Poem by Walt Whitman

I’ve been reading this poem to my students today, even to my homeroom students and my single distance-learning proctoree. Even though I teach physics, I think it is important to emphasize how historic this election is, even more so now that Senator Obama has won it.

I don’t tell students who I voted for, however. My parents taught me that who you vote for is private, and they kept their own choices private. This makes it easier to talk about in school, also, since there are supporters of both candidates in my classes.

Well, enjoy the poem:

ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,

‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,

Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,

Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—nor Mississippi’s stream:

—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,

(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the quadriennial choosing,)

The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia, California,

The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and conflict,

The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,

Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the peaceful choice of all,

Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:

—Foams and ferments the wine? It serves to purify—while the heart pants, life glows:

These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,

Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.


—Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

One Response to “Poem by Walt Whitman”

  1. Jenny Says:

    It was a grand day, suitable for Whitman’s grand thoughts!

    In January 2000, I watched the inauguration on TV (reluctantly, given the unfortunate election outcome) with 10 women from rural areas of Kyrgyzstan. They *gaped* at the way Clinton and his staff simply left the White House and power was transferred to their opponent, having never in their lifetimes seen a leadership change that was orderly or based on (at least an approximation of) a citizen vote. When they left, the two things they were most impressed with in America were the inauguration and our clean toilets. Hmm.

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