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Title: Life and Love

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 20, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 20 April 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00415

Contributors to digital file: Jason Stacy, Lucas Reincke, Jake Byers, and Kevin McMullen




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Life and Love.

Damps and chills continued—would have been a very good motto for yesterday. Five minutes to one P.M. we stood at the window, drumming idly on the pane with our fingers, and gazing at the magnificent prospect outside. Drizzle, drizzle, drizzle—drop, drop, drop—hour after hour, and no cessation. The omnibusses roll along, dragged by their melancholy horses; shivering pedestrians pass with a kind of dog trot on the side walks; and the old apple woman who generally occupies the corner over the way, is no where to be seen.

What a variety of umbrellas!

After gazing at the scene, and making divers philosophic speculations upon matters and things in general, we determined to perpetrate a few paragraphs of sentiment. Reader, get a fresh handkerchief.

Life and love! The words are certainly short, and make no great show in print; yet has each, in its four little letters, a mighty volume of mystery, and beauty. Were we disposed to be fanciful, we might divide the body's life from the mind's life, and compare them together. The first, men share equally with irrational animals.

But the soul's life! The soul—so grand and noble in its capacities, so thirsty for knowledge, so filled with the germs of illimitable progress—the soul, that has such awful powers, is endued with such quickness, such judgment, such ability of thinking strange and unearthly thoughts, such a desire of assimilating itself to perfection and godlike purity, such insatiable anxiousness to discover hidden things, such unfathomable good will for its fellows, such undying faith in the efficacy of truth, and such towering ambition, that it may well be lost in wonder at itself. O, what venturesome mariner shall launch forth, and explore it, and take a plummet in his hand and sound its depths?

And part of the life of the soul is love; for the chambers of the heart are pleasant as well as costly. Things of surpassing fairness are there—thoughts that glow and dazzle—benevolence—innocent and holy friendship. Among their windings, restless and sparkling like rays of sunshine, lurk a hundred promptings and capabilities for delight. They are planted by God—and he who would stifle them is a bigot and a fool.

Ever faithful, too, there is a monitor Conscience, sitting on her throne, with a sleepless eye, and a never tiring finger. And down, deep down, from the innermost recesses, wells up the pure fountain of affection, the sweetest and the most cheering of the heart's treasures.

What a superb verse that is of Coleridge's:

"All thoughts, all passions, all delights—
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
Are but the ministers of love,
And feed his sacred flame."1

So let us be more just to our own nature, and to the gifts which the Almighty has made ineradicable within us. Casting our eyes over this beautiful earth, where so much joy and sunshine exist—looking on the human race with the gentle orbs of kindness and philosophy—sending our glance through the cool and verdant lanes, by the sides of the blue rivers, over the crowded city, or among those who dwell on the prairies, or along the green savannahs of the south—and we shall see that every where are the seed of happiness and love. Yet unless they are fostered, they will lie entombed forever in the darkness—and their possessors may die and be buried, and never think of them but as baubles and worth no care.


Notes:

1. The English Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) was known for trying to find beauty in all aspects of life, stating in one of his essays: "Beautiful does not serve utilitarian purpose, which can be recognized by disinterested contemplation. Beauty can transcend the world of reason value and sense." Coleridge's poem "Love" is quoted as part of a discussion of the characteristics of the soul. For further reading, see: Robert J. Barth, "Coleridge on Beauty: 'Beauty, Love, and the Beauty-Making Power,'" Romanticism 11, no. 1 (2005): 14–22. [back]


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