America’s choosing day, by Walt Whitman
Looking back at this post from November of this year, Whitman’s praise of election day seems naïve. The election settled something, but no one has settled into governance this time around. It seems like the fabric of our system has been torn. The mending will take time. March, 2017
This poem by Whitman is titled Election Day, 1884. The poet praises the idea of a general election as something grander even than the unsurpassed American landscape. Voting seems to Whitman a divine idea: The still small voice (1 Kings 19 ), vibrating across the country, is the sound of American citizens casting their votes, transferring authority to govern to other Americans, in a peaceful ritual process. Whitman did not care for the details of politics, but he affirmed the thought of that final, cleansing snowfall of votes that covered the dirt and muck of the election and brought on a new season of governance, even of heroic leadership, as recalled in the names of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
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
-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
The stretch of North and Sound 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 Napolean’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 and Lincoln’s sails.