For Thursday's exercise in considering Whitman's contemporaries, I read "An Imitation" and "I vex me not with brooding on the years" in addition to "The Village Blacksmith." I have included my first impressions of these poems below their text.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Village Blacksmith
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And bear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter's voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother's voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night's repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
"The Village Blacksmith" shares the celebratory perspective on the honest labor of everyday life which is so prominent in "Song of Myself." I was reminded of Whitman's elevation of the condition of death--that it is a mysterious but important part of life wherein people are not lost as we usually perceive them to be. Toiling, rejoicing, and sorrowing have their place within the order of human life, and while death is not easy, it is not grudged its place.
Anne C. Lynch
As once I dreamed, methought I strayed
Within a snow-clad mountain's shade;
From whose far height the silence bore
One charmed word, "Excelsior!"
And, as upon my soul it fell,
It bound me with a fearful spell;
It shut the sweet vale from my sight,
And called me up that dazzling height.
I could not choose but heed its tone,
And climb that dreary path alone;
And now around me hung the gloom,
Where the storm-spirit makes his home.
Upon my head the tempests beat;
Dark caverns opened at my feet;
The thunders rolled, the lightnings flashed
And fierce the swollen torrents dashed.
'Twas gained, that mountain's stormy pass;
But, chilled beside a mer de glace,
My heavy heart in vain would soar,--
The heart hears not "Excelsior!"
The heart's home is the vale below,
Where kind words greet, where fond eyes glow;
It withers 'neath those frozen skies,
Where the aspiring thought would rise.
Above me the eternal snows
In the cold sunlight's glare arose,
And a dread Presence seemed to brood
O'er the appalling solitude.
But now, on that unquiet dream,
Did one of the stateliest aspect beam;
Whose brow thought's kingly impress bore,
Whose soul thrilled to "Excelsior!"
Though but one moment o'er my way
Did the bright form beside me stay;
In that pale brow and speaking eye,
Methought I saw my Destiny!
And as, far up the heaven-crowned height,
Thou seem'dst to vanish from my sight;
Thine image yet beside me stood,
And filled the voiceless solitude.
No longer drear that mountain waste.
For o'er its snows thy steps had passed;
No longer dread, in upper air,
That mountain's crest, for thou wert there!
Hey, I've read this one before! I want to spend some more time with this poem before analyzing it too much; I am not as confident as I could be about its relationship to "Song of Myself." I get a similar sense of communion with nature and the possibility of transcending earthly limits because of its influence, sure, but there are more details I'd like to dig into at my leisure, especially the latter portion of the poem in relation to the "heavy heart" and "the vale below."
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
"I vex me not with brooding on the years"
I vex me not with brooding on the years
That were ere I drew breath: why should I then
Distrust the darkness that may fall again
When life is done? Perchance in other spheres--
Dead planets--I once tasted mortal tears,
And walked as now among a throng of men,
Pondering things that lay beyond my ken,
Questioning death, and solacing my fears.
Oftimes indeed strange sense have I of this,
Vague memories that hold me with a spell,
Touches of unseen lips upon my brow,
Breathing some incommunicable bliss!
In years foregone, O Soul, was all not well?
Still lovelier life awaits thee. Fear not thou!
Aldrich expresses a similar attitude toward death and pre-existence that Whitman does in lines like "I know I was even there...I waited unseen and always" and "no doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before." There is great trust in the goodness of the processes of life and death which one cannot hope to properly understand or control.