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Leaves of Grass

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To be in any form, what is that? (Round and round we go, all of us, and ever come back thither,) If nothing lay more develop'd the quahaug in its callous shell were enough. Mine is no callous shell, I have instant conductors all over me whether I pass or stop, They seize every object and lead it harmlessly through me. I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy, To touch my person to some one else's is about as much as I can stand. 28 Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity, Flames and ether making a rush for my veins, Treacherous tip of me reaching and crowding to help them, My flesh and blood playing out lightning to strike what is hardly different from myself, On all sides prurient provokers stiffening my limbs, Straining the udder of my heart for its withheld drip, Behaving licentious toward me, taking no denial, Depriving me of my best as for a purpose, Unbuttoning my clothes, holding me by the bare waist, Deluding my confusion with the calm of the sunlight and pasture-fields, Immodestly sliding the fellow-senses away, They bribed to swap off with touch and go and graze at the edges of me, No consideration, no regard for my draining strength or my anger, Fetching the rest of the herd around to enjoy them a while, Then all uniting to stand on a headland and worry me. The sentries desert every other part of me, They have left me helpless to a red marauder, They all come to the headland to witness and assist against me. I am given up by traitors, I talk wildly, I have lost my wits, I and nobody else am the greatest traitor, I went myself first to the headland, my own hands carried me there. You villain touch! what are you doing? my breath is tight in its throat, Unclench your floodgates, you are too much for me. 29 Blind loving wrestling touch, sheath'd hooded sharp-tooth'd touch! Did it make you ache so, leaving me? Parting track'd by arriving, perpetual payment of perpetual loan, Rich showering rain, and recompense richer afterward. Sprouts take and accumulate, stand by the curb prolific and vital, Landscapes projected masculine, full-sized and golden. 30 All truths wait in all things, They neither hasten their own delivery nor resist it, They do not need the obstetric forceps of the surgeon, The insignificant is as big to me as any, (What is less or more than a touch?) Logic and sermons never convince, The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul. (Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so, Only what nobody denies is so.) A minute and a drop of me settle my brain, I believe the soggy clods shall become lovers and lamps, And a compend of compends is the meat of a man or woman, And a summit and flower there is the feeling they have for each other, And they are to branch boundlessly out of that lesson until it becomes omnific, And until one and all shall delight us, and we them. 31 I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work of the stars, And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren, And the tree-toad is a chef-d'oeuvre for the highest, And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven, And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery, And the cow crunching with depress'd head surpasses any statue, And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels. I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots, And am stucco'd with quadrupeds and birds all over, And have distanced what is behind me for good reasons, But call any thing back again when I desire it. In vain the speeding or shyness, In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach, In vain the mastodon retreats beneath its own powder'd bones, In vain objects stand leagues off and assume manifold shapes, In vain the ocean settling in hollows and the great monsters lying low, In vain the buzzard houses herself with the sky, In vain the snake slides through the creepers and logs, In vain the elk takes to the inner passes of the woods, In vain the razor-bill'd auk sails far north to Labrador, I follow quickly, I ascend to the nest in the fissure of the cliff. 32 I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd, I stand and look at them long and long. They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth. So they show their relations to me and I accept them, They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession. I wonder where they get those tokens, Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them? Myself moving forward then and now and forever, Gathering and showing more always and with velocity, Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them, Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers, Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms. A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses, Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears, Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground, Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving. His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him, His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return. I but use you a minute, then I resign you, stallion, Why do I need your paces when I myself out-gallop them? Even as I stand or sit passing faster than you. 33 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. My ties and ballasts leave me, 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, camping with lumber-men, Along the ruts of the turnpike, along the dry gulch and rivulet bed, Weeding my onion-patch or hosing 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 tall; 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 goldbug 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, 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 gibes, 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 scatter'd, 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 the homely woman 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 whitewash'd church, Pleas'd with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist 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, 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 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 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 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 those flights of a 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, no 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 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 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 three days 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 martyrs, The mother of old, condemn'd for a witch, burnt with dry wood, her children gazing on, The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by the fence, blowing, cover'd with sweat, The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, the murderous buckshot and the bullets, All these I feel or am. I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs, Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen, I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn'd with the ooze of my skin, I fall on the weeds and stones, The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close, Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks. Agonies are one of my changes of garments, I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person, My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe. I am the mash'd fireman with breast-bone broken, Tumbling walls buried me in their debris, Heat and smoke I inspired, I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades, I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels, They have clear'd the beams away, they tenderly lift me forth. I lie in the night air in my red shirt, the pervading hush is for my sake, Painless after all I lie exhausted but not so unhappy, White and beautiful are the faces around me, the heads are bared of their fire-caps, The kneeling crowd fades with the light of the torches. Distant and dead resuscitate, They show as the dial or move as the hands of me, I am the clock myself. I am an old artillerist, I tell of my fort's bombardment, I am there again. Again the long roll of the drummers, Again the attacking cannon, mortars, Again to my listening ears the cannon responsive. I take part, I see and hear the whole, The cries, curses, roar, the plaudits for well-aim'd shots, The ambulanza slowly passing trailing its red drip, Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs, The fall of grenades through the rent roof, the fan-shaped explosion, The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air. Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general, he furiously waves with his hand, He gasps through the clot Mind not me—mind—the entrenchments. 34 Now I tell what I knew in Texas in my early youth, (I tell not the fall of Alamo, Not one escaped to tell the fall of Alamo, The hundred and fifty are dumb yet at Alamo,) 'Tis the tale of the murder in cold blood of four hundred and twelve young men. Retreating they had form'd in a hollow square with their baggage for breastworks, Nine hundred lives out of the surrounding enemies, nine times their number, was the price they took in advance, Their colonel was wounded and their ammunition gone, They treated for an honorable capitulation, receiv'd writing and seal, gave up their arms and march'd back prisoners of war. They were the glory of the race of rangers, Matchless with horse, rifle, song, supper, courtship, Large, turbulent, generous, handsome, proud, and affectionate, Bearded, sunburnt, drest in the free costume of hunters, Not a single one over thirty years of age. The second First-day morning they were brought out in squads and massacred, it was beautiful early summer, The work commenced about five o'clock and was over by eight. None obey'd the command to kneel, Some made a mad and helpless rush, some stood stark and straight, A few fell at once, shot in the temple or heart, the living and dead lay together, The maim'd and mangled dug in the dirt, the new-comers saw them there, Some half-kill'd attempted to crawl away, These were despatch'd with bayonets or batter'd with the blunts of muskets, A youth not seventeen years old seiz'd his assassin till two more came to release him, The three were all torn and cover'd with the boy's blood. At eleven o'clock began the burning of the bodies; That is the tale of the murder of the four hundred and twelve young men. 35 Would you hear of an old-time sea-fight? Would you learn who won by the light of the moon and stars? List to the yarn, as my grandmother's father the sailor told it to me. Our foe was no skulk in his ship I tell you, (said he,) His was the surly English pluck, and there is no tougher or truer, and never was, and never will be; Along the lower'd eve he came horribly raking us. We closed with him, the yards entangled, the cannon touch'd, My captain lash'd fast with his own hands. We had receiv'd some eighteen pound shots under the water, On our lower-gun-deck two large pieces had burst at the first fire, killing all around and blowing up overhead. Fighting at sun-down, fighting at dark, Ten o'clock at night, the full moon well up, our leaks on the gain, and five feet of water reported, The master-at-arms loosing the prisoners confined in the after-hold to give them a chance for themselves. The transit to and from the magazine is now stopt by the sentinels, They see so many strange faces they do not know whom to trust. Our frigate takes fire, The other asks if we demand quarter? If our colors are struck and the fighting done? Now I laugh content, for I hear the voice of my little captain, We have not struck, he composedly cries, we have just begun our part of the fighting. Only three guns are in use, One is directed by the captain himself against the enemy's main-mast, Two well serv'd with grape and canister silence his musketry and clear his decks. The tops alone second the fire of this little battery, especially the main-top, They hold out bravely during the whole of the action. Not a moment's cease, The leaks gain fast on the pumps, the fire eats toward the powder-magazine. One of the pumps has been shot away, it is generally thought we are sinking. Serene stands the little captain, He is not hurried, his voice is neither high nor low, His eyes give more light to us than our battle-lanterns. Toward twelve there in the beams of the moon they surrender to us. 36 Stretch'd and still lies the midnight, Two great hulls motionless on the breast of the darkness, Our vessel riddled and slowly sinking, preparations to pass to the one we have conquer'd, The captain on the quarter-deck coldly giving his orders through a countenance white as a sheet, Near by the corpse of the child that serv'd in the cabin, The dead face of an old salt with long white hair and carefully curl'd whiskers, The flames spite of all that can be done flickering aloft and below, The husky voices of the two or three officers yet fit for duty, Formless stacks of bodies and bodies by themselves, dabs of flesh upon the masts and spars, Cut of cordage, dangle of rigging, slight shock of the soothe of waves, Black and impassive guns, litter of powder-parcels, strong scent, A few large stars overhead, silent and mournful shining, Delicate sniffs of sea-breeze, smells of sedgy grass and fields by the shore, death-messages given in charge to survivors, The hiss of the surgeon's knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw, Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull, tapering groan, These so, these irretrievable. 37 You laggards there on guard! look to your arms! In at the conquer'd doors they crowd! I am possess'd! Embody all presences outlaw'd or suffering, See myself in prison shaped like another man, And feel the dull unintermitted pain. For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and keep watch, It is I let out in the morning and barr'd at night. Not a mutineer walks handcuff'd to jail but I am handcuff'd to him and walk by his side, (I am less the jolly one there, and more the silent one with sweat on my twitching lips.) Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go up too, and am tried and sentenced. Not a cholera patient lies at the last gasp but I also lie at the last gasp, My face is ash-color'd, my sinews gnarl, away from me people retreat. Askers embody themselves in me and I am embodied in them, I project my hat, sit shame-faced, and beg. 38 Enough! enough! enough! Somehow I have been stunn'd. Stand back! Give me a little time beyond my cuff'd head, slumbers, dreams, gaping, I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. That I could forget the mockers and insults! That I could forget the trickling tears and the blows of the bludgeons and hammers! That I could look with a separate look on my own crucifixion and bloody crowning. I remember now, I resume the overstaid fraction, The grave of rock multiplies what has been confided to it, or to any graves, Corpses rise, gashes heal, fastenings roll from me. I troop forth replenish'd with supreme power, one of an average unending procession, Inland and sea-coast we go, and pass all boundary lines, Our swift ordinances on their way over the whole earth, The blossoms we wear in our hats the growth of thousands of years. Eleves, I salute you! come forward! Continue your annotations, continue your questionings. 39 The friendly and flowing savage, who is he? Is he waiting for civilization, or past it and mastering it? Is he some Southwesterner rais'd out-doors? is he Kanadian? Is he from the Mississippi country? Iowa, Oregon, California? The mountains? prairie-life, bush-life? or sailor from the sea? Wherever he goes men and women accept and desire him, They desire he should like them, touch them, speak to them, stay with them. Behavior lawless as snow-flakes, words simple as grass, uncomb'd head, laughter, and naivete, Slow-stepping feet, common features, common modes and emanations, They descend in new forms from the tips of his fingers, They are wafted with the odor of his body or breath, they fly out of the glance of his eyes. 40 Flaunt of the sunshine I need not your bask—lie over! You light surfaces only, I force surfaces and depths also. Earth! you seem to look for something at my hands, Say, old top-knot, what do you want? Man or woman, I might tell how I like you, but cannot, And might tell what it is in me and what it is in you, but cannot, And might tell that pining I have, that pulse of my nights and days. Behold, I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself. You there, impotent, loose in the knees, Open your scarf'd chops till I blow grit within you, Spread your palms and lift the flaps of your pockets, I am not to be denied, I compel, I have stores plenty and to spare, And any thing I have I bestow. I do not ask who you are, that is not important to me, You can do nothing and be nothing but what I will infold you. To cotton-field drudge or cleaner of privies I lean, On his right cheek I put the family kiss, And in my soul I swear I never will deny him. On women fit for conception I start bigger and nimbler babes. (This day I am jetting the stuff of far more arrogant republics.) To any one dying, thither I speed and twist the knob of the door. Turn the bed-clothes toward the foot of the bed, Let the physician and the priest go home. I seize the descending man and raise him with resistless will, O despairer, here is my neck, By God, you shall not go down! hang your whole weight upon me. I dilate you with tremendous breath, I buoy you up, Every room of the house do I fill with an arm'd force, Lovers of me, bafflers of graves. Sleep—I and they keep guard all night, Not doubt, not decease shall dare to lay finger upon you, I have embraced you, and henceforth possess you to myself, And when you rise in the morning you will find what I tell you is so. 41
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