Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass

08 November 2019


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.

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