Published Works

Books by Whitman



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




THIS COMPOST.

1

1SOMETHING startles me where I thought I was safest;
I withdraw from the still woods I loved;
I will not go now on the pastures to walk;
I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my
lover the sea;
I will not touch my flesh to the earth, as to other flesh,
to renew me.

2O how can it be that the ground does not sicken?
How can you be alive, you growths of spring?
How can you furnish health, you blood of herbs, roots,
orchards, grain?
Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses
within you?
Is not every continent work'd over and over with sour
dead?

3Where have you disposed of their carcasses?
Those drunkards and gluttons of so many generations;
Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and meat;
I do not see any of it upon you to-day—or perhaps I am
deceiv'd;
I will run a furrow with my plough—I will press my
spade through the sod, and turn it up under-
neath;
I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.




- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 342] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



2

4Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick per-
son—Yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in the
garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage
out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mul
berry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings, while the
birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch'd eggs,
The new-born of animals appear—the calf is dropt from
the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark
green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk—the lilacs
bloom in the door-yards;
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above
all those strata of sour dead.

5What chemistry!
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of
the sea, which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over
with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have
deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever,
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard, and of the orange-
orchard—that melons, grapes, peaches, plums,
will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any
disease,


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - [begin page 343] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what
was once a catching disease.


3

6Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and
patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such
endless successions of diseas'd corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, an-
nual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such
leavings from them at last.


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.