Published Works

Books by Whitman



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




THE SLEEPERS.

1

1I WANDER all night in my vision,
Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly step-
ping and stopping,
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers,
Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted,
contradictory,
Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping.

2How solemn they look there, stretch'd and still!
How quiet they breathe, the little children in their
cradles!

3The wretched features of ennuyés, the white features
of corpses, the livid faces of drunkards, the sick-
gray faces of onanists,
The gash'd bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their
strong-door'd rooms, the sacred idiots, the new-
born emerging from gates, and the dying emerg-
ing from gates,
The night pervades them and infolds them.

4The married couple sleep calmly in their bed—he
with his palm on the hip of the wife, and she
with her palm on the hip of the husband,
The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed,
The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs,
And the mother sleeps, with her little child carefully
wrapt.



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



5The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps well in the prison—the run-away
son sleeps;
The murderer that is to be hung next day—how does
he sleep?
And the murder'd person—how does he sleep?

6The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
And the male that loves unrequited sleeps,
The head of the money-maker that plotted all day
sleeps,
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions—all, all
sleep.


2

7I stand in the dark with drooping eyes by the worst-
suffering and the most restless,
I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few inches
from them,
The restless sink in their beds—they fitfully sleep.

8Now I pierce the darkness—new beings appear,
The earth recedes from me into the night,
I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not
the earth is beautiful.

9I go from bedside to bedside—I sleep close with the
other sleepers, each in turn,
I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dream-
ers,
And I become the other dreamers.


3

10I am a dance—Play up, there! the fit is whirling me
fast!

11I am the ever-laughing—it is new moon and twi-
light,


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



I see the hiding of douceurs—I see nimble ghosts
whichever way I look,
Cache, and cache again, deep in the ground and sea,
and where it is neither ground or sea.

12Well do they do their jobs, those journeymen divine,
Only from me can they hide nothing, and would not if
they could,
I reckon I am their boss, and they make me a pet
besides,
And surround me and lead me, and run ahead when I
walk,
To lift their cunning covers, to signify me with stretch'd
arms, and resume the way;
Onward we move! a gay gang of blackguards! with
mirth-shouting music, and wild-flapping pennants
of joy!


4

13I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician;
The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood in
the box,
He who has been famous, and he who shall be famous
after to-day,
The stammerer, the well-form'd person, the wasted or
feeble person.


5

14I am she who adorn'd herself and folded her hair
pectantly,
My truant lover has come, and it is dark.

15Double yourself and receive me, darkness!
Receive me and my lover too—he will not let me go
without him.

16I roll myself upon you, as upon a bed—I resign my-
self to the dusk.




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



6

17He whom I call answers me, and takes the place of
my lover,
He rises with me silently from the bed.

18Darkness! you are gentler than my lover—his flesh
was sweaty and panting,
I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me.

19My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all direc-
tions,
I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are
journeying.

20Be careful, darkness! already, what was it touch'd
me?
I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are
one,
I hear the heart-beat—I follow, I fade away.


7

21O hot-cheek'd and blushing! O foolish hectic!
O for pity's sake, no one must see me now! my clothes
were stolen while I was abed,
Now I am thrust forth, where shall I run?

22Pier that I saw dimly last night, when I look'd from
the windows!
Pier out from the main, let me catch myself with you,
and stay—I will not chafe you,
I feel ashamed to go naked about the world.

23I am curious to know where my feet stand—and what
this is flooding me, childhood or manhood—and
the hunger that crosses the bridge between.


8

24The cloth laps a first sweet eating and drinking,
Laps life-swelling yolks—laps ear of rose-corn, milky
and just ripen'd;


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 223] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



The white teeth stay, and the boss-tooth advances in
darkness,
And liquor is spill'd on lips and bosoms by touching
glasses, and the best liquor afterward.


9

25I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid,
Perfume and youth course through me, and I am their
wake.

26It is my face yellow and wrinkled, instead of the old
woman's,
I sit low in a straw-bottom chair, and carefully darn
my grandson's stockings.

27It is I too, the sleepless widow, looking out on the
winter midnight,
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid
earth.

28A shroud I see, and I am the shroud—I wrap a body,
and lie in the coffin,
It is dark here under ground—it is not evil or pain here
—it is blank here, for reasons.

29It seems to me that everything in the light and air
ought to be happy,
Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let him
know he has enough.


10

30I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer, swimming naked
through the eddies of the sea,
His brown hair lies close and even to his head—he
strikes out with courageous arms—he urges him-
self with his legs,
I see his white body—I see his undaunted eyes,
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him
head-foremost on the rocks.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 224] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



31What are you doing, you ruffianly red-trickled waves?
Will you kill the courageous giant ? Will you kill him
in the prime of his middle age ?

32Steady and long he struggles,
He is baffled, bang'd, bruis'd—he holds out while his
strength holds out,
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood—they
bear him away—they roll him, swing him, turn
him,
His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is
continually bruis'd on rocks.
Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.


11

33I turn, but do not extricate myself,
Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness
yet.

34The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind—the wreck-
guns sound,
The tempest lulls—the moon comes floundering through
the drifts.

35I look where the ship helplessly heads end on—I hear
the burst as she strikes—I hear the howls of
dismay—they grow fainter and fainter.

36I cannot aid with my wringing fingers,
I can but rush to the surf, and let it drench me and
freeze upon me.

37I search with the crowd—not one of the company is
wash'd to us alive;
In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay them
in rows in a barn.


12

38Now of the older war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 225] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Washington stands inside the lines—he stands on the
intrench'd hills, amid a crowd of officers,
His face is cold and damp—he cannot repress the weep-
ing drops,
He lifts the glass perpetually to his eyes—the color is
blanch'd from his cheeks,
He sees the slaughter of the southern braves confided to
him by their parents.

39The same, at last and at last, when peace is declared,
He stands, in the room of the old tavern—the well-
belov'd soldiers all pass through,
The officers speechless and slow draw near in their
turns,
The chief encircles their necks with his arm, and kisses
them on the cheek,
He kisses lightly the wet cheeks one after another—he
shakes hands, and bids good-by to the army.


13

40Now I tell what my mother told me to-day as we sat
at dinner together,
Of when she was a nearly grown girl, living home with
her parents on the old homestead.

41A red squaw came one breakfast time to the old
homestead,
On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for rush-
bottoming chairs,
Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse, half-
envelop'd her face,
Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded
exquisitely as she spoke.

42My mother look'd in delight and amazement at the
stranger,
She look'd at the freshness of her tall-borne face, and
full and pliant limbs,
The more she look'd upon her, she loved her,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 226] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and
purity,
She made her sit on a bench by the jamb or the fire-
place—she cook'd food for her,
She had no work to give her, but she gave her remem-
brance and fondness.

43The red squaw staid all the forenoon, and toward the
middle of the afternoon she went away,
O my mother was loth to have her go away!
All the week she thought of her—she watch'd for her
many a month,
She remember'd her many a winter and many a summer,
But the red squaw never came, nor was heard of there
again.


14

44Now Lucifer was not dead—or if he was, I am his
sorrowful terrible heir;
I have been wrong'd—I am oppress'd—I hate him that
oppresses me,
I will either destroy him, or he shall release me.

45Damn him! how he does defile me!
How he informs against my brother and sister, and
takes pay for their blood!
How he laughs when I look down the bend, after the
steamboat that carries away my woman!

46Now the vast dusk bulk that is the whale's bulk, it
seems mine;
Warily, sportsman! though I lie so sleepy and slug-
gish, the tap of my flukes is death.


15

47A show of the summer softness! a contact of some-
thing unseen! an amour of the light and air!
I am jealous, and overwhelm'd with friendliness,
And will go gallivant with the light and air myself,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 227] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



And have an unseen something to be in contact with
them also.

48O love and summer! you are in the dreams, and in
me!
Autumn and winter are in the dreams—the farmer
goes with his thrift,
The droves and crops increase, and the barns are well-
fill'd.


16

49Elements merge in the night—ships make tacks in
the dreams,
The sailor sails—the exile returns home,
The fugitive returns unharm'd—the immigrant is back
beyond months and years,
The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his
childhood, with the well-known neighbors and
faces,
They warmly welcome him—he is barefoot again, he
forgets he is well off;
The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman and
Welshman voyage home, and the native of the
Mediterranean voyages home,
To every port of England, France, Spain, enter well-
fill'd ships,
The Swiss foots it toward his hills—the Prussian goes
his way, the Hungarian his way, and the Pole
his way,
The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian re-
turn.


17

50The homeward bound, and the outward bound,
The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuyé, the onanist,
the female that loves unrequited, the money-
maker,
The actor and actress, those through with their parts,
and those waiting to commence,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 228] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the voter,
the nominee that is chosen, and the nominee that
has fail'd,
The great already known, and the great any time after
to-day,
The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-form'd, the homely,
The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that sat
and sentenced him, the fluent lawyers, the jury,
the audience,
The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight
widow, the red squaw,
The consumptive, the erysipelite, the idiot, he that is
wrong'd,
The antipodes, and every one between this and them in
the dark,
I swear they are averaged now—one is no better than
the other,
The night and sleep have likened them and restored
them.

51I swear they are all beautiful;
Every one that sleeps is beautiful—everything in the
dim light is beautiful,
The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace.


18

52Peace is always beautiful,
The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.

53The myth of heaven indicates the Soul;
The Soul is always beautiful—it appears more or it
appears less—it comes, or it lags behind,
It comes from its embower'd garden, and looks pleasantly
on itself, and encloses the world,
Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting, and
perfect and clean the womb cohering,
The head well-grown, proportion'd and plumb, and the
bowels and joints proportion'd and plumb.




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 229] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



19

54The Soul is always beautiful,
The universe is duly in order, everything is in its place,
What has arrived is in its place, and what waits is in
its place;
The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood
waits,
The child of the glutton or venerealee waits long, and
the child of the drunkard waits long, and the
drunkard himself waits long,
The sleepers that liv'd and died wait—the far advanced
are to go on in their turns, and the far behind
are to come on in their turns,
The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall
flow and unite—they unite now.


20

55The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed,
They flow hand in hand over the whole earth, from
east to west, as they lie unclothed,
The Asiatic and African are hand in hand—the Euro-
pean and American are hand in hand,
Learn'd and unlearn'd are hand in hand, and male and
female are hand in hand,
The bare arm of the girl crosses the bare breast of her
lover—they press close without lust—his lips
press her neck,
The father holds his grown or ungrown son in his arms
with measureless love, and the son holds the
father in his arms with measureless love,
The white hair of the mother shines on the white wrist
of the daughter,
The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the man,
friend is inarm'd by friend,
The scholar kisses the teacher, and the teacher kisses
the scholar—the wrong'd is made right,
The call of the slave is one with the master's call, and
the master salutes the slave,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 230] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



The felon steps forth from the prison—the insane be-
comes sane—the suffering of sick persons is
reliev'd,
The sweatings and fevers stop—the throat that was un-
sound is sound—the lungs of the consumptive
are resumed—the poor distress'd head is free,
The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as ever,
and smoother than ever,
Stiflings and passages open—the paralyzed become
supple,
The swell'd and convuls'd and congested awake to
selves in condition,
They pass the invigoration of the night, and the chem-
istry of the night, and awake.


21

56I too pass from the night,
I stay a while away, O night, but I return to you again,
and love you.

57Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you?
I am not afraid—I have been well brought forward by
you;
I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her in
whom I lay so long,
I know not how I came of you, and I know not where
I go with you—but I know I came well, and shall
go well.

58I will stop only a time with the night, and rise be-
times;
I will duly pass the day, O my mother, and duly return
to you.


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





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.