Materials here, under your eye, shall change their shape, as if by
The cotton shall be pick'd almost in the very field,
Shall be dried, clean'd, ginn'd, baled, spun into thread and cloth,
before you:
You shall see hands at work at all the old processes, and all the new
You shall see the various grains, and how flour is made, and then
bread baked by the bakers;110
You shall see the crude ores of California and Nevada passing on and
on till they become bullion;
You shall watch how the printer sets type, and learn what a composing
stick is;
You shall mark, in amazement, the Hoe press whirling its cylinders,
shedding the printed leaves steady and fast:
The photograph, model, watch, pin, nail, shall be created before you.

In large calm halls, a stately Museum shall teach you the infinite,
solemn lessons of Minerals;
In another, woods, plants, Vegetation shall be illustrated--in
another Animals, animal life and development.

One stately house shall be the Music House;
Others for other Arts--Learning, the Sciences, shall all be here;
None shall be slighted--none but shall here be honor'd, help'd,

This, this and these, America, shall be your Pyramids and
Your Alexandrian Pharos, gardens of Babylon,
Your temple at Olympia.

The male and female many laboring not,
Shall ever here confront the laboring many,
With precious benefits to both--glory to all,
To thee, America--and thee, Eternal Muse.

And here shall ye inhabit, Powerful Matrons!
In your vast state, vaster than all the old;
Echoed through long, long centuries to come,
To sound of different, prouder songs, with stronger themes,130
Practical, peaceful life--the people's life--the People themselves,
Lifted, illumin'd, bathed in peace--elate, secure in peace.

Away with themes of war! away with War itself!
Hence from my shuddering sight, to never more return, that show of
blacken'd, mutilated corpses!
That hell unpent, and raid of blood--fit for wild tigers, or for lop-
tongued wolves--not reasoning men!
And in its stead speed Industry's campaigns!
With thy undaunted armies, Engineering!
Thy pennants, Labor, loosen'd to the breeze!
Thy bugles sounding loud and clear!

Away with old romance!140
Away with novels, plots, and plays of foreign courts!
Away with love-verses, sugar'd in rhyme--the intrigues, amours of
Fitted for only banquets of the night, where dancers to late music
The unhealthy pleasures, extravagant dissipations of the few,
With perfumes, heat and wine, beneath the dazzling chandeliers.

To you, ye Reverent, sane Sisters,
To this resplendent day, the present scene,
These eyes and ears that like some broad parterre bloom up around,
before me,
I raise a voice for far superber themes for poets and for Art,
To exalt the present and the real,150
To teach the average man the glory of his daily walk and trade,
To sing, in songs, how exercise and chemical life are never to be
Boldly to thee, America, to-day! and thee, Immortal Muse!
To practical, manual work, for each and all--to plough, hoe, dig,
To plant and tend the tree, the berry, the vegetables, flowers,
For every man to see to it that he really do something--for every
woman too;
To use the hammer, and the saw, (rip or cross-cut,)
To cultivate a turn for carpentering, plastering, painting,
To work as tailor, tailoress, nurse, hostler, porter,
To invent a little--something ingenious--to aid the washing, cooking,
And hold it no disgrace to take a hand at them themselves.

I say I bring thee, Muse, to-day and here,
All occupations, duties broad and close,
Toil, healthy toil and sweat, endless, without cessation,
The old, old general burdens, interests, joys,
The family, parentage, childhood, husband and wife,
The house-comforts--the house itself, and all its belongings,
Food and its preservations--chemistry applied to it;
Whatever forms the average, strong, complete, sweet-blooded Man or
Woman--the perfect, longeve Personality,
And helps its present life to health and happiness--and shapes its
For the eternal Real Life to come.

With latest materials, works,
Steam-power, the great Express lines, gas, petroleum,
These triumphs of our time, the Atlantic's delicate cable,
The Pacific Railroad, the Suez canal, the Mont Cenis tunnel;
Science advanced, in grandeur and reality, analyzing every thing,
This world all spann'd with iron rails--with lines of steamships
threading every sea,
Our own Rondure, the current globe I bring.

And thou, high-towering One--America!
Thy swarm of offspring towering high--yet higher thee, above all
With Victory on thy left, and at thy right hand Law;
Thou Union, holding all--fusing, absorbing, tolerating all,
Thee, ever thee, I bring.

Thou--also thou, a world!
With all thy wide geographies, manifold, different, distant,
Rounding by thee in One--one common orbic language,
One common indivisible destiny and Union.

And by the spells which ye vouchsafe,
To those, your ministers in earnest,
I here personify and call my themes,190
To make them pass before ye.

Behold, America! (And thou, ineffable Guest and Sister!)
For thee come trooping up thy waters and thy lands:
Behold! thy fields and farms, thy far-off woods and mountains,
As in procession coming.

Behold! the sea itself!
And on its limitless, heaving breast, thy ships:
See! where their white sails, bellying in the wind, speckle the green
and blue!
See! thy steamers coming and going, steaming in or out of port!
See! dusky and undulating, their long pennants of smoke!200

Behold, in Oregon, far in the north and west,
Or in Maine, far in the north and east, thy cheerful axemen,
Wielding all day their axes!

Behold, on the lakes, thy pilots at their wheels--thy oarsmen!
Behold how the ash writhes under those muscular arms!

There by the furnace, and there by the anvil,
Behold thy sturdy blacksmiths, swinging their sledges;
Overhand so steady--overhand they turn and fall, with joyous clank,
Like a tumult of laughter.

Behold! (for still the procession moves,)210
Behold, Mother of All, thy countless sailors, boatmen, coasters!
The myriads of thy young and old mechanics!
Mark--mark the spirit of invention everywhere--thy rapid patents,
Thy continual workshops, foundries, risen or rising;
See, from their chimneys, how the tall flame-fires stream!

Mark, thy interminable farms, North, South,
Thy wealthy Daughter-States, Eastern, and Western,
The varied products of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Georgia, Texas,
and the rest;
Thy limitless crops--grass, wheat, sugar, corn, rice, hemp, hops,
Thy barns all fill'd--thy endless freight-trains, and thy bulging
The grapes that ripen on thy vines--the apples in thy orchards,
Thy incalculable lumber, beef, pork, potatoes--thy coal--thy gold and
The inexhaustible iron in thy mines.

All thine, O sacred Union!
Ship, farm, shop, barns, factories, mines,
City and State--North, South, item and aggregate,
We dedicate, dread Mother, all to thee!

Protectress absolute, thou! Bulwark of all!
For well we know that while thou givest each and all, (generous as
Without thee, neither all nor each, nor land, home,230
Ship, nor mine--nor any here, this day, secure,
Nor aught, nor any day secure.

And thou, thy Emblem, waving over all!
Delicate beauty! a word to thee, (it may be salutary;)
Remember, thou hast not always been, as here to-day, so comfortably
In other scenes than these have I observ'd thee, flag;
Not quite so trim and whole, and freshly blooming, in folds of
stainless silk;
But I have seen thee, bunting, to tatters torn, upon thy splinter'd
Or clutch'd to some young color-bearer's breast, with desperate
Savagely struggled for, for life or death--fought over long,240
'Mid cannon's thunder-crash, and many a curse, and groan and yell--
and rifle-volleys cracking sharp,
And moving masses, as wild demons surging--and lives as nothing
For thy mere remnant, grimed with dirt and smoke, and sopp'd in
For sake of that, my beauty--and that thou might'st dally, as now,
secure up there,
Many a good man have I seen go under.

Now here, and these, and hence, in peace all thine, O Flag!
And here, and hence, for thee, O universal Muse! and thou for them!
And here and hence, O Union, all the work and workmen thine!
The poets, women, sailors, soldiers, farmers, miners, students thine!
None separate from Thee--henceforth one only, we and Thou;250
(For the blood of the children--what is it only the blood Maternal?
And lives and works--what are they all at last except the roads to
Faith and Death?)

While we rehearse our measureless wealth, it is for thee, dear
We own it all and several to-day indissoluble in Thee;
--Think not our chant, our show, merely for products gross, or
lucre--it is for Thee, the Soul, electric, spiritual!
Our farms, inventions, crops, we own in Thee! Cities and States in
Our freedom all in Thee! our very lives in Thee!

Editor 1 Interpretation

Song of the Exposition by Walt Whitman: A Celebration of Progress and Humanity

Have you ever encountered a piece of literature that speaks to you in a way that transcends time and space? That's how I feel whenever I read Walt Whitman's Song of the Exposition. Written in 1889 for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, this poem is a celebration of humanity's achievements and progress, as well as a call for unity and brotherhood.

In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, I will explore the themes, style, and symbolism of Song of the Exposition, and show how Whitman's words still resonate with us today.

Background and Context

Before we dive into the poem itself, let's set the context for Whitman's work. The World's Columbian Exposition was a world's fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World. It was a grand event that showcased the latest technological, scientific, and cultural achievements of the time, and attracted millions of visitors from around the world.

Whitman, who was in his seventies at the time, was invited to write a poem for the exposition. He had already established himself as one of America's greatest poets, with works such as Leaves of Grass and Drum-Taps, which celebrated the beauty and vitality of the American people and landscape, as well as the horrors of the Civil War.

For Song of the Exposition, Whitman drew on his previous works and his own experiences to create a hymn to progress and humanity. The poem was read at the opening ceremonies of the exposition, and was well-received by the audience.

Themes and Motifs

Let's start with the themes and motifs of Song of the Exposition. One of the main themes of the poem is progress, both in terms of technology and culture. Whitman marvels at the achievements of modern civilization, from the steam engine to the telegraph, and sees them as signs of humanity's ingenuity and creativity.

But for Whitman, progress is not just about material things. He also celebrates the progress of culture and ideas, of the human mind and soul. He sees the world's fair as a place where people can come together and exchange their knowledge and experiences, and where the best of humanity can be showcased and appreciated.

Another theme of the poem is unity and brotherhood. Whitman sees the world's fair as a way to bring people from different countries and cultures together, to break down barriers and prejudices, and to create a sense of common humanity. He calls for a "federation of the world" and sees the fair as a step towards a more peaceful and just world.

The motifs of Song of the Exposition are also worth exploring. One of the most prominent motifs is that of the journey, both physical and metaphorical. Whitman sees the world's fair as a journey of discovery and wonder, where people can explore new ideas and technologies, and where they can learn from each other.

He also uses the motif of the circle, which symbolizes unity and wholeness. The fairgrounds are described as a "ring of pleasure", and Whitman sees the world's fair as a way to "link the lands of the earth" and create a sense of community.

Finally, the motif of the breath is also present in the poem. Whitman often uses the word "breath" to symbolize life and vitality, and sees the world's fair as a place where people can breathe in the fresh air of progress and hope.

Style and Language

Now let's turn to the style and language of Song of the Exposition. Whitman's style is often described as free verse, which means that he does not follow a strict rhyme or meter scheme. Instead, he uses long, flowing lines that capture the rhythm of natural speech, and that allow him to express his ideas and feelings in a more flexible and organic way.

This style is well-suited to the themes and motifs of the poem, as it creates a sense of movement and flow, and allows Whitman to explore the different facets of progress and unity. At times, his sentences can be long and complex, but they are always grounded in a sense of wonder and awe.

Whitman's language is also noteworthy for its simplicity and directness. He uses everyday words and phrases that are easy to understand, and that create a sense of intimacy and connection with the reader. He also uses repetition and parallelism to create a sense of rhythm and emphasis, and to reinforce his themes and motifs.

For example, in the opening lines of the poem, he repeats the phrase "city of the world" three times, to emphasize the global scope of the exposition, and to create a sense of excitement and anticipation:

City of the world! (for all races are here,)
City of the world! (for all the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the world! (faced by the other cities of the world,)
Fiery, lavish, and daring—(what do you hear, see,?)

This repetition also creates a sense of unity and brotherhood, as it suggests that all the people of the world are coming together in one place, to share their talents and ideas.

Symbolism and Imagery

The last aspect of Song of the Exposition that I want to explore is its symbolism and imagery. Whitman uses a variety of symbols and images to express his ideas and feelings, and to create a sense of visual and emotional impact.

One of the most striking images in the poem is that of the "corridor of human life". Whitman describes the fairgrounds as a place where people can walk through a "corridor of human life", and see the different stages and aspects of human existence. This image is powerful because it suggests that the world's fair is not just a celebration of progress and technology, but also of humanity itself, with all its joys and sorrows.

Another powerful symbol in the poem is that of the "electric telegraph". Whitman sees the telegraph as a symbol of human communication and connection, and as a way to break down the barriers between people and cultures. He describes it as a "nervous thread" that "binds all lands together", and suggests that it can help create a sense of global community.

Finally, I want to mention the image of the "sea of booths". Whitman uses this image to describe the many pavilions and exhibits at the world's fair, and to suggest that they are like waves on a vast, restless sea. This image is powerful because it captures the energy and excitement of the fair, and suggests that it is a place of constant movement and change.


In conclusion, Walt Whitman's Song of the Exposition is a powerful and inspiring poem that celebrates the achievements of modern civilization, and calls for unity and brotherhood among all people. Through its themes, motifs, style, language, and symbolism, the poem captures the spirit of the World's Columbian Exposition, and creates a sense of wonder and awe that still resonates with us today.

As I read this poem, I cannot help but feel a sense of hope and optimism, and a belief in the power of human progress and creativity. Whitman reminds us that we are all part of a larger community, and that we have the ability to create a better world for ourselves and future generations. And that, my friends, is a message that never goes out of style.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Song of the Exposition: A Celebration of Progress and Unity

Walt Whitman, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, wrote a poem that captured the essence of the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. The poem, titled "Song of the Exposition," is a celebration of progress, unity, and the American spirit. In this article, we will delve into the poem's themes, structure, and literary devices to understand its significance and relevance to our modern times.

The poem opens with an invocation to the "spirit of the fair," which is a reference to the Centennial Exposition. The fair was a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and it showcased the technological and cultural advancements of the United States. Whitman's invocation sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is a tribute to the achievements of the American people.

The first stanza of the poem describes the grandeur of the exposition. Whitman uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the fairgrounds, with its "tall façades of white and gold" and "flags fluttering in the wind." The stanza also introduces the theme of unity, as Whitman describes people from all walks of life coming together to celebrate their shared heritage.

The second stanza focuses on the technological advancements on display at the exposition. Whitman marvels at the "steamships, railroads, telegraphs" that have made the world a smaller place. He also acknowledges the role of science and industry in shaping the modern world, saying that "the world of matter and of life, the interests, joys, and fears of all humanity" have been transformed by these advancements.

The third stanza shifts the focus to the cultural achievements of the American people. Whitman praises the "poets, painters, sculptors, musicians, architects" who have contributed to the country's cultural heritage. He also acknowledges the diversity of American culture, saying that "the many-cylindered steam printing press" has allowed for the dissemination of ideas and knowledge from all corners of the country.

The fourth stanza is a call to action, urging the American people to continue to strive for progress and unity. Whitman says that the "future is no more uncertain than the present," and that the American people have the power to shape their own destiny. He also acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead, saying that "the struggle of to-day is not altogether for to-day" and that the American people must be prepared to face whatever the future holds.

The structure of the poem is free-flowing and unstructured, with no set rhyme scheme or meter. This reflects the theme of progress and innovation, as Whitman breaks free from the traditional constraints of poetic form to create something new and exciting. The poem is also written in free verse, which allows for a more natural and conversational tone.

Whitman employs several literary devices throughout the poem to enhance its impact. One of the most notable is repetition, which is used to emphasize key themes and ideas. For example, the phrase "the world's great age begins anew" is repeated several times throughout the poem, underscoring the idea that the Centennial Exposition marks a new era of progress and innovation.

Another literary device used by Whitman is imagery, which helps to create a vivid picture of the exposition in the reader's mind. For example, the phrase "the tall façades of white and gold" conjures up an image of the grand buildings that were erected for the fair. Similarly, the phrase "the many-cylindered steam printing press" creates a mental image of the printing presses that were used to disseminate knowledge and ideas.

The poem's relevance to our modern times is clear. Just as the American people of the 19th century were able to come together to celebrate their shared heritage and achieve great things, so too can we come together to tackle the challenges of our own time. The poem's call to action is just as relevant today as it was in 1876, as we face issues such as climate change, social inequality, and political polarization.

In conclusion, "Song of the Exposition" is a celebration of progress, unity, and the American spirit. Whitman's free-flowing structure and use of literary devices create a powerful and evocative tribute to the achievements of the American people. The poem's relevance to our modern times is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Centennial Exposition and the ideals that it represented.

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