When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd

Walt Whitman

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.   
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!   
In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash'd
Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich
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
A sprig, with its flower, I break.   
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The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,   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.)
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;
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,   
Night and day journeys a coffin.   
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,
With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil'd women,
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.
(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.)   
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
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
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.   
Sing on, there in the swamp!   
O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your
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.   
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.   
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
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
And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen
   homeward returning.   
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.   
Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird!
Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the
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.   
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
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb'd winds, and the
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
Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail;   
And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.  155
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!
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.   
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
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.
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
(Victorious song, death's outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering
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
O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night.   
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
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.

Poems by This Author

A child said, What is the grass? by Walt Whitman
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
A Clear Midnight by Walt Whitman
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider
A Woman Waits for Me by Walt Whitman
A woman waits for me, she contains all, nothing is lacking,
America by Walt Whitman
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
Among the Multitude by Walt Whitman
Among the men and women, the multitude
As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days by Walt Whitman
As I walk these broad majestic days of peace
Calamus [In Paths Untrodden] by Walt Whitman
In paths untrodden
Come Up From the Fields Father by Walt Whitman
Come up from the fields father, here's a letter from our Pete,
Come, said my Soul by Walt Whitman
Come, said my Soul
Continuities by Walt Whitman
Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman
Flood-tide below me! I watch you face to face
Delicate Cluster by Walt Whitman
Delicate cluster! flag of teeming life
Election Day, November, 1884 by Walt Whitman
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show
Excelsior by Walt Whitman
Who has gone farthest? for I would go farther,
I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
I Sing the Body Electric by Walt Whitman
I sing the body electric,
Mannahatta by Walt Whitman
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city
Miracles by Walt Whitman
Why, who makes much of a miracle
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The
O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman
On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman
On the beach at night alone
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking by Walt Whitman
Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd by Walt Whitman
Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop gently to me
Passage to India by Walt Whitman
Singing my days
So Long by Walt Whitman
To conclude—I announce what comes after me
Sometimes with One I Love by Walt Whitman
Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I
Song of Myself, I, II, VI & LII by Walt Whitman
I celebrate myself,
Song of Myself, III by Walt Whitman
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end
Song of Myself, X by Walt Whitman
Alone far in the wilds and mountains I hunt,
Song of Myself, XI by Walt Whitman
Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore
Spirit that Form'd this Scene by Walt Whitman
Spirit that form'd this scene,
Spontaneous Me by Walt Whitman
Spontaneous me, Nature
The Indications [excerpt] by Walt Whitman
The words of the true poems give you more than poems
The Sleepers by Walt Whitman
I wander all night in my vision
The Untold Want by Walt Whitman
The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted
The Wound-Dresser by Walt Whitman
An old man bending I come among new faces
This Compost by Walt Whitman
Something startles me where I thought I was safest
Thoughts by Walt Whitman
OF the visages of things—And of piercing through
To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman
Thee for my recitative!
To Think of Time by Walt Whitman
To think of time—of all that retrospection
To You by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
Unfolded Out of the Folds by Walt Whitman
Unfolded out of the folds of the woman, man comes unfolded, and is always to come unfolded
Washington's Monument, February, 1885 by Walt Whitman
Ah, not this marble, dead and cold
When I Heard at the Close of Day by Walt Whitman
When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv'd
When I Heard the Learned Astronomer by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are, holding me now in hand
World Below the Brine by Walt Whitman
The world below the brine

Further Reading

American Revolution
America, a Prophecy, Plates 3 and 4
by William Blake
A Farewell to America
by Phillis Wheatley
A Nation's Strength
by Ralph Waldo Emerson
A Political Litany
by Philip Freneau
by Walt Whitman
American Liberty
by Philip Freneau
Daniel Boone
by Stephen Vincent Benét
England in 1819
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
His Excellency General Washington
by Phillis Wheatley
I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman
Occasioned by General Washington's Arrival in Philadelphia, On His Way to His Residence in Virginia
by Philip Freneau
On Being Brought from Africa to America
by Phillis Wheatley
Paul Revere's Ride
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Poems of the American Revolution
Song of Myself, III
by Walt Whitman
The Star-Spangled Banner
by Francis Scott Key
To the Right Honourable William, Earl of Dartmouth
by Phillis Wheatley