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Shitty First Drafts

Shitty First Drafts

With apologies to Anne Lamott, here’s what I’ve taken to doing with novel drafts. My local feed store ran out of wood shavings, so I’ve been using shredded office paper inside the coop.

I don’t know why I didn’t do this before? Maybe because in Livingston’s famous winds this can sometimes get messy, but the girls really really like the shredded paper. They’ve been making little nests with it.

And this is one way to keep oneself from getting too precious about “the work.”

CookBookSlut vs. the Economy

CookBookSlut vs. the Economy

My new CookBookSlut column is up over at Bookslut — I take on cooking and urban homesteading as one approach to the continuing implosion of the economy and the unabating high unemployment rate. I mean, if we’re not going to have jobs anymore, we’d better learn to grow our own and cook our own and take care of our own. (Rant alert, btw.)

Here’s a list of the terrific books I discuss this month:

The Two-Book Curse?

The Two-Book Curse?

A long weekend, a big snowstorm, my sweetheart’s delightful cabin (available as a vacation rental!) with a woodstove and snow outside and two deer in the yard in the morning, which meant I had a lovely, unplugged stretch of time to catch up on some reading.

Somehow I’d missed Nicole Krauss these past couple of years, probably because I had been dismissive of the Brooklyn writers. They seemed like emo music to me, one of those things I’m too old to find charming, or deep, or meaningful. But there was a New Yorker story I liked, and her new book, Great House, was getting such good reviews that a few weeks ago I got The History of Love out of the library. While I didn’t think it was as groundbreaking as the reviews and the gushing articles about Krauss and her husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, the “golden couple” of the New York writing scene, would have one believe, it seemed to me like a very fine novel — there were interesting characters, the sentences are lovely without being show-offy, and even the inevitable coincidental connections between the seemingly-disparate characters were handled with grace. Like I said, I thought it was a very fine novel.

And so, I put myself on the list for Great House, and even tucked it in my backpack for the ski up the hill to the cabin. Again, it is beautifully written by an author who clearly shows great talent. Again, there are seemingly-disconnected characters who turn out to have connections between them, although this time I found that structure less delightful. Again, there are writers, and writing which connects these characters, as does their Jewishness (which I found far less irritating than the Dedication to Art aspect). The Holocaust looms once more, but the characters are all Jews, so that was far less irritating than was the fact that all of these characters are writers, except for the ones who supportively orbit the writers, or those who have dedicated their pale lives to some other art, like playing the piano. (The exception is Aaron, the furious father of the mysterious Dov, whose life might be ruined by the fact that he didn’t become a writer? Although to me, becoming a successful London judge sounds more interesting, but that’s a profession Dov mysteriously quits when his mother dies in order to return to Jeruselem and languish in his childhood bedroom, much to the concern and irritation of his father, and of this reader).

The book was lovely, it was beautifully written, but it made me want to shake Krauss, made me want to tell her to go get a job and to write about something, anything, other than writers. This is the second book in which writers and books and writing are the only subject. Enough already. Maybe it’s that I live in a town rotten with writers, I know plenty of writers and believe me, most of them are not romantic figures in the least (especially the ones who think they are). The “romance” and “mystery” of the two, count them, two women writers in this book who continually shut out their spouses, who stop arguments in mid shout and stalk silently, remotely, coolly, off to the mysterious and enormous and magnetic desk at the center of this tale wore thin early in the story. Krauss is very young. She has only ever been a writer (except for being a daughter, a wife and a mother). She is married to a writer. I get the sense she only hangs around with writers. And it is clear from her recent, and widely-mocked blurb for Daniel Grossman’s new book that she is a true Romantic when it comes to writing, one who believes that it is a High Calling, and that Art is something worth dedicating one’s life to.

All of which makes me want to run off and read someone bracing, like Anne Dillard or Margaret Atwood. Years ago, when I was in grad school at UC Davis, Atwood came for the standard weekend of lectures and meetings with students. I’ll never forget her chastising the graduate students who were studying her work. “You’re all clearly very bright,” she said. “You should go do something more useful with those brains than this. Go figure out how to stop global warming or something.” They were crestfallen, but I always thought she was right.

That these hermetically sealed books about upper-class white people in America keep getting praised to the high heavens is an ongoing concern of mine. While the hype surrounding her book is no more Krauss’s doing than the circus Jonathan Franzen seems to unleash with each book is his own, I do find it problematic that books about “white people’s problems” — the difficulty of creating Art, the woes of suburban life and marriage — are the ones being chosen by publishers, then hyped by them and every reviewer out there. I don’t want to read books about the people just like me (or like the me I might have been had I not left my publishing job in NYC in 1988, or like the me I might have been had I gotten an academic job after grad school). I want to read books about people who struggle with something real — who worry about their jobs, and putting a roof over their heads, and who are, perhaps up against something terrifyingly real like the death of their loved ones. Which means someone will probably complain in my next book about the body count, and that I keep killing people off for cheap effect. We all have our personal obsessions, and that Krauss’s are writing and Art and Jewishness are less worrisome to me than the idea that a two-book contract, and the success of her first book, might have led to pressure to “do it again” — the sort of pressure that leads to a second book which  contains so many of the pleasures of the first one that this reader, at least, became frustrated. Krauss is clearly very talented. Now I just want to see her stretch that talent, and do something new with it.

“What kind of a wuss was Woolf?”

“What kind of a wuss was Woolf?”

Run, do not walk (well, in internet terms) to the London Review of Books and read Hilary Mantel’s Diary of being ill. It’s by turns hilarious and hallucinogenic and scary (and probably not for the squeamish) and brilliant. Especially her take on Virgina Woolf’s On Being Ill. (Although I feel a little bad for enjoying her ad feminiem attack on Woolf, since it wasn’t until I became chronically ill in grad school that Woolf’s work started to open up for me.) Nonetheless, I loved this essay.

On “Unlikeable” Characters

On “Unlikeable” Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the subject of fictional characters and “likeability.” Probably because I’m writing again, but also because it’s a topic dear to my heart, since so many readers found Anne, in Place Last Seen deeply unlikeable (go take a look at the Amazon reviews if you don’t believe me). Patrick and I used to laugh about it, because we both thought I’d pulled my punches and had made her sympathetic, or at least much more sympathetic than in her earlier incarnations. I wasn’t entirely surprised when she was greeted with a hail of criticism because I’d already weathered a couple of years of graduate workshop populated by writers doing Katherine Mansfield-esque odes to their idyllic childhoods, and whose consistent response to Anne was “no mother would do that!” (A response that indicated to me that I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing with the character.) At any rate, I didn’t want her to be “normal” — what would be the interest in that, either as a writer, or as a reader? I wanted her to be odd; to be Anne.

So I was Googling around when I came across Emily St. John Mandel’s terrific essay at The Millions, In Praise of Unlikeable Characters, an essay that caused me to fire up the Kindle and download Bad Marie. It’s a terrific read, which is such a pleasure these days. a book that really sucks you in and in which many things actually happen, and that has characters in whom you become deeply invested. Marie does indeed do some very “bad” things, but Marcy Dermansky does such a good job writing her from the inside that you get sucked in, and nod along in agreement that of course, Marie’s is the only logical course of action. She makes her sympathetic without necessarily making her likeable. You always doubt her — especially since so many other characters tell her how bad she is. It is that seed of doubt that lurks, no matter how much one might be rooting for Marie that that made me feel the book pulled it’s big punch. I won’t give away the plot point, but there is a moment very late in the book, after you’ve seen Marie act in many impulsive and unwise and even vengeful ways, where she comes right to the precipice of doing something truly monstrous. And while the naive reader part of me, the part of me that really does believe somehow that characters are people, and who comes to care about them (the part of me that still feels guilty for breaking Jonathan’s leg for plot purposes at the end of Place Last Seen), while that reader was glad that Marie didn’t go over the precipice, the cold-hearted novelist in me wishes she had.

No one writes books like that any more. Books that take a character all the way over the edge. (Or perhaps no one who writes like that can get them published, another discussion altogether.) I was trolling around in the Paris Review’s newly-opened interview archives and in David Mitchell’s interview he talks about reading Nabokov, and trying to figure out what he was up to:

I used to read Nabokov with an X-ray on, trying to map the circuitry of what he was doing and how he was doing it. Lolita is an act of seduction. This is a lovable rogue, you think, this Humbert Humbert. How interesting life is in his company! Then there’s a place where, toward the end—and this is one of the most chilling scenes in English literature—he realizes that Lolita has lost her magic. She’s not the pliant young fairy she once was. But it’ll be OK, he thinks, because I can have a daughter through her and start all over again. That’s when you know you’ve really been had here—this Humbert figure is a damaged, dangerous piece of work, and you’ve been riding along happily in his car for a hundred and fifty pages.

There’s a corresponding problem to the “likeability” problem (and not that all women must have pink high-heeled shoes on the covers of their books) and that’s the flip side, the total monster — at it’s best, you get someone like Dostoyevski, at it’s worst, you get Hannibal Lecter or American Psycho, books that are only about an unredeemable character, that plumb the depths and claim, by doing so, to be breaking new ground. Those aren’t the unlikeable characters I’m interested in — the ones I’m interested in are like that family member that you can never figure out, or the friend about whom you continually find yourself saying “how could she do that?” Someone who seems just like us, but who isn’t — and it’s that difference that makes it interesting. What makes someone like that tick? Are they really “bad”? I love the exploration of that murky ground, and I especially like it when the author resists the urge to “heal” the character, resists the therapeutic narrative of our age. They’re hard to find though, which is why I find myself turning back to Elizabeth Bowen, or Mavis Gallant, writers who had their gimlet eyes firmly fixed on the flaws of human character.

So readers, in the comments, tell us who your favorite “unlikeable” character is, and why?

Best Food Writing 2010

Best Food Writing 2010


Look what the UPS man brought me yesterday — It’s always a surprise to see something you’ve written in an actual book, one that was produced by someone else, and has managed to independently make its way into a store. The first time I saw Place Last Seen in a store I had an inexplicable urge to scoop them all up and take them home, as though it was somehow dangerous for my wee book to be out there all by itself.
And then of course, Patrick picked up a copy in each hand and started waving them overhead while exclaiming that “the author is right here! I nearly died from embarassment.

So last night I’m reading the introduction to Best Food Writing 2010 when I come across this sentence:

“But to really judge the state of food writing today, just look at how many new voices are in this year’s book. A handful of these, of course, are topnotch writers known for ficiton or other nonfiction subjects, who only occasionally turn their attention to food–writers like Adam Gopnik, Charlotte Freeman, Wright Thompson and Jonathan Safran Foer.”

I squealed and ran into the living room where Chuck looked up and said “Are you okay? You sounded like you stepped on a wasp or something.”

“Franzenfruede, Continued”

“Franzenfruede, Continued”

The sweetheart brought home his copy of The Nation yesterday, and said “Just read this, there’s a great sentence you’ll love.” Thank you Katha Pollitt:

It’s often said that women’s writing is less valued because it takes up stereotypically feminine (i.e. narrower) subjects–family, children, love and becoming a woman (ho-hum, boring!)–while men’s books deal with rousing, Important Universal topics like war, politics, and whaling, and becoming a man.”

It was the “and whaling” that had me chuckling all evening.

Franzen and “The Great American Novel”

Franzen and “The Great American Novel”

I’ve been watching the hooplah surrounding the publication of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom with something of a jaundiced eye — it’s the Big Book of the fall, and Franzen’s getting similar reviews to the ones he got for The Corrections, that this is the book that explains what it’s like to live in the present moment, the book that expresses what it means to be an American, the one book that sums up everything important about our age. Those kinds of statements always get my hackles up. Really? The Great American Novel?

I’d been sort of rolling my eyes at the whole thing, but it was bugging me. I couldn’t put my finger on just what it was that was bugging me. Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Wiener had taken on the white-male-hero aspect of the story, and while the double standard is perennially annoying (when a woman writes about family it’s “domestic” or “chick-lit,” when a man writes about family it’s “the great American novel”), that wasn’t really what was bugging me. Like I said, I couldn’t figure it out. It wasn’t even the book — I haven’t read the whole thing yet (I’m waiting for the library to get a copy) but I really enjoyed the first couple of chapters when they ran in the New Yorker earlier this year. Patty was a character I remembered, and found myself thinking about from time to time. Which considering how boring and forgettable I find most literary fiction these days, that was an accomplishment.

And then yesterday, while goofing off and avoiding the work project I’ve been trying to finish up all weekend, I found this piece in the Guardian by Pakaj Mishra. Here’s the paragraph that got to me:

Still, it’s very rare for the reception of a literary novel to become a sociological phenomenon. Such encomiums as “great American novel” and “the greatest novel of the century” exalt Freedom to an oddly solitary splendour; and they make us wonder if the criteria for greatness and Americanness have a built-in bias against other kinds of novels, writers and literary genres (not to mention other media: The Wire has fair claim to be the most ambitious and successful American fiction of the new century). Certainly, the three garish and overlapping signifiers in Time magazine’s phrase “great American novelist” obscure rather than illuminate the range and depth of contemporary American writing. One reason is that populist evaluations of literature lean heavily toward the family saga. Most readers, Don DeLillo once complained, “would rather read about their own marriages and separations and trips to Tanglewood” since “it adds a certain lustre, a certain significance to their own lives”. This sounds a bit too caustic. But fictions about dysfunctional families, from The Sound and the Fury to American Pastoral, tend to be prominent in the official literary narrative of America; so do stories of ethnic minorities assimilating into American society.

The canonization of Freedom as “the Great American Novel” stakes a claim that what counts as the central American experience is the struggles of upper-middle-class white people seeking to move up in the world. Yes, Franzen is a satirist, but his claim that “I wanted to produce something that really connected with how it feels to be alive now,” assumes that his experience as a wealthy, well-educated, successful white guy is “the” experience of “how it feels to be alive now.” And I would argue, along with Delillo in the quote above, that this is, in some sense, the reason for the book’s crashing success with the critics. By claiming that the experience of wealthy, well-educated, literary white people is the central experience of our time, he’s not only flattering the powers that be and the critics and his entire circle, but he’s managing to do it in such a way as to render the specificity of that experience invisible. It’s like when I was in the Hamptons a couple of weeks ago. They all think that their way of life out there is normal, that it’s just the way “nice people” live. They’re in a bubble, where they’re always looking at one another and those around them and milestoning — who is moving up the ladder? down? But there’s no sense at all that the very baseline is skewed, that simply by being in “the Hamptons” at all they’re already in a tiny little subset of American life.

That’s what the hooplah over Freedom feels like to me. Like a great big self-congratulatory party in which everyone present reflects off one another a certain smugness, a certain sense of being in the center of things, and by reflecting this off of one another they are all blinded to the varied and interesting lives outside the bubble. And none of these smart well-educated people are asking why it is that they think Freedom is the Great American Novel instead of a book like Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, for example, a book I’d argue is also “of our time” and certainly describes what it feels like to “live now” if you’re a smart oddball Puerto Rican kid growing up in New Jersey. Why is that experience considered something other than “American”? something other than “universal”?

The ignorance those in power, not just in publishing, but in our government and media, to the lived experience of all the American lives outside the bubble of privilege drives me crazy. And that, I think, is what’s been bugging me about the Jonathan Franzen book. That once again, the insiders have not only taken this opportunity to soundly congratulate themselves, but that in this day and age, they’re still so blind they can’t even see that they’re doing it.

New CookBookSlut

New CookBookSlut

New CookBook Slut article is up. I get a little ranty this month about food politics. “The Revolution Is Here”

One of the questions that has come up over and over both on my blog, on other food blogs, and when talking to people who aren’t into cooking or food is, why even bother? Why do we cook in the first place, when there are whole supermarkets devoted to replacing home-cooked meals with meals-in-a-box, or in-a-frozen-bag, or even precooked pot roasts direct from the bowels of Swift and Armour right to your supermarket meat case? Why bother when clearly all these big corporations are ready to step in and save us the time and mess and even claim to save us money? Who are we, mere home cooks, to rival the experts like Emeril and Wolfgang and now even Mario, whose happy faces beam out at us from all those packages that they lovingly prepared in their very own factories? read more here

Walt Whitman for Memorial Day

Walt Whitman for Memorial Day


In honor of Memorial Day, and because the lilacs just bloomed, a little Walt Whitman.

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed

1
WHEN lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

2
O powerful, western, fallen star!
O shades of night! O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d! O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul!

3
In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle……and from this bush in the door-yard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig, with its flower, I break.

4
In the swamp, in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary, the thrush,
The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat!
Death’s outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know
If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would’st surely die.)

5
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards; 30
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

6
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags, with the cities draped in black, 35
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil’d women, standing,
With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn;
With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey,
With the tolling, tolling bells’ perpetual clang;
Here! coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

7
(Nor for you, for one, alone;
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring:
For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies;
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes;
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.)

8
O western orb, sailing the heaven!
Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since we walk’d,
As we walk’d up and down in the dark blue so mystic,
As we walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down, as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on;)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something, I know not what, kept me from sleep;)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, ere you went, how full you were of woe;
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

9
Sing on, there in the swamp!
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call;
I hear—I come presently—I understand you;
But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain’d me;
The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me.

10
O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds, blown from east and west,
Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there on the prairies meeting:
These, and with these, and the breath of my chant,
I perfume the grave of him I love.

11
O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific;
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

12
Lo! body and soul! this land!
Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes;
The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill’d noon;
The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

13
Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid, and free, and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
You only I hear……yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.

14
Now while I sat in the day, and look’d forth,
In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds, and the storms;)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages;
And the streets, how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo! then and there,
Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail;
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

15
Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me;
The gray-brown bird I know, receiv’d us comrades three;
And he sang what seem’d the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night;
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

DEATH CAROL.
16
Come, lovely and soothing Death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later, delicate Death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious;
And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death.

Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?

Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all;
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach, strong Deliveress!
When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee;
And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night, in silence, under many a star;
The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know;
And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil’d Death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song!
Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide;
Over the dense-pack’d cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death!

17
To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume;
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

18
I saw askant the armies;
And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags;
Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc’d with missiles, I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody;
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them;
I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war;
But I saw they were not as was thought;
They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer’d not;
The living remain’d and suffer’d—the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

19
Passing the visions, passing the night;
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands;
Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul,
(Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,)
Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves;
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring,
I cease from my song for thee;
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.

20
Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night;
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe,
With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor;
With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well;
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands…and this for his dear sake;
Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.