Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (16): For the forty-fifth Presidentiad

From Whitman, Sousandrade, Darío, and Emerson

Walt Whitman


To Identify the 16th, 17th, or 18th Presidentiad.


Why reclining, interrogating? why myself and all drowsing?

What deepening twilight — scum floating atop of the waters,

Who are they as bats and night-dogs askant in the capitol?

What a filthy Presidentiad! (O South, your torrid suns! O North, your arctic freezings!)

Are those really Congressmen? are those the great Judges? is that the President?

Then I will sleep awhile yet, for I see that these States sleep, for reasons;

(With gathering murk, with muttering thunder and lambent shoots we all duly awake,

South, North, East, West, inland and seaboard, we will surely awake.)






Two by two, a hundred Barrabases

(Friends of the lost kings:)

—  Humb of railroad and tel’graph,
Tried to steal the heavenly flame,
That the world throughout
Should sprout
The Spangled Star and her acclaim

(A rebel sun founding a planetary center:)

— “George Washington, etc., etc.,
Answer Royal-George-Third” you bloke”
= You tell him, Lord Howe,
I’m royal now …
(And the Englishman’s nose they broke).

(Satellites hailing Jove’s thunderbolts:)

— “The universe salutes the queen” …
And Patriarchs laud and admire …
(With a liberal king,
The worst thing,
They established a moon empire).


— A sad role on earth is performed
By kings and bards, heav’n’s company,
(And Strauss waltzing)
In Hippodrome or Jubilee.

(Brokers finding the cause of the slump in the Wall-Street exchange:)

— Exeunt Dom Pedro, Dom Grant,
Dom Guesa, brave voyagers three:
Each with golden till
They still
The Moor of the turbulent sea.

(International procession, people of Israel, Orangemen, Fenians, Buddhists, Mormons, Communists, Nihilists, Pallbearers, Railroad-Strikers,
All-brokers, All-saints, All-devils, lanterns, music, sensation;
Reporters: in London the “assassin” of the Queen and
in Paris “Lot” the fugitive of Sodom pass by:)

— The Holy Spirit of slavery
Is a single-Emperor state;
That of the free, verse
Doth all mankind coronate”


Translation from Portuguese by Robert E. Brown



Rubén Darío



It is with the voice of the Bible, or the verse of Walt Whitman
that I advance upon you now, Hunter!
You are primitive and modern, sensible and complicated,
with something of Washington and a dash of Nimrod.
You are the United States,
you are the future invader
of all that’s innocent in America and its Indian blood,
blood that still says Jesus Christ and speaks in Spanish.

You are a superb and strapping specimen of your people;
you are cultured and capable; you oppose Tolstoy.
You are a horse-whisperer, an assassinator of tigers,
you are Alexander-Nebuchadnezzer.
(You are a Professor of Energy
as the whackjobs among us now say.)

You think that life is a fire,
that progress is eruption
and into whatever bones you shoot,
you hit the future.


The United States is powerful and huge.
And when it shakes itself a deep temblor
runs down the enormous vertebrae of the Andes.
If it yells, its voice is like the ripping boom of the lion.
It is just as Hugo said to Grant: “The stars are yours.”
(Glinting wanly, it raises itself, the Argentine sun,
and the star of Chile rises too …) You are rich —
you join the cult of Hercules with the cult of Mammon;
and illuminating the way of easy conquest,
“Freedom” has found its torch in New York.

But our America, which has had poets
from the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl,
which has kept walking in the footprints of the great Bacchus
(who had learned the Panic alphabet at one glance);
which has consulted the stars, which has known Atlantis,
(whose name comes down drumming to us in Plato),
which has lived since the old times on the very light of this world,
on the life of its fire, its perfume, its love,
the America of the great Moctezuma, of the Inca,
our America smelling of Christopher Columbus,
our Catholic America, our Spanish America,
the America in which the noble Cuauhtemoc said:
“I am in no bed of roses”: that same America
which tumbles in the hurricanes and lives for Love,
it lives, you men of Saxon eyes and Barbarian souls.
And it dreams. And it loves, and it vibrates; and she is the daughter of the Sun!
Be very careful. Long live this Spanish America!
The Spanish Lion has loosed a thousand cubs today: they are at large, Roosevelt,
and if you are to snag us, outlunged and awed,
in your claws of iron, you must become God himself,
the alarming Rifleman and the hardened Hunter.

And though you count on everything, you lack the one thing needed:


Translation from Spanish by Gabriel Gudding


Ralph Waldo Emerson

Though loath to grieve

The evil time’s sole patriot,

I cannot leave

My honied thought

For the priest’s cant,

Or statesman’s rant.


If I refuse

My study for their politique,

Which at the best is trick,

The angry Muse

Puts confusion in my brain.


But who is he that prates

Of the culture of mankind,

Of better arts and life?

Go, blindworm, go,

Behold the famous States

Harrying Mexico

With rifle and with knife!


Or who, with accent bolder,

Dare praise the freedom-loving mountaineer?

I found by thee, O rushing Contoocook!

And in thy valleys, Agiochook!

The jackals of the negro-holder.


The God who made New Hampshire

Taunted the lofty land

With little men; —

Small bat and wren

House in the oak: —

If earth-fire cleave

The upheaved land, and bury the folk,

The southern crocodile would grieve.

Virtue palters; Right is hence;

Freedom praised, but hid;

Funeral eloquence

Rattles the coffin-lid.


What boots thy zeal,

O glowing friend,

That would indignant rend

The northland from the south?

Wherefore? to what good end?

BostonBay and Bunker Hill

Would serve things still; —

Things are of the snake.


The horseman serves the horse,

The neat-herd serves the neat,

The merchant serves the purse,

The eater serves his meat;

'T is the day of the chattel

Web to weave, and corn to grind;

Things are in the saddle,

And ride mankind.


There are two laws discrete,

Not reconciled, —

Law for man, and law for thing;

The last builds town and fleet,

But it runs wild,

And doth the man unking.


’Tis fit the forest fall,

The steep be graded,

The mountain tunnelled,

The sand shaded,

The orchard planted,

The glebe tilled,

The prairie granted,

The steamer built.


Let man serve law for man;

Live for friendship, live for love,

For truth’s and harmony’s behoof;

The state may follow how it can,

As Olympus follows Jove.


     Yet do not I implore

The wrinkled shopman to my sounding woods,

Nor bid the unwilling senator

Ask votes of thrushes in the solitudes.

Every one to his chosen work; —

Foolish hands may mix and mar;

Wise and sure the issues are.

Round they roll till dark is light,

Sex to sex, and even to odd; —

The over-god

Who marries Right to Might,

Who peoples, unpeoples, —

He who exterminates

Races by stronger races,

Black by white faces, —

Knows to bring honey

Out of the lion;

Grafts gentlest scion

On pirate and Turk.


The Cossack eats Poland,

Like stolen fruit;

Her last noble is ruined,

Her last poet mute;

Straight into double band

The victors divide;

Half for freedom strike and stand; —

The astonished Muse finds thousands at her side.