excerpts from "Song of Myself" (1855)

by Walt Whitman


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.


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 stopped
     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 dressed mostly in skins....
     his luxuriant beard and curls protected his neck,
One hand rested on his rifle... the other hand held
     firmly the wrist of the red girl,
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 stopped outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him
     limpsey and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and
     assured him,
And brought water and filled a tub for his sweated body
     and bruis'd feet,
And gave him a room that entered 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.


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!



Now I will do nothing but listen,
And accrue what I hear into myself.... and let sounds contribute
     toward me.

I hear bravuras of birds.... the bustle of growing wheat.... gossip of
     flames....clack of sticks cooking my meals,

I hear the sound of the human voice.... a sound I love,
I hear all sounds tuned to their uses....
     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 and the solid roll of the train of
     approaching cars,
The slow-march played at night 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, or man's heart complaint,)
And hear the key'd cornet or else the echo of the sunset.

I hear the chorus.... it is a grand opera....Ah this indeed is music!



Swift wind! Space! My soul! Now I know it is true what I guess'd at,
What I guessed when I loafed on the grass,
What I guessed 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.... my elbows rest in sea-gaps,
I skirt sierras.... my palms cover continents,
I am afoot with my vision.

By the city's quadrangular houses.... in log huts, or camping
     with lumbermen,
Along the ruts of the turnpike.... along the dry gulch
     and rivulet bed,
Weeding my onion-patch and 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-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 and
     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 wheatlot,
Where the bat flies in the July eve.... where the great
     gold-bug drops through the dark,
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, and andirons
     straddle the hearth-slab, where cobwebs fall in festoons
     from the rafters;
Where trip-hammers crash....where the press is whirling its cylinders,
Where the human heart beats with terrible throes out of 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 calves and never forsakes them,
Where the steam-ship trails hind-ways its long pennant of smoke,
Where the ground-shark's fin cuts like a black ship out of the water,
Where the half-burn'd brig is riding on unknown currents,
Where shells grow to her slimy deck and 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 gibes and ironical license
     and bull-dances and drinking and laughter,
At the cider-mill tasting the sweets of the brown sqush....
     sucking the juice through a straw,
At apple-peelings, wanting kisses for all the red fruit I find,
At musters and beach-parties and friendly bees and huskings
     and house-raisings;
Where the mocking-bird sounds his delicious gurgles and cackles and
     screams and weeps,
Where the hay-rick stands in the barn-yard and the dry-stalks
     are scatter'd and the brood-cow waits in the hovel,
Where the bull advances to do his masculine work and
    the stud to the mare and the cock is treading the hen,
Where the heifers browse and the 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;
Pleased with the native and pleased with the foreign....
     pleased with the new and old,
Pleased with women, the homely woman as well as the handsome,
Pleased with the quakeress as she puts off her bonnet and
     talks melodiously,
Pleased with the primitive tunes of the choir of the whitewash'd church,
Pleased with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher....
     or any preacher.... looking seriously at the camp-meeting;
Looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway the whole
     forenoon.... pressing the flesh of my nose on the thick plate glass,
Wandering the same afternoon with my face turn'd up to the clouds...
     or down a lane or along the beach,
My right and left arms round the sides of two friends and I
     in the middle;
Coming home with the bearded and dark-cheek'd bush-boy....
     riding behind him 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
By the coffined corpse when all is still, examining with a
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 Judaea 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 tailed 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 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 steamship, and death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was faithful
     of days and faithful of nights,
And chalked in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, We
     will not desert you;

How he saved the drifting company at last,
How the lank loose-gowned women looked when boated
     from the side of their prepared graves,
How the silent old-faced infants and the lifted sick, and the
     sharp-lipped unshaved men;
All this I swallow, it tastes good.... I like it well
     and it becomes mine,
I am the man.... I suffered.... I was there.



The past and present wilt.... I have filled them and emptied them,
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! Hear you.... what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
Talk honestly, for no one else hears you, and I stay only a
     minute longer.

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

I concentrate toward them that are nigh.... I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day's work and will soonest be through
     with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?



The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me.... he complains
     of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed.... I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the
     shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air....I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

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

1855                                                                   1881

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