Treasure Island

Walt Whitman

(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

A Boston Ballad, 1854



TO get betimes in Boston town, I rose this morning early;
Here's a good place at the corner--I must stand and see the show.

Clear the way there, Jonathan!
Way for the President's marshal! Way for the government cannon!
Way for the Federal foot and dragoons--and the apparitions copiously
tumbling.

I love to look on the stars and stripes--I hope the fifes will play
Yankee Doodle.

How bright shine the cutlasses of the foremost troops!
Every man holds his revolver, marching stiff through Boston town.

A fog follows--antiques of the same come limping,
Some appear wooden-legged, and some appear bandaged and bloodless. 10

Why this is indeed a show! It has called the dead out of the earth!
The old grave-yards of the hills have hurried to see!
Phantoms! phantoms countless by flank and rear!
Cock'd hats of mothy mould! crutches made of mist!
Arms in slings! old men leaning on young men's shoulders!

What troubles you, Yankee phantoms? What is all this chattering of
bare gums?
Does the ague convulse your limbs? Do you mistake your crutches for
fire-locks, and level them?

If you blind your eyes with tears, you will not see the President's
marshal;
If you groan such groans, you might balk the government cannon.

For shame, old maniacs! Bring down those toss'd arms, and let your
white hair be; 20
Here gape your great grand-sons--their wives gaze at them from the
windows,
See how well dress'd--see how orderly they conduct themselves.

Worse and worse! Can't you stand it? Are you retreating?
Is this hour with the living too dead for you?

Retreat then! Pell-mell!
To your graves! Back! back to the hills, old limpers!
I do not think you belong here, anyhow.

But there is one thing that belongs here--shall I tell you what it
is, gentlemen of Boston?
I will whisper it to the Mayor--he shall send a committee to England;
They shall get a grant from the Parliament, go with a cart to the
royal vault--haste! 30

Dig out King George's coffin, unwrap him quick from the grave-
clothes, box up his bones for a journey;
Find a swift Yankee clipper--here is freight for you, black-bellied
clipper,
Up with your anchor! shake out your sails! steer straight toward
Boston bay.

Now call for the President's marshal again, bring out the government
cannon,
Fetch home the roarers from Congress, make another procession, guard
it with foot and dragoons.

This centre-piece for them:
Look! all orderly citizens--look from the windows, women!

The committee open the box, set up the regal ribs, glue those that
will not stay,
Clap the skull on top of the ribs, and clap a crown on top of the
skull.

You have got your revenge, old buster! The crown is come to its own,
and more than its own.

Stick your hands in your pockets, Jonathan--you are a made man from
this day; 40
You are mighty cute--and here is one of your bargains.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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  • Kevin Howard (4/24/2005 7:25:00 PM)

    As I read Whitman here, I believe his gives us a poet's lament...what a mess we have become. A patriotic celebration, grand enough for the dead heroes of past to return. yet these heroes are not happy. Their protest is mighty. And so Whitman brushes them away. Nothing is to spoil this patriotic, Boston celebration. But then the poet gives away his real intent...the real rye twist of his interest. This celebration would only be complete by making ol' King George the centerpiece; To give the King his revenge. How? By observing what we have become. Could his tyranny have done worse? (Report) Reply

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