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Leaves of Grass
by Walt Whitman
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes


Portrait of Whitman from the 1855 edition and title page from 1860

(New York, 1855)



Walter "Walt" Whitman (May 31, 1819 - March 26, 1892) was a poet and essayist from New York. 'Leaves of Grass' is now commonly seen as the definitive first flowering of a free and independent American poetry. But earlier reviewers were shocked by its crudeness, and its oblique references to the author's homosexuality. Whitman revised and expanded the collection many times, from 12 poems in the first to over 400.

Selected and abridged: GH



Leaves of Grass



Prefatory Note
    Ever and ever yet the verses owning - as, first, I here and now
    Signing for Soul and Body, set to them my name,
    Walt Whitman

INSCRIPTIONS


ONE'S-SELF I SING
One's-self I sing, a simple separate person,
Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-Masse.

Of physiology from top to toe I sing,
Not physiognomy alone nor brain alone is worthy for the Muse, I say
      the Form complete is worthier far,
The Female equally with the Male I sing.

Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form'd under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing.

TO FOREIGN LANDS
I heard that you ask'd for something to prove this puzzle the New World,
And to define America, her athletic Democracy,
Therefore I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted.

WHEN I READ THE BOOK
When I read the book, the biography famous,
And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man's life?
And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life?
(As if any man really knew aught of my life,
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,
Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections
I seek for my own use to trace out here.)

TO THE STATES
To the States or any one of them, or any city of the States, Resist
      much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth, ever
      afterward resumes its liberty.

I HEAR AMERICA SINGING
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
      singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as
      he stands,
The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning,
      or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
      or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day-at night the party of young
      fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

SONG OF MYSELF


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.

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,)

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.

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

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 new tongue.

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

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 scalper, and this is a
      mathematician.

Gentlemen, to you the first honors always!
Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.

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

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

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.)
I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork 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.

Space and Time! now I see it is true, what I guess'd 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.

All forces have been steadily employ'd to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

O span of youth! ever-push'd elasticity!
O manhood, balanced, florid and full.

My lovers suffocate me,
Crowding my lips, thick in the pores of my skin,
Jostling me through streets and public halls, coming naked to me at night,
Crying by day, Ahoy! from the rocks of the river, swinging and
      chirping over my head,
Calling my name from flower-beds, vines, tangled underbrush,
Lighting on every moment of my life,
Bussing my body with soft balsamic busses,
Noiselessly passing handfuls out of their hearts and giving them to be mine.

Old age superbly rising! O welcome, ineffable grace of dying days!

I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own
      funeral drest in his shroud,
And I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it
      may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel'd universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed
      before a million universes.

And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.

Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
   And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to
      try to alarm me.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)


CHILDREN OF ADAM

TO THE GARDEN OF THE WORLD
To the garden the world anew ascending,
Potent mates, daughters, sons, preluding,
The love, the life of their bodies, meaning and being,
Curious here behold my resurrection after slumber,
The revolving cycles in their wide sweep having brought me again,
Amorous, mature, all beautiful to me, all wondrous,
My limbs and the quivering fire that ever plays through them, for
      reasons, most wondrous,
Existing I peer and penetrate still,
Content with the present, content with the past,
By my side or back of me Eve following,
Or in front, and I following her just the same.

I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?

Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the body of a man?
Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations
      and times all over the earth?

If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,
And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,
And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more
      beautiful than the most beautiful face.

Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool
      that corrupted her own live body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.

O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and
      women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of
      the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and
      that they are my poems.

A WOMAN WAITS FOR ME
A woman waits for me, she contains all, nothing is lacking,
Yet all were lacking if sex were lacking, or if the moisture of the
      right man were lacking.

Sex contains all, bodies, souls,
Meanings, proofs, purities, delicacies, results, promulgations,
Songs, commands, health, pride, the maternal mystery, the seminal milk,
All hopes, benefactions, bestowals, all the passions, loves,
      beauties, delights of the earth,
All the governments, judges, gods, follow'd persons of the earth,
These are contain'd in sex as parts of itself and justifications of itself.

Without shame the man I like knows and avows the deliciousness of his sex,
Without shame the woman I like knows and avows hers.

CALAMUS


THE BASE OF ALL METAPHYSICS
And now gentlemen,
A word I give to remain in your memories and minds,
As base and finale too for all metaphysics.

(So to the students the old professor,
At the close of his crowded course.)

Having studied the new and antique, the Greek and Germanic systems,
Kant having studied and stated, Fichte and Schelling and Hegel,
Stated the lore of Plato, and Socrates greater than Plato,
And greater than Socrates sought and stated, Christ divine having
      studied long,
I see reminiscent to-day those Greek and Germanic systems,
See the philosophies all, Christian churches and tenets see,
Yet underneath Socrates clearly see, and underneath Christ the divine I see,
The dear love of man for his comrade, the attraction of friend to friend,
Of the well-married husband and wife, of children and parents,
Of city for city and land for land.

ARE YOU THE NEW PERSON DRAWN TOWARD ME?
Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with take warning, I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy'd satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this facade, this smooth and tolerant
      manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought O dreamer that it may be all maya, illusion?

TO A STRANGER
Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me
      as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate,
      chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours
      only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you
      take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or
      wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

WE TWO BOYS TOGETHER CLINGING
We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm'd and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving.
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving,
      threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on
      the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.

A GLIMPSE
A glimpse through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove
      late of a winter night, and I unremark'd seated in a corner,
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and
      seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and
      oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little,
      perhaps not a word.

O YOU WHOM I OFTEN AND SILENTLY COME
O you whom I often and silently come where you are that I may be with you,
As I walk by your side or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is
      playing within me.

THAT SHADOW MY LIKENESS
That shadow my likeness that goes to and fro seeking a livelihood,
      chattering, chaffering,
How often I find myself standing and looking at it where it flits,
How often I question and doubt whether that is really me;
But among my lovers and caroling these songs,
O I never doubt whether that is really me.

BY THE ROADSIDE


A BOSTON BALLAD
To get betimes in Boston town I rose this morning early,
Here's a good place at the corner, I must stand and see the show.

Clear the way there Jonathan!
Way for the President's marshal-way for the government cannon!
Way for the Federal foot and dragoons, (and the apparitions
      copiously tumbling.)

I love to look on the Stars and Stripes, I hope the fifes will play
      Yankee Doodle.
How bright shine the cutlasses of the foremost troops!
Every man holds his revolver, marching stiff through Boston town.

A CHILD'S AMAZE
Silent and amazed even when a little boy,
I remember I heard the preacher every Sunday put God in his statements,
As contending against some being or influence.

BEAUTIFUL WOMEN
Women sit or move to and fro, some old, some young,
The young are beautiful-but the old are more beautiful than the young.

HAST NEVER COME TO THEE AN HOUR
Hast never come to thee an hour,
A sudden gleam divine, precipitating, bursting all these bubbles,
      fashions, wealth?
These eager business aims-books, politics, art, amours,
To utter nothingness?

TO OLD AGE
I see in you the estuary that enlarges and spreads itself grandly as
      it pours in the great sea.

DRUM-TAPS


BEAT! BEAT! DRUMS!
Beat! beat! drums!-blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows-through doors-burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying;
Leave not the bridegroom quiet-no happiness must he have now with
      his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering
      his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums-so shrill you bugles blow.

MEMORIES OF PRESIDENT LINCOLN


O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN!
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
      But O heart! heart! heart!
       O the bleeding drops of red,
         Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up-for you the flag is flung-for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths-for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
      Here Captain! dear father!
       This arm beneath your head!
         It is some dream that on the deck,
          You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
       Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
         But I with mournful tread,
          Walk the deck my Captain lies,
             Fallen cold and dead.

THIS DUST WAS ONCE THE MAN
This dust was once the man,
Gentle, plain, just and resolute, under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of these States.

THOU MOTHER WITH THY EQUAL BROOD
Thou Mother with thy equal brood,
Thou varied chain of different States, yet one identity only,
A special song before I go I'd sing o'er all the rest,
For thee, the future.

I'd sow a seed for thee of endless Nationality,
I'd fashion thy ensemble including body and soul,
I'd show away ahead thy real Union, and how it may be accomplish'd.

The paths to the house I seek to make,
But leave to those to come the house itself.

Sail, sail thy best, ship of Democracy,
Of value is thy freight, 'tis not the Present only,
The Past is also stored in thee,
Thou holdest not the venture of thyself alone, not of the Western
      continent alone,
Earth's resume entire floats on thy keel O ship, is steadied by thy spars,
With thee Time voyages in trust, the antecedent nations sink or
      swim with thee,
With all their ancient struggles, martyrs, heroes, epics, wars, thou
      bear'st the other continents,
Theirs, theirs as much as thine, the destination-port triumphant;
Steer then with good strong hand and wary eye O helmsman, thou
      carriest great companions,
Venerable priestly Asia sails this day with thee,
And royal feudal Europe sails with thee.

SONGS OF PARTING


AS THE TIME DRAWS NIGH
As the time draws nigh glooming a cloud,
A dread beyond of I know not what darkens me.

I shall go forth,
I shall traverse the States awhile, but I cannot tell whither or how long,
Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my voice will
      suddenly cease.

O book, O chants! must all then amount to but this?
Must we barely arrive at this beginning of us? -and yet it is
      enough, O soul;
O soul, we have positively appear'd-that is enough.

SONG AT SUNSET
Splendor of ended day floating and filling me,
Hour prophetic, hour resuming the past,
Inflating my throat, you divine average,
You earth and life till the last ray gleams I sing.

Open mouth of my soul uttering gladness,
Eyes of my soul seeing perfection,
Natural life of me faithfully praising things,
Corroborating forever the triumph of things.

Illustrious every one!
Illustrious what we name space, sphere of unnumber'd spirits,
Illustrious the mystery of motion in all beings, even the tiniest insect,
Illustrious the attribute of speech, the senses, the body,
Illustrious the passing light-illustrious the pale reflection on
      the new moon in the western sky,
Illustrious whatever I see or hear or touch, to the last.

SANDS AT SEVENTY


MANNAHATTA
My city's fit and noble name resumed,
Choice aboriginal name, with marvellous beauty, meaning,
A rocky founded island-shores where ever gayly dash the coming,
      going, hurrying sea waves.

THE FIRST DANDELION
Simple and fresh and fair from winter's close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter'd grass-innocent, golden, calm
      as the dawn,
The spring's first dandelion shows its trustful face.

AMERICA
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

MEMORIES
How sweet the silent backward tracings!
The wanderings as in dreams-the meditation of old times resumed
      -their loves, joys, persons, voyages.


THANKS IN OLD AGE

Thanks in old age-thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air-for life, mere life,
For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear-you,
      father-you, brothers, sisters, friends,)
For all my days-not those of peace alone-the days of war the same,
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat-for sweet appreciation,
(You distant, dim unknown-or young or old-countless, unspecified,
      readers belov'd,
We never met, and neer shall meet-and yet our souls embrace, long,
      close and long;)
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books-for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men-devoted, hardy men-who've forward
      sprung in freedom's help, all years, all lands
For braver, stronger, more devoted men-(a special laurel ere I go,
      to life's war's chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought-the great artillerists-the
      foremost leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldier from an ended war return'd-As traveler out of myriads,
      to the long procession retrospective,
Thanks-joyful thanks!-a soldier's, traveler's thanks.

GOOD-BYE MY FANCY


GOOD-BYE MY FANCY!
Good-bye my Fancy!
Farewell dear mate, dear love!
I'm going away, I know not where,
Or to what fortune, or whether I may ever see you again,
So Good-bye my Fancy.

Now for my last-let me look back a moment;
The slower fainter ticking of the clock is in me,
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping.

Long have we lived, joy'd, caress'd together;
Delightful!-now separation-Good-bye my Fancy.

Yet let me not be too hasty,
Long indeed have we lived, slept, filter'd, become really blended
      into one;
Then if we die we die together, (yes, we'll remain one,)
If we go anywhere we'll go together to meet what happens,
May-be we'll be better off and blither, and learn something,
May-be it is yourself now really ushering me to the true songs, (who
      knows?)
May-be it is you the mortal knob really undoing, turning-so now finally,
Good-bye-and hail! my Fancy.





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