by Walt Whitman
FIRST, O songs, for a prelude,
Lightly strike on the stretch’d tympanum, pride and joy
in my city,
How she led the rest to arms—how she gave the cue,
How at once with lithe limbs, unwaiting a moment, she
(O superb! O Manhattan, my own, my peerless!
O strongest you in the hour of danger, in crisis! O
truer than steel!)
How you sprang! how you threw off the costumes of
peace with indifferent hand;
How your soft opera-music changed, and the drum and
fife were heard in their stead;
How you led to the war, (that shall serve for our pre-
lude songs of soldiers,)
How Manhattan drum-taps led.
Forty years had I in my city seen soldiers parading;
Forty years as a pageant—till unawares, the Lady of
this teeming and turbulent city,
Sleepless, amid her ships, her houses, her incalculable
With her million children around her—suddenly,
At dead of night, at news from the south,
Incens’d, struck with clench’d hand the pavement.
A shock electric—the night sustain’d it;
Till with ominous hum, our hive at day-break, pour’d
out its myriads.
From the houses then, and the workshops, and
through all the doorways,
Leapt they tumultuous—and lo! Manhattan arming.
To the drum-taps prompt,
The young men falling in and arming;
The mechanics arming, (the trowel, the jack-plane, the
blacksmith’s hammer, tost aside with precipi-
The lawyer leaving his office, and arming—the judge
leaving the court;
The driver deserting his wagon in the street, jumping
down, throwing the reins abruptly down on the
The salesman leaving the store—the boss, book-keeper,
porter, all leaving;
Squads gathering everywhere by common consent, and
The new recruits, even boys—the old men show them
how to wear their accoutrements—they buckle
the straps carefully;
Outdoors arming—indoors arming—the flash of the
The white tents cluster in camps—the arm’d sentries
around—the sunrise cannon, and again at sunset;
Arm’d regiments arrive every day, pass through the
city, and embark from the wharves;
(How good they look, as they tramp down to the river,
sweaty, with their guns on their shoulders!
How I love them! how I could hug them, with their
brown faces, and their clothes and knapsacks cov-
er’d with dust!)
The blood of the city up—arm’d! arm’d! the cry
The flags flung out from the steeples of churches, and
from all the public buildings and stores;
The tearful parting—the mother kisses her son—the
son kisses his mother;
(Loth is the mother to part—yet not a word does she
speak to detain him;)
The tumultuous escort—the ranks of policemen preceed-
ing, clearing the way;
The unpent enthusiasm—the wild cheers of the crowd
for their favorites;
The artillery—the silent cannons, bright as gold, drawn
along, rumble lightly over the stones;
(Silent cannons—soon to cease your silence!
Soon, unlimber’d, to begin the red business;)
All the mutter of preparation—all the determin’d
The hospital service—the lint, bandages, and medi-
The women volunteering for nurses—the work begun
for, in earnest—no mere parade now;
War! an arm’d race is advancing!—the welcome for
battle—no turning away;
War! be it weeks, months, or years—an arm’d race is
advancing to welcome it.
Mannahatta a-march!—and it’s O to sing it well!
It’s O for a manly life in the camp!
And the sturdy artillery!
The guns, bright as gold—the work for giants—to
serve well the guns:
Unlimber them! no more, as the past forty years, for
salutes for courtesies merely;
Put in something else now besides powder and wadding.
And you, Lady of Ships! you Mannahatta!
Old matron of the city! this proud, friendly, turbulent
Often in peace and wealth you were pensive, or covertly
frown’d amid all your children;
But now you smile with joy, exulting old Mannahatta!