Published Works

Books by Whitman



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 211] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -




11 — Sun-Down Poem.

FLOOD-TIDE of the river, flow on! I watch
you, face to face,
Clouds of the west! sun half an hour high! I see
you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual
costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds
that cross are more curious to me than you
suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore
years hence, are more to me, and more in my
meditations, than you might suppose.

The impalpable sustenance of me from all things
at all hours of the day,
The simple, compact, well-joined scheme—my-
self disintegrated, every one disintegrated,
yet part of the scheme,
The similitudes of the past and those of the
future,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 212] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



The glories strung like beads on my smallest
sights and hearings—on the walk in the
street, and the passage over the river,
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming
with me far away,
The others that are to follow me, the ties between
me and them,
The certainty of others—the life, love, sight,
hearing of others.

Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross
from shore to shore,
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north
and west, and the heights of Brooklyn to the
south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small,
Fifty years hence others will see them as they
cross, the sun half an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred
years hence, others will see them,
Will enjoy the sun-set, the pouring in of the flood-
tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-
tide.

It avails not, neither time or place—distance
avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a genera-
tion, or ever so many generations hence,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 213] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



I project myself, also I return—I am with you,
and know how it is.

Just as you feel when you look on the river and
sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was
one of a crowd,
Just as you are refreshed by the gladness
of the river, and the bright flow, I was
refreshed,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry
with the swift current, I stood, yet was hur-
ried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships,
and the thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I
looked.

I too many and many a time crossed the river,
the sun half an hour high,
I watched the December sea-gulls, I saw them
high in the air floating with motionless
wings oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of
their bodies, and left the rest in strong
shadow,
I saw the slow-wheeling circles and the gradual
edging toward the south.

I too saw the reflection of the summer-sky in the
water.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 214] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of
beams,
Looked at the fine centrifugal spokes of light
round the shape of my head in the sun-lit
water,
Looked on the haze on the hills southward and
southwestward,
Looked on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged
with violet,
Looked toward the lower bay to notice the arriv-
ing ships,
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were
near me,
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops, saw
the ships at anchor,
The sailors at work in the rigging or out astride
the spars,
The round masts, the swinging motion of the
hulls, the slender serpentine pennants,
The large and small steamers in motion, the pi-
lots in their pilot-houses,
The white wake left by the passage, the quick
tremulous whirl of the wheels,
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at
sun-set,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the
ladled cups, the frolicsome crests and glisten-
ing,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 215] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the
gray walls of the granite store-houses by the
docks,
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-
tug closely flanked on each side by the
barges—the hay-boat, the belated lighter,
On the neighboring shore the fires from the foun-
dry chimneys burning high and glaringly into
the night,
Casting their flicker of black, contrasted with wild
red and yellow light, over the tops of houses,
and down into the clefts of streets.

These and all else were to me the same as they
are to you,
I project myself a moment to tell you—also I
return.

I loved well those cities,
I loved well the stately and rapid river,
The men and women I saw were all near to me,
Others the same—others who look back on me,
because I looked forward to them,
The time will come, though I stop here today and
tonight.

What is it, then, between us? What is the
count of the scores or hundreds of years
between us?



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 216] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not,
and place avails not.

I too lived,
I too walked the streets of Manhattan Island, and
bathed in the waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir with-
in me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes
they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my
bed, they came upon me.

I too had been struck from the float forever held
in solution,
I too had received identity by my body,
That I was, I knew was of my body, and what I
should be, I knew I should be of my body.

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seemed to me blank and sus-
picious,
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they
not in reality meagre? Would not people
laugh at me?

It is not you alone who know what it is to be
evil,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 217] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabbed, blushed, resented, lied, stole, grudged,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not
speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, a solitary
committer, a coward, a malignant person,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adul-
terous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, lazi-
ness, none of these wanting.

But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and
proud!
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud
voices of young men as they saw me ap-
proaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the neg-
ligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or
public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old
laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor
or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make
it, as great as we like, or as small as we
like, or both great and small.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 218] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Closer yet I approach you,
What thought you have of me, I had as much of
you—I laid in my stores in advance,
I considered long and seriously of you before you
were born.

Who was to know what should come home to me?
Who knows but I am enjoying this?
Who knows but I am as good as looking at you
now, for all you cannot see me?

It is not you alone, nor I alone,
Not a few races, not a few generations, not a few
centuries,
It is that each came, or comes, or shall come,
from its due emission, without fail, either
now, or then, or henceforth.

Every thing indicates—the smallest does, and
the largest does,
A necessary film envelops all, and envelops the
soul for a proper time.

Now I am curious what sight can ever be more
stately and admirable to me than my mast-
hemm'd Manhatta, my river and sun-set, and
my scallop-edged waves of flood-tide, the
sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat
in the twilight, and the belated lighter,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 219] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Curious what gods can exceed these that clasp
me by the hand, and with voices I love call
me promptly and loudly by my nighest name
as I approach,
Curious what is more subtle than this which ties
me to the woman or man that looks in my
face,
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my
meaning into you.

We understand, then, do we not?
What I promised without mentioning it, have
you not accepted?
What the study could not teach—what the
preaching could not accomplish is accom-
plished, is it not?
What the push of reading could not start is
started by me personally, is it not?

Flow on, river! Flow with the flood-tide, and
ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edged waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set, drench with your
splendor me, or the men and women genera-
tions after me!
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of
passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Manahatta!—stand up,
beautiful hills of Brooklyn!



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 220] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Bully for you! you proud, friendly, free Manhat-
tanese!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out ques-
tions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of
solution!
Blab, blush, lie, steal, you or I or any one after
us!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house or
street or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and mu-
sically call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the
actor or actress!
Play the old role, the role that is great or small,
according as one makes it!
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may
not in unknown ways be looking upon you!
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who
lean idly, yet haste with the hasting cur-
rent!
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large
circles high in the air!
Receive the summer-sky, you water! faithfully
hold it till all downcast eyes have time to
take it from you!
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of
my head, or any one's head, in the sun-lit
water!



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 221] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Come on, ships, from the lower bay! pass up
or down, white-sailed schooners, sloops,
lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lowered
at sun-set!
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast
black shadows at night-fall! cast red and
yellow light over the tops of the houses!
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what
you are!
You necessary film, continue to envelop the
soul!
About my body for me, and your body for you, be
hung our divinest aromas!
Thrive, cities! Bring your freight, bring your
shows, ample and sufficient rivers!
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps
more spiritual!
Keep your places, objects than which none else is
more lasting!

We descend upon you and all things, we arrest
you all,
We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids
and fluids,
Through you color, form, location, sublimity,
ideality,
Through you every proof, comparison, and all the
suggestions and determinations of ourselves.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 222] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



You have waited, you always wait, you dumb
beautiful ministers! you novices!
We receive you with free sense at last, and are
insatiate henceforward,
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or with-
hold yourselves from us,
We use you, and do not cast you aside—we
plant you permanently within us,
We fathom you not—we love you—there is
perfection in you also,
You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the
soul.

Comments?

Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price, editors.