Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman - by Sonja Kari

"I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,

How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over

upon me,

And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your

tongue to my bare-stript heart,

And reach'd till you felt my beard, and reach'd till you held my feet."

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"Whitman voiced ideas about man, society, and the universe that in many ways characterize the general perspective of the modern mind as affected by the ideas of science. He anticipated the big picture of the cosmos – energetic, pulsating, multitudinous, evolutionary, creative, many-layered, knowable, mysterious, individuated, and organized."

--Howard Parsons, "Whitman's World View" (1985)

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“In 1848, Walt Whitman was twenty-nine years old, and had not yet written a single text that we now remember. Yet seven years after his twenty-ninth birthday, this ordinary American man with no visible talents would publish the most unusual book of poems ever to be written in the United States."

--Paul Zweig (1984)

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WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

- Walt Whitman

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Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd

the earth much?

Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?

Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin

of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions

of suns left,)

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look

through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in

books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

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SONG OF MYSELF.

1.

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this

air,

Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their

parents the same,

I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,

Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,

Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,

I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,

Nature without check with original energy.

2

Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded

with perfumes,

I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it,

The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.

The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation,

it is odorless,

It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and

naked,

I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

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The smoke of my own breath,

Echoes, ripples, buzz'd whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and

vine,

My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the pass-

ing of blood and air through my lungs,

The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and

dark-color'd sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,

The sound of the belch'd words of my voice loos'd to the eddies

of the wind,

A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,

The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs

wag,

The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields

and hill-sides,

The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from

bed and meeting the sun.

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd

the earth much?

Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?

Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin

of all poems,

You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions

of suns left,)

You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look

through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in

books,

You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,

You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

3.

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the begin-

ning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.

Urge and urge and urge,

Always the procreant urge of the world.

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Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and

increase, always sex,

Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.

To elaborate is no avail, learn'd and unlearn'd feel that it is so.

Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well entretied,

braced in the beams,

Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,

I and this mystery here we stand.

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not

my soul.

Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen,

Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age,

Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they

discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man

hearty and clean,

Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be

less familiar than the rest.

I am satisfied—I see, dance, laugh, sing;

As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through

the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with

stealthy tread,

Leaving me baskets cover'd with white towels swelling the house

with their plenty,

Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my

eyes,

That they turn from gazing after and down the road,

And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent,

Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which

is ahead?

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4.

Trippers and askers surround me,

People I meet, the effect upon me of my early life or the ward

and city I live in, or the nation,

The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and

new,

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My dinner, dress, associates, looks, compliments, dues,

The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,

The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or

lack of money, or depressions or exaltations,

Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news,

the fitful events;

These come to me days and nights and go from me again,

But they are not the Me myself.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,

Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,

Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain

rest,

Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,

Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with

linguists and contenders,

I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.

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5.

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,

And you must not be abased to the other.

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,

Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not

even the best,

Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,

How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over

upon me,

And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your

tongue to my bare-stript heart,

And reach'd till you felt my beard, and reach'd till you held my

feet.

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that

pass all the argument of the earth,

And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,

And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,

And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the

women my sisters and lovers,

And that a kelson of the creation is love,

And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,

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And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,

And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap'd stones, elder, mullein

and poke-weed.

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6.

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any

more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green

stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,

Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may

see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the

vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white,

Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I

receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,

It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,

It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon

out of their mothers' laps,

And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,

Darker than the colorless beards of old men,

Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,

And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for

nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and

women,

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And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken

soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

And what do you think has become of the women and chil-

dren?

They are alive and well somewhere,

The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the

end to arrest it,

And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

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7.

Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?

I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I

know it.

I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe,

and am not contain'd between my hat and boots,

And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,

The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,

I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and

fathomless as myself,

(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,

For me those that have been boys and that love women,

For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be

slighted,

For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and the

mothers of mothers,

For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,

For me children and the begetters of children.

Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,

I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,

And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and cannot be

shaken away.