NEA Arts Magazine

By Blue Ontario's Shore

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Walt Whitman, from the series of photos by Mathew Brady of Civil War-era personalities taken in Washington, DC, between 1860 and 1865. Photo courtesy of National Archives, photo no. 111-B-1672

Walt Whitman, considered one of the great American poets, wrote many poems about the United States Civil War, which he experienced firsthand as a volunteer nurse in Washington, DC. The first stanza of “By Blue Ontario's Shore” is from the 1881 version of his epic, ever-changing collection, Leaves of Grass. The poem is Whitman's meditation on the place of the poet -- and by extension, the artist -- in post-war America.

By blue Ontario's shore,  

As I mused of these warlike days and of peace return'd, and the dead that return no more,

A Phantom gigantic superb, with stern visage accosted me,

Chant me the poem, it said, that comes from the soul of America, chant me the carol of victory,

And strike up the marches of Libertad, marches more powerful yet,

And sing me before you go the song of the throes of Democracy.

Read the entire poem »