That Day

A semi-annual semi-tradition here, reposting an abridgment of a passage from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that Scott Simon read on NPR the weekend after September 11, 2001:

“I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times;
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm;
How he knuckled tight, and gave not back one inch, and was faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalk’d in large letters, on a board, Be of good cheer, we will not desert you:
How he follow’d with them, and tack’d with them—and would not give it up;
How he saved the drifting company at last:
How the lank loose-gown’d women look’d when boated from the side of their prepared graves;
How the silent old-faced infants, and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipp’d unshaved men:
All this I swallow—it tastes good—I like it well—it becomes mine;
I am the man—I suffer’d—I was there. …

I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bone broken;
Tumbling walls buried me in their debris;
Heat and smoke I inspired—I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades;
I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels;
They have clear’d the beams away—they tenderly lift me forth.
I lie in the night air in my red shirt—the pervading hush is for my sake;
Painless after all I lie, exhausted but not so unhappy;
White and beautiful are the faces around me—the heads are bared of their fire-caps;
The kneeling crowd fades with the light of the torches. …

I take part—I see and hear the whole;
The cries, curses, roar—the plaudits …
Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs … the rent roof—the fan-shaped explosion;
The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air. …

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;
Missing me one place, search another;
I stop somewhere, waiting for you.”


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