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Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days

192. The Prairies and Great Plains in Poetry

  • (After traveling Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado.)
  • GRAND as the thought that doubtless the child is already born who will see a hundred millions of people, the most prosperous and advanc’d of the world, inhabiting these Prairies, the great Plains, and the valley of the Mississippi, I could not help thinking it would be grander still to see all those inimitable American areas fused in the alembic of a perfect poem, or other esthetic work, entirely western, fresh and limitless—altogether our own, without a trace or taste of Europe’s soil, reminiscence, technical letter or spirit. My days and nights, as I travel here—what an exhilaration!—not the air alone, and the sense of vastness, but every local sight and feature. Everywhere something characteristic—the cactuses, pinks, buffalo grass, wild sage—the receding perspective, and the far circle-line of the horizon all times of day, especially forenoon—the clear, pure, cool, rarefied nutriment for the lungs, previously quite unknown—the black patches and streaks left by surface-conflagrations—the deep-plough’d furrow of the “fire-guard”—the slanting snow-racks built all along to shield the railroad from winter drifts—the prairie-dogs and the herds of antelope—the curious “dry rivers”—occasionally a “dug-out” or corral—Fort Riley and Fort Wallace—those towns of the northern plains, (like ships on the sea,) Eagle-Tail, Coyote, Cheyenne, Agate, Monotony, Kit Carson—with ever the anthill and the buffalo-wallow—ever the herds of cattle and the cow-boys (“cow-punchers”) to me a strangely interesting class, bright-eyed as hawks, with their swarthy complexions and their broad-brimm’d hats—apparently always on horseback, with loose arms slightly raised and swinging as they ride.