1. Education
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Song of Myself
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Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass, first published in the 1855 edition)
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1

I celebrate 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.

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.

2

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 passing 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, words 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 yourself.

3

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning 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.

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 a cent,
Exactly the contents of one, and exactly the contents of two, and which is ahead?

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,
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.

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 valved 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;
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them;
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, and heap’d stones, elder, mullen and poke-weed.

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, and from women, and 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,
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 children?

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.

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.

8

The little one sleeps in its cradle;
I lift the gauze, and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand.

The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill;
I peeringly view them from the top.

The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bed-room;
I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair—I note where the pistol has fallen.

The blab of the pave, the tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders;
The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the clank of the shod horses on the granite floor;
The snow-sleighs, the clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snowballs;
The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous’d mobs;
The flap of the curtain’d litter, a sick man inside, borne to the hospital;
The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall;
The excited crowd, the policeman with his star, quickly working his passage to the centre of the crowd;
The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes;
What groans of over-fed or half-starv’d who fall sun-struck, or in fits;
What exclamations of women taken suddenly, who hurry home and give birth to babes;
What living and buried speech is always vibrating here—what howls restrain’d by decorum;
Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections with convex lips;
I mind them or the show or resonance of them—I come, and I depart.

9

The big doors of the country barn stand open and ready;
The dried grass of the harvest-time loads the slow-drawn wagon;
The clear light plays on the brown gray and green intertinged;
The armfuls are pack’d to the sagging mow.

I am there—I help—I came stretch’d atop of the load;
I felt its soft jolts—one leg reclined on the other;
I jump from the cross-beams, and seize the clover and timothy,
And roll head over heels, and tangle my hair full of wisps.

10

Alone, far in the wilds and mountains, I hunt,
Wandering, amazed at my own lightness and glee;
In the late afternoon choosing a safe spot to pass the night,
Kindling a fire and broiling the fresh-kill’d game;
Falling asleep on the gather’d leaves, with my dog and gun by my side.

The Yankee clipper is under her sky-sails—she cuts the sparkle and scud;
My eyes settle the land—I bend at her prow, or shout joyously from the deck.

The boatmen and clam-diggers arose early and stopt for me;
I tuck’d my trowser-ends in my boots, and went and had a good time:
(You should have been with us that day round the chowder-kettle.)

I saw the marriage of the trapper in the open air in the far west—the bride was a red girl;
Her father and his friends sat near, cross-legged and dumbly smoking—they had moccasins to their feet, and large thick blankets hanging from their shoulders;
On a bank lounged the trapper—he was drest mostly in skins—his luxuriant beard and curls protected his neck—he held his bride by the hand;
She had long eyelashes—her head was bare—her coarse straight locks descended upon her voluptuous limbs and reach’d to her feet.

The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside;
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile;
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log, and led him in and assured him,
And brought water, and fill’d a tub for his sweated body and bruis’d feet,
And gave him a room that enter’d from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass’d north;
(I had him sit next me at table—my fire-lock lean’d in the corner.)

11

Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore;
Twenty-eight young men, and all so friendly:
Twenty-eight years of womanly life, and all so lonesome.

She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank;
She hides, handsome and richly drest, aft the blinds of the window.

Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah, the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.

Where are you off to, lady? for I see you;
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.

Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather;
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.

The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long hair:
Little streams pass’d all over their bodies.

An unseen hand also pass’d over their bodies;
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.

The young men float on their backs—their white bellies bulge to the sun—they do not ask who seizes fast to them;
They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch;
They do not think whom they souse with spray.

12

The butcher-boy puts off his killing clothes, or sharpens his knife at the stall in the market;
I loiter, enjoying his repartee, and his shuffle and break-down.

Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil;
Each has his main-sledge—they are all out—(there is a great heat in the fire.)

From the cinder-strew’d threshold I follow their movements;
The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms;
Over-hand the hammers swing—over-hand so slow—over-hand so sure:
They do not hasten—each man hits in his place.

13

The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses—the block swags underneath on its tied-over chain;
The negro that drives the dray of the stone-yard—steady and tall he stands, pois’d on one leg on the string-piece;
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast, and loosens over his hip-band;
His glance is calm and commanding—he tosses the slouch of his hat away from his forehead;
The sun falls on his crispy hair and moustache—falls on the black of his polish’d and perfect limbs.

I behold the picturesque giant, and love him—and I do not stop there;
I go with the team also.

In me the caresser of life wherever moving—backward as well as forward slueing;
To niches aside and junior bending.

Oxen that rattle the yoke and chain, or halt in the leafy shade! what is that you express in your eyes?
It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.

My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck, on my distant and day-long ramble;
They rise together—they slowly circle around.

I believe in those wing’d purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet, and the tufted crown, intentional;
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else;
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well to me;
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.

14

The wild gander leads his flock through the cool night;
Ya-honk! he says, and sounds it down to me like an invitation;
(The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listen close;
I find its purpose and place up there toward the wintry sky.)

The sharp-hoof’d moose of the north, the cat on the house-sill, the chickadee, the prairie-dog,
The litter of the grunting sow as they tug at her teats,
The brood of the turkey-hen, and she with her half-spread wings;
I see in them and myself the same old law.

The press of my foot to the earth springs a hundred affections;
They scorn the best I can do to relate them.

I am enamour’d of growing out-doors,
Of men that live among cattle, or taste of the ocean or woods,
Of the builders and steerers of ships, and the wielders of axes and mauls, and the drivers of horses;
I can eat and sleep with them week in and week out.

What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me;
Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns;
Adorning myself to bestow myself on the first that will take me;
Not asking the sky to come down to my good will;
Scattering it freely forever.

15

The pure contralto sings in the organ loft;
The carpenter dresses his plank—the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp;
The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner;
The pilot seizes the king-pin—he heaves down with a strong arm;
The mate stands braced in the whale-boat—lance and harpoon are ready;
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches;
The deacons are ordain’d with cross’d hands at the altar;
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel;
The farmer stops by the bars, as he walks on a First-day loafe, and looks at the oats and rye;
The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum, a confirm’d case,
(He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother’s bed-room;)
The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case,
He turns his quid of tobacco, while his eyes blurr with the manuscript;
The malform’d limbs are tied to the surgeon’s table,
What is removed drops horribly in a pail;
The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand—the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove;
The machinist rolls up his sleeves—the policeman travels his beat—the gate-keeper marks who pass;
The young fellow drives the express-wagon—(I love him, though I do not know him;)
The half-breed straps on his light boots to complete in the race;
The western turkey-shooting draws old and young—some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs,
Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece;
The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee;
As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle;
The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the dancers bow to each other;
The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof’d garret, and harks to the musical rain;
The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron;
The squaw, wrapt in her yellow-hemm’d cloth, is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale;
The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways;
As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat, the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers;
The young sister holds out the skein, while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots;
The one-year wife is recovering and happy, having a week ago borne her first child;
The clean-hair’d Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine, or in the factory or mill;
The nine months’ gone is in the parturition chamber, her faintness and pains are advancing;
The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer—the reporter’s lead flies swiftly over the note-book—the sign-painter is lettering with red and gold;
The canal boy trots on the tow-path—the book-keeper counts at his desk—the shoemaker waxes his thread;
The conductor beats time for the band, and all the performers follow him;
The child is baptized—the convert is making his first professions;
The regatta is spread on the bay—the race is begun—how the white sails sparkle!
The drover, watching his drove, sings out to them that would stray;
The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent;)
The camera and plate are prepared, the lady must sit for her daguerreotype;
The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly;
The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open’d lips;
The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck;
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other;
(Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths, nor jeer you;)
The President, holding a cabinet council, is surrounded by the Great Secretaries;
On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms;
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold;
The Missourian crosses the plains, toting his wares and his cattle;
As the fare-collector goes through the train, he gives notice by the jingling of loose change;
The floor-men are laying the floor—the tinners are tinning the roof—the masons are calling for mortar;
In single file, each shouldering his hod, pass onward the laborers;
Seasons pursuing each other, the indescribable crowd is gather’d—it is the Fourth of Seventh-month—(What salutes of cannon and small arms!)
Seasons pursuing each other, the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground;
Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface;
The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe;
Flatboatmen make fast, towards dusk, near the cottonwood or pekan-trees;
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river, or through those drain’d by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansaw;
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahoochee or Altamahaw;
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grandsons around them;
In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day’s sport;
The city sleeps, and the country sleeps;
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time;
The old husband sleeps by his wife, and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them;
And such as it is to be of these, more or less, I am.

16

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise;
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse, and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine;
One of the Great Nation, the nation of many nations, the smallest the same, and the largest the same;
A southerner soon as a northerner—a planter nonchalant and hospitable, down by the Oconee I live;
A Yankee, bound by my own way, ready for trade, my joints the limberest joints on earth, and the sternest joints on earth;
A Kentuckian, walking the vale of the Elkhorn, in my deer-skin leggings—a Louisianian or Georgian;
A boatman over lakes or bays, or along coasts—a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes, or up in the bush, or with fishermen off Newfoundland;
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking;
At home on the hills of Vermont, or in the woods of Maine, or the Texan ranch;
Comrade of Californians—comrade of free north-westerners, (loving their big proportions;)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen—comrade of all who shake hands and welcome to drink and meat;
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest;
A novice beginning, yet experient of myriads of seasons;
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion;
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker;
A prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

I resist anything better than my own diversity;
I breathe the air, but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.

(The moth and the fish-eggs are in their place;
The suns I see, and the suns I cannot see, are in their place;
The palpable is in its place, and the impalpable is in its place.)

17

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands—they are not original with me;
If they are not yours as much as mine, they are nothing, or next to nothing;
If they are not the riddle, and the untying of the riddle, they are nothing;
If they are not just as close as they are distant, they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is, and the water is;
This is the common air that bathes the globe.

18

With music strong I come—with my cornets and my drums,
I play not marches for accepted victors only—I play great marches for conquer’d and slain persons.

Have you heard that it was good to gain the day?
I also say it is good to fall—battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.

I beat and pound for the dead;
I blow through my embouchures my loudest and gayest for them.

Vivas to those who have fail’d!
And to those whose war-vessels sank in the sea!
And to those themselves who sank in the sea!
And to all generals that lost engagements! and all overcome heroes!
And the numberless unknown heroes, equal to the greatest heroes known.

19

This is the meal equally set—this is the meat for natural hunger;
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous—I make appointments with all;
I will not have a single person slighted or left away;
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited;
The heavy-lipp’d slave is invited—the venerealee is invited:
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

This is the press of a bashful hand—this is the float and odor of hair;
This is the touch of my lips to yours—this is the murmur of yearning;
This is the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face;
This is the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well, I have—for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? Does the early redstart, twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence;
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

20

Who goes there? hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?

What is a man, anyhow? What am I? What are you?

All I mark as my own, you shall offset it with your own;
Else it were time lost listening to me

I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums, and the ground but wallow and filth;
That life is a suck and a sell, and nothing remains at the end but threadbare crape, and tears.

Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids—conformity goes to the fourth-remov’d;
I wear my hat as I please, indoors or out.

Why should I pray? Why should I venerate and be ceremonious?

Having pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair, counsell’d with doctors, and calculated close,
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself—none more, and not one a barleycorn less;
And the good or bad I say of myself, I say of them.

And I know I am solid and sound;
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow;
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

I know I am deathless;
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by the carpenter’s compass;
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august;
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood;
I see that the elementary laws never apologize;
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by, after all.)

I exist as I am—that is enough;
If no other in the world be aware, I sit content;
And if each and all be aware, I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself;
And whether I come to my own to-day, or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenon’d and mortis’d in granite;
I laugh at what you call dissolution;
And I know the amplitude of time.
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