by Walt Whitman
, from his Leaves of Grass
. Like many of his longer poems, it resembles nothing so much as an early attempt at a thesaurus
, but the universalist
sentiment is no less lovely for that.
Nations ten thousand years before these States, and
many times ten thousand years before these States,
Garner'd clusters of ages that men and women like us grew
up and travel'd their course and pass'd on,
What vast-built cities, what orderly republics, what pastoral
tribes and nomads,
What histories, rulers, heroes, perhaps transcending all
What laws, customs, wealth, arts, traditions,
What sort of marriage, what costumes, what physiology and
What of liberty and slavery among them, what they thought
of death and the soul,
Who were witty and wise, who beautiful and poetic, who
brutish and undevelop'd,
Not a mark, not a record remains - and yet all remains.
O I know that those men and women were not for nothing,
any more than we are for nothing,
I know that they belong to the scheme of the world every bit
as much as we now belong to it.
Afar they stand, yet near to me they stand,
Some with oval countenances learn'd and calm,
Some naked and savage, some like huge collections of
Some in tents, herdsmen, patriarchs, tribes, horsemen,
Some prowling through woods, some living peaceably on farms,
laboring, reaping, filling barns,
Some traversing paved avenues, amid temples, palaces, factories,
libraries, shows, courts, theatres, wonderful
Are those billions of men really gone?
Are those women of the old experience of the earth gone?
Do their lives, cities, arts, rest only with us?
Did they achieve nothing for good for themselves?
I believe of all those men and women that fill'd the unnamed lands,
every one exists this hour here or elsewhere,
invisible to us,
In exact proportion to what he or she grew from in life,
and out of what he or she did, felt, became, loved, sinn'd, in
I believe that was not the end of those nations or any person
of them, any more than this shall be the end of my nation,
or of me;
Of their languages, governments, marriage, literature, products,
games, wars, manners, crimes, prisons, slaves,
I suspect their results curiously await in the yet unseen world,
counterparts of what accrued to them in the seen world,
I suspect I shall meet them there,
I suspect I shall there find each old particular of those