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Walt Whitman

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joseph carrier

on 11 April 2016

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Transcript of Walt Whitman

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay titled “The Poet” that was a large part of Whitman’s awakening as a poet. He wrote:
“I was simmering, simmering, simmering; Emerson brought me to a boil.”


In this essay Emerson called for a poetry that would represent America: all people and all ideas, all of its landscape, and all of its qualities: good, bad, kind, evil, peaceful, and angry. He also said that American needed a poet who could write about the animal aspects of being human "...sex, nutriment, gestation, birth..."

Whitman heard this and started writing.
Biography
Born May 31st, 1819, in West Hills, New York, the second of eight children. Whitman began working in newspaper offices at the age of 11 and wrote his first article at the age of 12. He later taught school before becoming a journalist and newspaper editor.
Lived in Brooklyn and later Manhattan and read many important writers of the day, including Emerson, Hawthorne, and Bryant. During this time he continued to write for newspapers and in 1842 published a novel about the evils of alcohol.
Whitman wrote political speeches and supported the anti-slavery campaigns of the day. Traveled to New Orleans in 1848 and saw the horrors of slavery with his own eyes. This experience affected him profoundly and changed his ideas about abolitionism.
Shortly after he returned from New Orleans he began to work hard on a new form of poetry. He published the first edition of his life’s work,
Leaves of Grass
, in 1855. The poetry was unique in both its style and themes.
Whitman’s poetry amounted to a revolution in literature. His poetry celebrated the body and the sexual nature of his poetry led to some problems. His publishers were even threatened with charges of obscenity on several occasions.
For the rest of his life Whitman worked on this book, publishing nine different editions. The last, so-called “Death-bed Edition,” was published just two months before Whitman’s death in 1892.
During the Civil War Whitman worked as a medical assistant helping injured and dying soldiers, first in New York and later in Washington D.C. At first excited by the work, he became weakened physically by the death he saw around him and was unhealthy thereafter.
Nature. The natural world is also a central metaphor in Whitman’s work. When he talks about nature he is not only talking about his body in nature (which he talks about a LOT), but this experience represents all of the other “Contacts” as well: the contact of sex, or democracy, or individuals in society are all represented in the poems by descriptions of contact with the earth.
Themes
It may be helpful to think of Whitman's themes in two ways.

A.Controlling Ideas: The way that he thinks.
B. Metaphorical Ideas: The things that he writes about.
Controlling Ideas.
Unity. In Whitman’s poetry “all things are one.” This is the single most important idea for understanding his poems: all of the metaphors are interconnected. Sex is democracy, the human body is the poem, the poem is America. All of these ideas can be interpreted through each other in the poems.
Contact. The best way to understand something (for Whitman) is to touch it (or kiss it, or eat it, or lay on it, or swim in it). He tries to understand the world through his senses and the most important sense for him is touch.
The character “I”. In Whitman’s poetry there is always an I but this “I” is not meant to mean only the author. It is you and it is me and it is the nation and it is the world and it is the universe. This is a BIG “I”.
Metaphorical Ideas
The Human Body. The human body is the most important thing in Whitman’s poetry for three reasons:
1. It provides us with a unity with the world and others. “We are all the same.”
2. It is a means of questioning the nature of existence and the source of all questions: the “who am I?” begins with “What am I?”
3. It is the ultimate “I”.
4. It provides us with a way of touching (contact), and therefore understanding, the world, society, and, most importantly, people around us.
Sex:
For someone who values the sense of touch over all others, it is no surprise that the act of sex is extremely important. It is impossible to touch or be touched more than during sex.
It is also an extremely important metaphor in Whitman’s poetry. It represents the human experience in nature, in society, and in all relationships.
Whitman’s sexuality is a source of great curiosity for anyone who studies him. He appears to have lived the way that he wrote. He was probably intimate with several men and at least two women.
The Nation. “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” His grand theme is the Unites States. This is the background for most of his other metaphors.
Democracy. The idea of democracy perfectly lines up with Whitman’s views about people: we are all important, equal, and we only achieve our full potential by closely interacting with others around us. Whitman’s democracy was radical for its time: all individuals are equal: rich and poor, white and black, man and woman.
Revision: Whitman changed and revised his poems and the last publication is very different from the first edition. He meant that his poems would be looked at as a living and growing thing. It is often important to look at the changes he made and see how the changes affect the meaning of the poems.
Style
Free Verse. Whitman’s poetry does not have end rhyme or a standard meter. It is still complex and uses many different poetic devices (such as alliteration, anaphora, and internal rhyme). This freedom with the poetic form is meant to create the feeling of energy and freedom in the meaning of the poem and Whitman does this very well.
Language: Whitman creates new words, uses words in a new way, and plays with sentence structure to create meaning. He also used language that is extremely shocking to some people. He talks about the human body and its functions in ways that can make some people uncomfortable. He is trying to get us to look at our body without shame.
Catalogues. He writes long lists, attempting to capture everything he can think of on a given topic.
Narrative Voice. This is the “I” we spoke of. The voice in his poetry is Whitman, but it is also you and me and everyone else and everything else at the same time.
1.
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
.
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 to a cent.
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead ?
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 blur 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 s
traps on his light boots to compete 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 paving-man leans on his
two-handed rammer
, the reporter's
lead
flies swiftly over
the note-book, the sign-painter is lettering with blue 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 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 cotton-wood or pecan- trees.
Coon-seekers go through the regions of the
Red
river or through those drain'd by
the
Tennessee
, or through those of the Arkansas,
Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the
Chattahooche
or
Altamahaw
,
Patriarchs
sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grand- sons 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 tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am.
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.
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.
Texts
51.
The past and present wilt − I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there ! what have you to confide to me ?
Look in my face while
I snuff the sidle of evening,

(Talk honestly, 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 ? who 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?
52.
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
shadow'd 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.
Walt Whitman
Professor Joseph Carrier
DongA University Humanities

He saw himself as America’s “national bard (poet)” and worked hard to promote himself and his poetry. Although his poetry was not popular among the general public during his lifetime, many contemporary poets, writers, and critics recognized his importance.
Existence. Whitman’s is always asking the questions:
1.“Who am I?”
2.“Who are we?”
3.“What is the world?”
4.“What is a relationship between humans?”
loafe: to sit or stand in a lazy way.
form'd: formed or made.
cease: stop. (He wants to continue writing until he dies.
"Creeds and schools in abeyance": the poet puts himself above all
religions.
sufficed: satisfied with
"I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, / Nature
without check with original energy.": the poet claims to speak for
nature with the energy of nature.
inception: beginnings
procreant: the natural desire to reproduce
"To elaborate is no avail": to talk about something or
attempt to describe it will not help you
understand.
"...plumb in the uprights, well entretied...": these are
architectural phrases that mean a building is very
strong.
"Lacks one lacks both": If you don't have one thing,
you don't have the other.
"...age vexes age...": If you try to say "this time period
is good and that time period was bad" then you
bring an artificial conflict into history.
vile: evil.
"...with stealthy tread.": with quiet steps.
"Shall I postpone my acceptation...": or "Should I
wait to learn more before I accept this gift?"
"And forthwith cipher to show me to a cent...": His
eyes calculate a way to find money.
contralto: woman opera singer.
foreplane: a tool for making wood smooth.
king-pin: The long handle on the wheel of a ship.
braced: standing with his legs strong.
lance and harpoon: a knife and a sword for killing whales.
ordain'd: ordained is to be made a priest by the church in a
special ceremony.
a First-day loafe: a slow Sunday walk.
lunatic: an insane person.
asylum: a place for insane people to live and get help.
jour printer: a journeyman, or trained, printer.
case: the large boxes used to hold the type.
malformed limbs: these two lines describe an amputation, a
common treatment for serious injury to the arms or legs.
quadroon girl: a woman who is one quarter black.
drunkard: a person who is always drunk.
marks: notices and remembers.
half-breed: a person with one white and one black parent.
marksman: a person who is a professional or skilled shooter
of guns.
wooly-pates: an old black person with white hair on their
heads.
Wolverine: a person from the state of Michigan.
Huron: one of the large lakes in the northern US.
squaw: a Native American woman.
moccasins: soft leather shoes worn by Native Americans.
connoisseur: a person who knows the value of art.
skien: a spool of yarn or thread.
two-handed rammer: a tool for making dirt hard and smooth.
lead: pencil.
tow-path: on canals, or man-made rivers, there would often be a
path along side for humans or animals to pull the boats.
waxes his thread: the shoemaker puts wax on the thread to make it
smooth and strong.
conductor: a leader of a musical group or orchestra.
professions: in this case, a public declaration of their believe in God.
regatta: a sailboat race.
drover, drove: a person who watches over a herd of animals like
cows or sheep.
higgling: arguing over money.
opium-eater: a drug addict.
blackguard oaths: very bad words.
piazza: a large square in the middle of a town.
fish-smack: a small boat for fishing.
far-collector: a person who takes the money for riding the train.
"the Fourth of the Seventh-month": Independence Day in the US.
pike-fisher: a person who fishes for pike fish on frozen lakes.
squatter: a person who claims and builds a house on unowned
land.
Red, Arkansas, etc.: these are the names of American rivers.
Patriarchs: grandfathers.
graft: to attach one living thing to another. Often done with fruit trees.
tongue: language.
dilation: to grow larger.
ducking and depreating: to deny the truth and disapprove of something.
oustript the rest: are you better than other people?
trifle: a meaningless or unimortant thing.
bare-bosomed: a woman's exposed or naked breasts.
voluptuous: a woman who has large breasts or curves. For some, a very
attractive woman.
misty-topt: a mountain with clouds near the top.
vitreous: clear or transparent, like glass.
mottling: to make spotted.
limpid: colorless.
Far-sooping elbow'd: A long armed person. Here the earth personified.
Prodigal: a person who has returned after running away from home.
"...snuff the sidle of evening...": to snuff is to put out
a fire, like a candle. To sidle is to walk away
slowly. The poet says that he will hold onto the
daylight a little longer.
nigh: near.
door-slab: a large flat rock outside of a door. A place
to sit.
gab: conversation
loitering: standing around doing nothing
barbaric yawp: making a sound like a dog or other animal.
"last scud of day": sunset
flings: throws.
the shadowed wilds: the forests.
coaxes: tempts to come.
eddies: waves or ripples in a river.
"drift it in lacy jags": makes delicate and beautiful snow piles.
bequeath: give something to someone after you die, as in a will.
boot-soles: the bottoms of your shoes. In other words, look for
him in the dirt.
"And filter and fibre your blood.": This is another reference to the
bodies organs, in this case, the kidneys.
fetch: find
keep encouraged: don't give up.
Selected sections from the long poem "Song of Myself."
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.
HOMEWORK
Write a short poem in the style of Whitman's "catalogue" in Section 15.
Sit in a place where you can observe people doing different things.
Watch and observe what they are doing and, especially, how they are feeling.
Write down what you see.
Bring your poem to class next Wednesday.
Alliteration: The repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words that are close together.
Consonance: The repetition of consonant sounds in the middle or end of words.
Assonance: The repetition of vowel sounds in the middle of words.
"Musical" Effects
Imagery: The use of language to create a mental picture or a sensation (feeling, emotional or physical) in the mind of a reader. It may involve a person, place, thing, or idea.
Simile: Making a comparison between two unlike things using like, than, or as.
Metaphor: Making a comparison between two unlike things without comparative language.
"Life is like a box of chocolates."
"And of these one and all I weave the song of myself."
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 ;)
Personification: Giving human qualities to animals or nonliving things.
"The city sleeps and the country sleeps."
Onomatopoeia: The use of words whose sound imitates or suggests its meaning like buzz, bang, pow, zoom, clomp, etc.
"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world."
Parallel Structure: The repetition of words or phrases in a specific pattern.
Cadence: The natural rise and fall of spoken language.
Anaphora: The repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of consecutive lines.
Small Group Discussion Project
PART ONE
PART TWO
READ YOUR POEM TO YOUR GROUP MEMBERS.
TELL THE READER SOMETHING YOU LIKE ABOUT THEIR POEM.
EACH GROUP WILL BE GIVEN A SECTION OF THE POEM TO DISCUSS. ON THE CARD, WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU THINK WHITMAN IS SAYING.
GROUP A
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.

GROUP B
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.
GROUP C
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 to a cent.
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead ?

GROUP D
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 tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am.
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.

GROUP E
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.

GROUP F
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.

GROUP G
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.

GROUP H
Prodigal, you have given me love − therefore I to you give love!
O unspeakable passionate love.
GROUP I
Do I contradict myself ?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
GROUP J
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.
GROUP K
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.
GROUP L
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged.
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
19. I Sing the Body Electric


1

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; 5
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much as the Soul?
And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?

2

The love of the Body of man or woman balks account—the body itself balks account;
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect. 10

The expression of the face balks account;
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face;
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists;
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees—dress does not hide him;
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton and flannel; 15
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more;
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats—the horseman in his saddle, 20
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child—the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn—the sleigh-driver guiding his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sundown, after work, 25
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and the under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes—the bent head, the curv’d neck, and the counting; 30
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, and count.

3

I know a man, a common farmer—the father of five sons;
And in them were the fathers of sons—and in them were the fathers of sons.

This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person; 35
The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, and the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes—the richness and breadth of his manners,
These I used to go and visit him to see—he was wise also;
He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old—his sons were massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome;
They and his daughters loved him—all who saw him loved him;
They did not love him by allowance—they loved him with personal love; 40
He drank water only—the blood show’d like scarlet through the clear-brown skin of his face;
He was a frequent gunner and fisher—he sail’d his boat himself—he had a fine one presented to him by a ship-joiner—he had fowling-pieces, presented to him by men that loved him;
When he went with his five sons and many grand-sons to hunt or fish, you would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang.

You would wish long and long to be with him—you would wish to sit by him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other.

4

I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough, 45
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight—I swim in it, as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well; 50
All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.

5

This is the female form;
A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot;
It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction!
I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor—all falls aside but myself and it; 55
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, the atmosphere and the clouds, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed;
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it—the response likewise ungovernable;
Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused—mine too diffused;
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb—love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching;
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice; 60
Bridegroom night of love, working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn;
Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh’d day.

This is the nucleus—after the child is born of woman, the man is born of woman;
This is the bath of birth—this is the merge of small and large, and the outlet again. 65

Be not ashamed, women—your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest;
You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.

The female contains all qualities, and tempers them—she is in her place, and moves with perfect balance;
She is all things duly veil’d—she is both passive and active;
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters. 70

As I see my soul reflected in nature;
As I see through a mist, one with inexpressible completeness and beauty,
See the bent head, and arms folded over the breast—the female I see.

6

The male is not less the soul, nor more—he too is in his place;
He too is all qualities—he is action and power; 75
The flush of the known universe is in him;
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well;
The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost, become him well—pride is for him;
The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul;
Knowledge becomes him—he likes it always—he brings everything to the test of himself; 80
Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail, he strikes soundings at last only here;
(Where else does he strike soundings, except here?)

The man’s body is sacred, and the woman’s body is sacred;
No matter who it is, it is sacred;
Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf? 85
Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as the well-off—just as much as you;
Each has his or her place in the procession.

(All is a procession;
The universe is a procession, with measured and beautiful motion.)

Do you know so much yourself, that you call the slave or the dull-face ignorant? 90
Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight?
Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float—and the soil is on the surface, and water runs, and vegetation sprouts,
For you only, and not for him and her?

7

A man’s Body at auction;
I help the auctioneer—the sloven does not half know his business. 95

Gentlemen, look on this wonder!
Whatever the bids of the bidders, they cannot be high enough for it;
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years, without one animal or plant;
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.

In this head the all-baffling brain; 100
In it and below it, the makings of heroes.

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white—they are so cunning in tendon and nerve;
They shall be stript, that you may see them.

Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant back-bone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs, 105
And wonders within there yet.

Within there runs blood,
The same old blood!
The same red-running blood!
There swells and jets a heart—there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations; 110
Do you think they are not there because they are not express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms?

This is not only one man—this is the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns;
In him the start of populous states and rich republics;
Of him countless immortal lives, with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries? 115
Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?

8

A woman’s Body at auction!
She too is not only herself—she is the teeming mother of mothers;
She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.

Have you ever loved the Body of a woman? 120
Have you ever loved the Body of a man?
Your father—where is your father?
Your mother—is she living? have you been much with her? and has she been much with you?
—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, 125
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 beautiful as 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.

9

O my Body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you; 130
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 poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems;
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids, 135
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest.

Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones, 140
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, fore-finger, finger-balls, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above, 145
Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under leg,
Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body, or of any one’s body, male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame, 150
Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman—and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming, 155
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out, 160
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you, or within me—the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health;
O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the Body only, but of the Soul,
O I say now these are the Soul!
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.
PART TWO
Group Activity

Look at Section 6 together. In this section Whitman writes about the symbol of the grass. Talk with your group and complete two questions:
1. What does Whitman say that grass might symbolize?
2. Can you think of some other things that grass might symbolize?
Full transcript