When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd

Original Text: 
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891-92): 255-62. PS 3201 1891 Robarts Library.
2And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
3I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
4Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
5Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
6And thought of him I love.
7O powerful western fallen star!
8O shades of night -- O moody, tearful night!
9O great star disappear'd -- O the black murk that hides the star!
10O cruel hands that hold me powerless -- O helpless soul of me!
11O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.
13Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
14With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
15  With every leaf a miracle -- and from this bush in the dooryard,
16With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
17A sprig with its flower I break.
18In the swamp in secluded recesses,
19A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.
20Solitary the thrush,
21The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
22Sings by himself a song.
23Song of the bleeding throat,
24Death's outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
25If thou wast not granted to sing thou would'st surely die.)
26Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
27Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
28Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
29Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
30Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
31Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
32Night and day journeys a coffin.
33Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
34Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
35With the pomp of the inloop'd flags with the cities draped in black,
36With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil'd women standing,
38With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
39With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
40With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
41With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour'd around the coffin,
42The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs -- where amid these you journey,
43With the tolling tolling bells' perpetual clang,
44Here, coffin that slowly passes,
45I give you my sprig of lilac.
46(Nor for you, for one alone,
47Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring,
48For fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a song for you O sane and sacred death.
49All over bouquets of roses,
50O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies,
51But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
52Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,
53With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
54For you and the coffins all of you O death.)
55O western orb sailing the heaven,
56Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk'd,
57As I walk'd in silence the transparent shadowy night,
58As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
59As you droop'd from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look'd on,)
60As we wander'd together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,)
61As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
62As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
63As I watch'd where you pass'd and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
64As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
65Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.
66Sing on there in the swamp,
67O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
68I hear, I come presently, I understand you,
69But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain'd me,
70The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.
71O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
72And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
73And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?
74Sea-winds blown from east and west,
75Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
76These and with these and the breath of my chant,
77I'll perfume the grave of him I love.
78O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
79And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
80To adorn the burial-house of him I love?
81Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes,
82With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
83With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,
84With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific,
85In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
86With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows,
87And the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
88And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.
89Lo, body and soul -- this land,
90My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships,
91The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio's shores and flashing Missouri,
92And ever the far-spreading prairies cover'd with grass and corn.
93Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
94The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
95The gentle soft-born measureless light,
96The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill'd noon,
97The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
98Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.
99Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
100Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
101Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.
102Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
103Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.
104O liquid and free and tender!
105O wild and loose to my soul -- O wondrous singer!
106You only I hear -- yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
107Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.
108Now while I sat in the day and look'd forth,
109In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops,
110In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
111In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb'd winds and the storms,)
112Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
113The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sail'd,
114And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
115And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
116And the streets how their throbbings throbb'd, and the cities pent -- lo, then and there,
117Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
118Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail,
119And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.
120Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
121And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
122And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
123I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
124Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
125To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.
126And the singer so shy to the rest receiv'd me,
127The gray-brown bird I know receiv'd us comrades three,
128And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.
129From deep secluded recesses,
130From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
131Came the carol of the bird.
132And the charm of the carol rapt me,
133As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
134And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.
135Come lovely and soothing death,
136Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
137In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
138Sooner or later delicate death.
139Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
140For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
141And for love, sweet love -- but praise! praise! praise!
142For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.
143Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
144Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
145Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
146I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.
147Approach strong deliveress,
148When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
149Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
150Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.
151From me to thee glad serenades,
152Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
153And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
154And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.
155The night in silence under many a star,
156The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
157And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil'd death,
158And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.
159Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
160Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
161Over the dense-pack'd cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
162I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.
163To the tally of my soul,
164Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
165With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night.
166Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
167Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume,
168And I with my comrades there in the night.
169While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
170As to long panoramas of visions.
172I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
173Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc'd with missiles I saw them,
174And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
175And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
176And the staffs all splinter'd and broken.
177I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
178And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
179I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
180But I saw they were not as was thought,
181They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer'd not,
182The living remain'd and suffer'd, the mother suffer'd,
183And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer'd,
184And the armies that remain'd suffer'd.
185Passing the visions, passing the night,
186Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades' hands,
187Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul,
188Victorious song, death's outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
189As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
190Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
191Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
192As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
193Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
194I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.
195I cease from my song for thee,
196From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
197O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.
198Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
199The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
200And the tallying chant, the echo arous'd in my soul,
201With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
202With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
203Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well,
204For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands -- and this for his dear sake,
205Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
206There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.


1] President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated April 14, 1865, in the Ford Theatre, Washington, D.C. His funeral cortege started processing from there to Springfield, Illinois, on April 21. Back to Line
12] palings: fence pickets. Back to Line
37] flambeaus: torches. Back to Line
171] askant: looking sideways. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.