Weekly Whitman: “Years of the Modern”

Whenever I read this poem, I think perhaps Walt Whitman could predict the future. I see—from my perspective as a white American cis-gendered female—our country’s history unfolding, from our personal struggles against a monarchy to our current ones against recast villains planetwide. No matter what side you are on, I think we all agree that humanity is important and that we must protect our history, maybe even in different guises. Walt even discusses the removal of statues and the urgency of the 24-hour news cycle. I think Uncle Walt would be completely unfazed by the 21st century. He told us it was coming. He even told us how it would be. He warned us of the challenges, but he cheers us on as we march to meet them head-on, just as he cheered the boys of ’61.

Will there ever be another Walt Whitman? I think not. We have been so blessed only this once.

Years of the Modern

Years of the modern! years of the unperform’d!
Your horizon rises-I see it parting away for more august dramas;
I see not America only-I see not only Liberty’s nation, but other nations
preparing;
I see tremendous entrances and exits-I see new combinations-I see the solidarity
of
races;
I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the world’s stage;
(Have the old forces, the old wars, played their parts? are the acts suitable to them
closed?)
I see Freedom, completely arm’d, and victorious, and very haughty, with Law on one
side,
and Peace on the other,
A stupendous Trio, all issuing forth against the idea of caste;
-What historic denouements are these we so rapidly approach?
I see men marching and countermarching by swift millions;
I see the frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken;
I see the landmarks of European kings removed;
I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, (all others give way;)
-Never were such sharp questions ask’d as this day;
Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more like a God;
Lo! how he urges and urges, leaving the masses no rest;
His daring foot is on land and sea everywhere-he colonizes the Pacific, the
archipelagoes;

With the steam-ship, the electric telegraph, the newspaper, the wholesale engines of war,
With these, and the world-spreading factories, he interlinks all geography, all lands;
-What whispers are these, O lands, running ahead of you, passing under the seas?
Are all nations communing? is there going to be but one heart to the globe?
Is humanity forming, en-masse?-for lo! tyrants tremble, crowns grow dim;
The earth, restive, confronts a new era, perhaps a general divine war;
No one knows what will happen next-such portents fill the days and nights;
Years prophetical! the space ahead as I walk, as I vainly try to pierce it, is full of
phantoms;
Unborn deeds, things soon to be, project their shapes around me;
This incredible rush and heat-this strange extatic fever of dreams, O years!
Your dreams, O year, how they penetrate through me! (I know not whether I sleep or wake!)
The perform’d America and Europe grow dim, retiring in shadow behind me,
The unperform’d, more gigantic than ever, advance, advance upon me.

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
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