1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email
Song of Myself
 gif
Walt Whitman (from Leaves of Grass, first published in the 1855 edition), page 2
clr gif

21

I am the poet of the Body;
And I am the poet of the Soul.

The pleasures of heaven are with me, and the pains of hell are with me;
The first I graft and increase upon myself—the latter I translate into a new tongue.

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man;
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man;
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

I chant the chant of dilation or pride;
We have had ducking and deprecating about enough;
I show that size is only development.

Have you outstript the rest? Are you the President?
It is a trifle—they will more than arrive there, every one, and still pass on.

I am he that walks with the tender and growing night;
I call to the earth and sea, half-held by the night.

Press close, bare-bosom’d night! Press close, magnetic, nourishing night!
Night of south winds! night of the large few stars!
Still, nodding night! mad, naked, summer night.

Smile, O voluptuous, cool-breath’d earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees;
Earth of departed sunset! earth of the mountains, misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon, just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark, mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds, brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow’d earth! rich, apple-blossom’d earth!
Smile, for your lover comes!

Prodigal, you have given me love! Therefore I to you give love!
O unspeakable, passionate love!

22

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean;
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers;
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me;
We must have a turn together—I undress—hurry me out of sight of the land;
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse;
Dash me with amorous wet—I can repay you.

Sea of stretch’d ground-swells!
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths!
Sea of the brine of life! sea of unshovell’d yet always-ready graves!
Howler and scooper of storms! capricious and dainty sea!
I am integral with you—I too am of one phase, and of all phases.

Partaker of influx and efflux I—extoller of hate and conciliation;
Extoller of amies, and those that sleep in each others’ arms.

I am he attesting sympathy;
(Shall I make my list of things in the house, and skip the house that supports them?)

I am not the poet of goodness only—I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.

Washes and razors for foofoos—for me freckles and a bristling beard.

What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me, and reform of evil propels me—I stand indifferent;
My gait is no fault-finder’s or rejecter’s gait;
I moisten the roots of all that has grown.

Did you fear some scrofula out of the unflagging pregnancy?
Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work’d over and rectified?

I find one side a balance, and the antipodal side a balance;
Soft doctrine as steady help as stable doctrine;
Thoughts and deeds of the present, our rouse and early start.

This minute that comes to me over the past decillions,
There is no better than it and now.

What behaved well in the past, or behaves well to-day, is not such a wonder;
The wonder is, always and always, how there can be a mean man or an infidel.

23

Endless unfolding of words of ages!
And mine a word of the modern—the word En-Masse.

A word of the faith that never balks;
Here or henceforward, it is all the same to me—I accept Time, absolutely.

It alone is without flaw—it rounds and completes all;
That mystic, baffling wonder I love, alone completes all.

I accept reality, and dare not question it;
Materialism first and last imbuing.

Hurrah for positive science! long live exact demonstration!
Fetch stonecrop, mixt with cedar and branches of lilac;
This is the lexicographer—this the chemist—this made a grammar of the old cartouches;
These mariners put the ship through dangerous unknown seas;
This is the geologist—this works with the scalpel—and this is a mathematician.

Gentlemen! to you the first honors always:
Your facts are useful and real—and yet they are not my dwelling;
(I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.)

Less the reminders of properties told, my words;
And more the reminders, they, of life untold, and of freedom and extrication,
And make short account of neuters and geldings, and favor men and women fully equipt,
And beat the gong of revolt, and stop with fugitives, and them that plot and conspire.

24

Walt Whitman am I, a Kosmos, of mighty Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy and sensual, eating, drinking and breeding;
No sentimentalist—no stander above men and women, or apart from them;
No more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me;
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.

Through me the afflatus surging and surging—through me the current and index.

I speak the pass-word primeval—I give the sign of democracy;
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

Through me many long dumb voices;
Voices of the interminable generations of slaves;
Voices of prostitutes, and of deform’d persons;
Voices of the diseas’d and despairing, and of thieves and dwarfs;
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars—and of wombs, and of the father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon;
Of the trivial, flat, foolish, despised,
Fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.

Through me forbidden voices;
Voice of sexes and lusts—voices veil’d, and I remove the veil;
Voices indecent, by me clarified and transfigur’d.

I do not press my fingers across my mouth;
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart;
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.

I believe in the flesh and the appetites;
Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle.

Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from;
The scent of these arm-pits, aroma finer than prayer;
This head more than churches, bibles, and all the creeds.

If I worship one thing more than another, it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it.

Translucent mould of me, it shall be you!
Shaded ledges and rests, it shall be you!
Firm masculine colter, it shall be you.

Whatever goes to the tilth of me, it shall be you!
You my rich blood! Your milky stream, pale strippings of my life.

Breast that presses against other breasts, it shall be you!
My brain, it shall be your occult convolutions.

Root of wash’d sweet flag! timorous pond-snipe! nest of guarded duplicate eggs! it shall be you!
Mix’d tussled hay of head, beard, brawn, it shall be you!
Trickling sap of maple! fibre of manly wheat! it shall be you!

Sun so generous, it shall be you!
Vapors lighting and shading my face, it shall be you!
You sweaty brooks and dews, it shall be you!
Winds whose soft-tickling genitals rub against me, it shall be you!
Broad, muscular fields! branches of live oak! loving lounger in my winding paths! it shall be you!
Hands I have taken—face I have kiss’d—mortal I have ever touch’d! it shall be you.

I dote on myself—there is that lot of me, and all so luscious;
Each moment, and whatever happens, thrills me with joy.

O I am wonderful!
I cannot tell how my ankles bend, nor whence the cause of my faintest wish;
Nor the cause of the friendship I emit, nor the cause of the friendship I take again.

That I walk up my stoop! I pause to consider if it really be;
A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.

To behold the day-break!
The little light fades the immense and diaphanous shadows;
The air tastes good to my palate.

Hefts of the moving world, at innocent gambols, silently rising, freshly exuding,
Scooting obliquely high and low.

Something I cannot see puts upward libidinous prongs;
Seas of bright juice suffuse heaven.

The earth by the sky staid with—the daily close of their junction;
The heav’d challenge from the east that moment over my head;
The mocking taunt, See then whether you shall be master!

25

Dazzling and tremendous, how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

We also ascend, dazzling and tremendous as the sun;
We found our own, O my Soul, in the calm and cool of the daybreak.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach;
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds, and volumes of worlds.

Speech is the twin of my vision—it is unequal to measure itself;
It provokes me forever;
It says sarcastically, Walt, you contain enough—why don’t you let it out, then?

Come now, I will not be tantalized—you conceive too much of articulation.

Do you not know, O speech, how the buds beneath you are folded?
Waiting in gloom, protected by frost;
The dirt receding before my prophetical screams;
I underlying causes, to balance them at last;
My knowledge my live parts—it keeping tally with the meaning of things,
HAPPINESS—which, whoever hears me, let him or her set out in search of this day.

My final merit I refuse you—I refuse putting from me what I really am;
Encompass worlds, but never try to encompass me;
I crowd your sleekest and best by simply looking toward you.

Writing and talk do not prove me;
I carry the plenum of proof, and everything else, in my face;
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.

26

I think I will do nothing now but listen,
To accrue what I hear into myself—to let sounds contribute toward me.

I hear bravuras of birds, bustle of growing wheat, gossip of flames, clack of sticks cooking my meals;
I hear the sound I love, the sound of the human voice;
I hear all sounds running together, combined, fused or following;

Sounds of the city, and sounds out of the city—sounds of the day and night;
Talkative young ones to those that like them—the loud laugh of work-people at their meals;
The angry base of disjointed friendship—the faint tones of the sick;
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his pallid lips pronouncing a death-sentence;
The heave’e’yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves—the refrain of the anchor-lifters;
The ring of alarm-bells—the cry of fire—the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts, with premonitory tinkles, and color’d lights;
The steam-whistle—the solid roll of the train of approaching cars;
The slow-march play’d at the head of the association, marching two and two,
(They go to guard some corpse—the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.)

I hear the violoncello (’tis the young man’s heart’s complaint;)
I hear the key’d cornet—it glides quickly in through my ears;
It shakes mad-sweet pangs through my belly and breast.

I hear the chorus—it is a grand opera;
Ah, this indeed is music! This suits me.

A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me;
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.

I hear the train’d soprano—(what work, with hers, is this?)
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies;
It wrenches such ardors from me, I did not know I possess’d them;
It sails me—I dab with bare feet—they are lick’d by the indolent waves;
I am exposed, cut by bitter and angry hail—I lose my breath,
Steep’d amid honey’d morphine, my windpipe throttled in fakes of death;
At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call BEING.

27

To be, in any form—what is that?
(Round and round we go, all of us, and ever come back thither;)
If nothing lay more develop’d, the quahaug in its callous shell were enough.

Mine is no callous shell;
I have instant conductors all over me, whether I pass or stop;
They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me.

I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy;
To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand.

28

Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity,
Flames and ether making a rush for my veins,
Treacherous tip of me reaching and crowding to help them,
My flesh and blood playing out lightning to strike what is hardly different from myself;
On all sides prurient provokers stiffening my limbs,
Straining the udder of my heart for its withheld drip,
Behaving licentious toward me, taking no denial,
Depriving me of my best, as for a purpose,
Unbuttoning my clothes, holding me by the bare waist,
Deluding my confusion with the calm of the sunlight and pasture-fields,
Immodestly sliding the fellow-senses away,
They bribed to swap off with touch, and go and graze at the edges of me;
No consideration, no regard for my draining strength or my anger;
Fetching the rest of the herd around to enjoy them a while,
Then all uniting to stand on a headland and worry me.

The sentries desert every other part of me;
They have left me helpless to a red marauder;
They all come to the headland, to witness and assist against me.

I am given up by traitors;
I talk wildly—I have lost my wits—I and nobody else am the greatest traitor;
I went myself first to the headland—my own hands carried me there.

You villain touch! what are you doing? My breath is tight in its throat;
Unclench your floodgates! you are too much for me.

29

Blind, loving, wrestling touch! sheath’d, hooded, sharp-tooth’d touch!
Did it make you ache so, leaving me?

Parting, track’d by arriving—perpetual payment of perpetual loan;
Rich, showering rain, and recompense richer afterward.

Sprouts take and accumulate—stand by the curb prolific and vital:
Landscapes, projected, masculine, full-sized and golden.

30

All truths wait in all things;
They neither hasten their own delivery, nor resist it;
They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon;
The insignificant is as big to me as any;
(What is less or more than a touch?)

Logic and sermons never convince;
The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.

Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so;
Only what nobody denies is so.

A minute and a drop of me settle my brain;
I believe the soggy clods shall become lovers and lamps,
And a compend of compends is the meat of a man or woman,
And a summit and flower there is the feeling they have for each other,
And they are to branch boundlessly out of that lesson until it becomes omnific,
And until every one shall delight us, and we them.

31

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,
And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,
And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven,
And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery,
And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue,
And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels,
And I could come every afternoon of my life to look at the farmer’s girl boiling her iron tea-kettle and baking shortcake.

I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots,
And am stucco’d with quadrupeds and birds all over,
And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons,
And call anything close again, when I desire it.

In vain the speeding or shyness;
In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach;
In vain the mastodon retreats beneath its own powder’d bones;
In vain objects stand leagues off, and assume manifold shapes;
In vain the ocean settling in hollows, and the great monsters lying low;
In vain the buzzard houses herself with the sky;
In vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs;
In vain the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods;
In vain the razor-bill’d auk sails far north to Labrador;
I follow quickly, I ascend to the nest in the fissure of the cliff.

32

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d;
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins;
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied—not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me, and I accept them;
They bring me tokens of myself—they evince them plainly in their possession.

I wonder where they get those tokens:
Did I pass that way huge times ago, and negligently drop them?
Myself moving forward then and now and forever,
Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,
Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them;
Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers;
Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.

A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses,
Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,
Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,
Eyes full of sparkling wickedness—ears finely cut, flexibly moving.

His nostrils dilate, as my heels embrace him;
His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure, as we race around and return.

I but use you a moment, then I resign you, stallion;
Why do I need your paces, when I myself out-gallop them?
Even, as I stand or sit, passing faster than you.

33

O swift wind! O space and time! now I see it is true, what I guessed at;
What I guess’d when I loaf’d on the grass;
What I guess’d while I lay alone in my bed,
And again as I walk’d the beach under the paling stars of the morning.

My ties and ballasts leave me—I travel—I sail—my elbows rest in the sea-gaps;
I skirt the sierras—my palms cover continents;
I am afoot with my vision.

By the city’s quadrangular houses—in log huts—camping with lumbermen;
Along the ruts of the turnpike—along the dry gulch and rivulet bed;
Weeding my onion-patch, or hoeing rows of carrots and parsnips—crossing savannas—trailing in forests;
Prospecting—gold-digging—girdling the trees of a new purchase;
Scorch’d ankle-deep by the hot sand—hauling my boat down the shallow river;
Where the panther walks to and fro on a limb overhead—where the buck turns furiously at the hunter;
Where the rattlesnake suns his flabby length on a rock—where the otter is feeding on fish;
Where the alligator in his tough pimples sleeps by the bayou;
Where the black bear is searching for roots or honey—where the beaver pats the mud with his paddle-shaped tail;
Over the growing sugar—over the yellow-flower’d cotton plant—over the rice in its low moist field;
Over the sharp-peak’d farm house, with its scallop’d scum and slender shoots from the gutters;
Over the western persimmon—over the long-leav’d corn—over the delicate blue-flower flax;
Over the white and brown buckwheat, a hummer and buzzer there with the rest;
Over the dusky green of the rye as it ripples and shades in the breeze;
Scaling mountains, pulling myself cautiously up, holding on by low scragged limbs;
Walking the path worn in the grass, and beat through the leaves of the brush;
Where the quail is whistling betwixt the woods and the wheat-lot;
Where the bat flies in the Seventh-month eve—where the great gold-bug drops through the dark;
Where flails keep time on the barn floor;
Where the brook puts out of the roots of the old tree and flows to the meadow;
Where cattle stand and shake away flies with the tremulous shuddering of their hides;
Where the cheese-cloth hangs in the kitchen—where andirons straddle the hearth-slab—where cobwebs fall in festoons from the rafters;
Where trip-hammers crash—where the press is whirling its cylinders;
Wherever the human heart beats with terrible throes under its ribs;
Where the pear-shaped balloon is floating aloft, (floating in it myself, and looking composedly down;)
Where the life-car is drawn on the slip-noose—where the heat hatches pale-green eggs in the dented sand;
Where the she-whale swims with her calf, and never forsakes it;
Where the steam-ship trails hind-ways its long pennant of smoke;
Where the fin of the shark cuts like a black chip out of the water;
Where the half-burn’d brig is riding on unknown currents,
Where shells grow to her slimy deck—where the dead are corrupting below;
Where the dense-starr’d flag is borne at the head of the regiments;
Approaching Manhattan, up by the long-stretching island;
Under Niagara, the cataract falling like a veil over my countenance;
Upon a door-step—upon the horse-block of hard wood outside;
Upon the race-course, or enjoying picnics or jigs, or a good game of base-ball;
At he-festivals, with blackguard jibes, ironical license, bull-dances, drinking, laughter;
At the cider-mill, tasting the sweets of the brown mash, sucking the juice through a straw;
At apple-peelings, wanting kisses for all the red fruit I find;
At musters, beach-parties, friendly bees, huskings, house-raisings:
Where the mocking-bird sounds his delicious gurgles, cackles, screams, weeps;
Where the hay-rick stands in the barn-yard—where the dry-stalks are scattered—where the brood-cow waits in the hovel;
Where the bull advances to do his masculine work—where the stud to the mare—where the cock is treading the hen;
Where the heifers browse—where geese nip their food with short jerks;
Where sun-down shadows lengthen over the limitless and lonesome prairie;
Where herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles far and near;
Where the humming-bird shimmers—where the neck of the long-lived swan is curving and winding;
Where the laughing-gull scoots by the shore, where she laughs her near-human laugh;
Where bee-hives range on a gray bench in the garden, half hid by the high weeds;
Where band-neck’d partridges roost in a ring on the ground with their heads out;
Where burial coaches enter the arch’d gates of a cemetery;
Where winter wolves bark amid wastes of snow and icicled trees;
Where the yellow-crown’d heron comes to the edge of the marsh at night and feeds upon small crabs;
Where the splash of swimmers and divers cools the warm noon;
Where the katy-did works her chromatic reed on the walnut-tree over the well;
Through patches of citrons and cucumbers with silver-wired leaves;
Through the salt-lick or orange glade, or under conical firs;
Through the gymnasium—through the curtain’d saloon—through the office or public hall;
Pleas’d with the native, and pleas’d with the foreign—pleas’d with the new and old;
Pleas’d with women, the homely as well as the handsome;
Pleas’d with the quakeress as she puts off her bonnet and talks melodiously;
Pleas’d with the tune of the choir of the white-wash’d church;
Pleas’d with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher, or any preacher—impress’d seriously at the camp-meeting:
Looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway the whole forenoon—flatting the flesh of my nose on the thick plate-glass;
Wandering the same afternoon with my face turn’d up to the clouds,
My right and left arms round the sides of two friends, and I in the middle:
Coming home with the silent and dark-cheek’d bush-boy—(behind me he rides at the drape of the day;)
Far from the settlements, studying the print of animals’ feet, or the moccasin print;
By the cot in the hospital, reaching lemonade to a feverish patient;
Nigh the coffin’d corpse when all is still, examining with a candle:
Voyaging to every port, to dicker and adventure;
Hurrying with the modern crowd, as eager and fickle as any;
Hot toward one I hate, ready in my madness to knife him;
Solitary at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts gone from me a long while;
Walking the old hills of Judea, with the beautiful gentle God by my side;
Speeding through space—speeding through heaven and the stars;
Speeding amid the seven satellites, and the broad ring, and the diameter of eighty thousand miles;
Speeding with tail’d meteors—throwing fire-balls like the rest;
Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly;
Storming, enjoying, planning, loving, cautioning,
Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing;
I tread day and night such roads.

I visit the orchards of spheres, and look at the product:
And look at quintillions ripen’d, and look at quintillions green.

I fly the flight of the fluid and swallowing soul;
My course runs below the soundings of plummets.

I help myself to material and immaterial;
No guard can shut me off, nor law prevent me.

I anchor my ship for a little while only;
My messengers continually cruise away, or bring their returns to me.

I go hunting polar furs and the seal—leaping chasms with a pike-pointed staff—clinging to topples of brittle and blue.

I ascend to the foretruck;
I take my place late at night in the crow’s-nest;
We sail the arctic sea—it is plenty light enough;
Through the clear atmosphere I stretch around on the wonderful beauty;
The enormous masses of ice pass me, and I pass them—the scenery is plain in all directions;
The white-topt mountains show in the distance—I fling out my fancies toward them;
(We are approaching some great battle-field in which we are soon to be engaged;
We pass the colossal outposts of the encampment—we pass with still feet and caution;
Or we are entering by the suburbs some vast and ruin’d city;
The blocks and fallen architecture more than all the living cities of the globe.)

I am a free companion—I bivouac by invading watchfires.

I turn the bridegroom out of bed, and stay with the bride myself;
I tighten her all night to my thighs and lips.

My voice is the wife’s voice, the screech by the rail of the stairs;
They fetch my man’s body up, dripping and drown’d.

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.

The disdain and calmness of olden martyrs;
The mother, condemn’d for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her children gazing on;
The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence, blowing, cover’d with sweat;
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck—the murderous buckshot and the bullets;
All these I feel, or am.

I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen;
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn’d with the ooze of my skin;
I fall on the weeds and stones;
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears, and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks.

Agonies are one of my changes of garments;
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels—I myself become the wounded person;
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.

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.

Distant and dead resuscitate;
They show as the dial or move as the hands of me—I am the clock myself.

I am an old artillerist—I tell of my fort’s bombardment;
I am there again.

Again the long roll of the drummers;
Again the attacking cannon, mortars;
Again, to my listening ears, the cannon responsive.

I take part—I see and hear the whole;
The cries, curses, roar—the plaudits for well-aim’d shots;
The ambulanza slowly passing, trailing its red drip;
Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs;
The fall of grenades through the rent roof—the fan-shaped explosion;
The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air.

Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general—he furiously waves with his hand;
He gasps through the clot, Mind not me—mind—the entrenchments.

34

Now I tell what I knew in Texas in my early youth;
(I tell not the fall of Alamo,
Not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo,
The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo;)
’Tis the tale of the murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young men.

Retreating, they had form’d in a hollow square, with their baggage for breastworks;
Nine hundred lives out of the surrounding enemy’s, nine times their number, was the price they took in advance;
Their colonel was wounded and their ammunition gone;
They treated for an honorable capitulation, receiv’d writing and seal, gave up their arms, and march’d back prisoners of war.

They were the glory of the race of rangers;
Matchless with horse, rifle, song, supper, courtship,
Large, turbulent, generous, handsome, proud, and affectionate,
Bearded, sunburnt, drest in the free costume of hunters,
Not a single one over thirty years of age.

The second First-day morning they were brought out in squads, and massacred—it was beautiful early summer;
The work commenced about five o’clock, and was over by eight.

None obey’d the command to kneel;
Some made a mad and helpless rush—some stood stark and straight;
A few fell at once, shot in the temple or heart—the living and dead lay together;
The maim’d and mangled dug in the dirt—the newcomers saw them there;
Some, half-kill’d, attempted to crawl away;
These were despatch’d with bayonets, or batter’d with the blunts of muskets;
A youth not seventeen years old seiz’d his assassin till two more came to release him;
The three were all torn, and cover’d with the boy’s blood.

At eleven o’clock began the burning of the bodies:
That is the tale of the murder of the four hundred and twelve young men.

35

Would you hear of an old-fashion’d sea-fight?
Would you learn who won by the light of the moon and stars?
List to the story as my grandmother’s father, the sailor, told it to me.

Our foe was no skulk in his ship, I tell you, (said he;)
His was the surly English pluck—and there is no tougher or truer, and never was, and never will be;
Along the lower’d eve he came, horribly raking us.

We closed with him—the yards entangled—the cannon touch’d;
My captain lash’d fast with his own hands.

We had receiv’d some eighteen pound shots under the water;
On our lower-gun-deck two large pieces had burst at the first fire, killing all around, and blowing up overhead.

Fighting at sun-down, fighting at dark;
Ten o’clock at night, the full moon well up, our leaks on the gain, and five feet of water reported;
The master-at-arms loosing the prisoners confined in the afterhold, to give them a chance for themselves.

The transit to and from the magazine is now stopt by the sentinels,
They see so many strange faces, they do not know whom to trust.

Our frigate takes fire;
The other asks if we demand quarter?
If our colors are struck, and the fighting is done?

Now I laugh content, for I hear the voice of my little captain,
We have not struck, he composedly cries, we have just begun our part of the fighting.

Only three guns are in use;
One is directed by the captain himself against the enemy’s mainmast;
Two, well served with grape and canister, silence his musketry and clear his decks.

The tops alone second the fire of this little battery, especially the main-top;
They hold out bravely during the whole of the action.

Not a moment’s cease;
The leaks gain fast on the pumps—the fire eats toward the powder-magazine.

One of the pumps has been shot away—it is generally thought we are sinking.

Serene stands the little captain;
He is not hurried—his voice is neither high nor low;
His eyes give more light to us than our battle-lanterns.

Toward twelve at night, there in the beams of the moon, they surrender to us.

36

Stretch’d and still lies the midnight;
Two great hulls motionless on the breast of the darkness;
Our vessel riddled and slowly sinking—preparations to pass to the one we have conquer’d;
The captain on the quarter-deck coldly giving his orders through a countenance white as a sheet;
Near by, the corpse of the child that serv’d in the cabin;
The dead face of an old salt with long white hair and carefully curl’d whiskers;
The flames, spite of all that can be done, flickering aloft and below;
The husky voices of the two or three officers yet fit for duty;
Formless stacks of bodies, and bodies by themselves—dabs of flesh upon the masts and spars,
Cut of cordage, dangle of rigging, slight shock of the soothe of waves,
Black and impassive guns, litter of powder-parcels, strong scent,
Delicate sniffs of sea-breeze, smells of sedgy grass and fields by the shore, death-messages given in charge to survivors,
The hiss of the surgeon’s knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,
Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan;
These so—these irretrievable.

37

O Christ! This is mastering me!
In at the conquer’d doors they crowd. I am possess’d.

I embody all presences outlaw’d or suffering;
See myself in prison shaped like another man,
And feel the dull unintermitted pain.

For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and keep watch;
It is I let out in the morning, and barr’d at night.

Not a mutineer walks handcuff’d to jail, but I am handcuff’d to him and walk by his side;
(I am less the jolly one there, and more the silent one, with sweat on my twitching lips.)

Not a youngster is taken for larceny, but I go up too, and am tried and sentenced.

Not a cholera patient lies at the last gasp, but I also lie at the last gasp;
My face is ash-color’d—my sinews gnarl—away from me people retreat.

Askers embody themselves in me, and I am embodied in them;
I project my hat, sit shame-faced, and beg.

38

Enough! enough! enough!
Somehow I have been stunn’d. Stand back!
Give me a little time beyond my cuff’d head, slumbers, dreams, gaping;
I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake.

That I could forget the mockers and insults!
That I could forget the trickling tears, and the blows of the bludgeons and hammers!
That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning.

I remember now;
I resume the overstaid fraction;
The grave of rock multiplies what has been confided to it, or to any graves;
Corpses rise, gashes heal, fastenings roll from me.

I troop forth replenish’d with supreme power, one of an average unending procession;
Inland and sea-coast we go, and we pass all boundary lines;
Our swift ordinances on their way over the whole earth;
The blossoms we wear in our hats the growth of thousands of years.

Eleves, I salute you! come forward!
Continue your annotations, continue your questionings.

39

The friendly and flowing savage, Who is he?
Is he waiting for civilization, or past it, and mastering it?

Is he some south-westerner, rais’d out-doors? Is he Kanadian?
Is he from the Mississippi country? Iowa, Oregon, California? the mountains? prairie-life, bush-life? or from the sea?

Wherever he goes, men and women accept and desire him;
They desire he should like them, touch them, speak to them, stay with them.

Behavior lawless as snow-flakes, words simple as grass, uncomb’d head, laughter, and naiveté,
Slow-stepping feet, common features, common modes and emanations;
They descend in new forms from the tips of his fingers;
They are wafted with the odor of his body or breath—they fly out of the glance of his eyes.

40

Flaunt of the sunshine, I need not your bask,—lie over!
You light surfaces only—I force surfaces and depths also.

Earth! you seem to look for something at my hands;
Say, old Top-knot! what do you want?

Man or woman! I might tell how I like you, but cannot;
And might tell what it is in me, and what it is in you, but cannot;
And might tell that pining I have—that pulse of my nights and days.

Behold! I do not give lectures, or a little charity;
When I give, I give myself.

You there, impotent, loose in the knees!
Open your scarf’d chops till I blow grit within you;
Spread your palms, and lift the flaps of your pockets;
I am not to be denied—I compel—I have stores plenty and to spare;
And anything I have I bestow.

I do not ask who you are—that is not so important to me;
You can do nothing, and be nothing, but what I will infold you.

To cotton-field drudge or cleaner of privies I lean;
On his right cheek I put the family kiss,
And in my soul I swear, I never will deny him.

On women fit for conception I start bigger and nimbler babes;
(This day I am jetting the stuff of far more arrogant republics.)

To any one dying—thither I speed, and twist the knob of the door;
Turn the bed-clothes toward the foot of the bed;
Let the physician and the priest go home.

I seize the descending man, and raise him with resistless will.

O despairer, here is my neck;
By God! you shall not go down! Hang your whole weight upon me.

I dilate you with tremendous breath—I buoy you up;
Every room of the house do I fill with an arm’d force,
Lovers of me, bafflers of graves.

Sleep! I and they keep guard all night;
Not doubt—not decease shall dare to lay finger upon you;
I have embraced you, and henceforth possess you to myself;
And when you rise in the morning you will find what I tell you is so.
...continued on next page...




 gif
clr gif

Back to the index > Poems by Walt Whitman
Profile of the author > American Bard of Liberation Walt Whitman

clr gif
 gif
clr gif
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in our forum

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.