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Poem of the Body.

7 — Poem of The Body.

THE bodies of men and women engirth me, and  
 I engirth them,
They will not let me off, nor I them, till I go with  
 them, respond to them, love them.
Was it doubted if those who corrupt their own live  
 bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as  
 they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do as much as the soul? And if the body were not the soul, what is the  
The expression of the body of man or woman  
 balks account,
The male is perfect, and that of the female is per- 
The expression of a well-made man appears not  
 only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in  
 the joints of his hips and wrists,
  [ begin page 168 ]ppp.00237.176.jpg It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex  
 of his waist and knees—dress does not  
 hide him,
The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes  
 through the cotton and flannel,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best  
 poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his  
 neck and shoulder-side.
The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and  
 heads of women, the folds of their dress,  
 their style as we pass in the street, the con- 
 tour of their shape downwards,
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen  
 as he swims through the transparent green- 
 shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls  
 silently in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in  
 row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their per- 
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with  
 their open dinner-kettles, and their wives  
The female soothing a child, the farmer's daughter  
 in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver  
 guiding his six horses through the crowd,
  [ begin page 169 ]ppp.00237.177.jpg The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys,  
 quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born,  
 out on the vacant lot at sun-down, after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of  
 love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled  
 over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the  
 play of masculine muscle through clean-set- 
 ting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the  
 bell strikes suddenly again, the listening on  
 the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent  
 head, the curved neck, the counting,
Such-like I love, I loosen myself, pass freely,  
 am at the mother's breast with the little  
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers,  
 march in line with the firemen, pause, listen,  
I knew a man, he was a common farmer, he was  
 the father of five sons, and in them were the  
 fathers of sons, and in them were the fathers  
 of sons.
This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness,  
 beauty of person,
8   [ begin page 170 ]ppp.00237.178.jpg The shape of his head, the richness and breadth  
 of his manners, the pale yellow and white  
 of his hair and beard, the immeasurable  
 meaning of his black eyes,
These I used to go and visit him to see—he was  
 wise also,
He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years  
 old—his sons were massive, clean, bearded,  
 tan-faced, handsome,
They and his daughters loved him, all who saw  
 him loved him, they did not love him by  
 allowance, they loved him with personal  
He drank water only, the blood showed like scar- 
 let through the clear brown skin of his face,
He was a frequent gunner and fisher, he sailed his  
 boat himself, he had a fine one presented to  
 him by a ship-joiner—he had fowling-pieces,  
 presented to him by men that loved him,
When he went with his five sons and many grand- 
 sons to hunt or fish, you would pick him out  
 as the most beautiful and vigorous of the  
You would wish long and long to be with him —  
 you would wish to sit by him in the boat,  
 that you and he might touch each other.
I have perceived that to be with those I like is  
  [ begin page 171 ]ppp.00237.179.jpg To stop in company with the rest at evening is  
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breath- 
 ing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, to touch any one, to rest  
 my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck  
 for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it, as in  
 a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and  
 women, and looking on them, and in the con- 
 tact and odor of them, that pleases the soul  
All things please the soul, but these please the  
 soul well.
This is the female form! A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot, It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction, I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more  
 than a helpless vapor—all falls aside but  
 myself and it,
Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth,  
 the atmosphere and the clouds, what was  
 expected of heaven or feared of hell, are now  
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it,  
 the response likewise ungovernable,
  [ begin page 172 ]ppp.00237.180.jpg Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling  
 hands, all diffused—mine too diffused,
Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb,  
 love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous,  
 quivering jelly of love, white-blow and deliri- 
 ous juice,
Bridegroom-night of love, working surely and  
 softly into the prostrate dawn,
Undulating into the willing and yielding day, Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet- 
 fleshed day.
This is the nucleus—after the child is born of  
 woman, the man is born of woman,
This is the bath of birth—this is the merge of  
 small and large, and the outlet again.
Be not ashamed, women! your privilege encloses  
 the rest, it is the exit of the rest,
You are the gates of the body, and you are the  
 gates of the soul!
The female contains all qualities, and tempers  
 them—she is in her place, she moves with  
 perfect balance,
She is all things duly veiled, she is both passive  
 and active—she is to conceive daughters as  
 well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.
  [ begin page 173 ]ppp.00237.181.jpg As I see my soul reflected in nature, as I see  
 through a mist, one with inexpressible com- 
 pleteness and beauty—see the bent head and  
 arms folded over the breast, the female I  
I see the bearer of the great fruit which is im- 
 mortality—the good thereof is not tasted  
 by roues, and never can be.
The male is not less the soul, nor more—he too  
 is in his place,
He too is all qualities, he is action and power, the  
 flush of the known universe is in him,
Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defi- 
 ance become him well,
The fiercest largest passions, bliss that is utmost,  
 sorrow that is utmost, become him well —  
 pride is for him,
The full-spread pride of man is calming and ex- 
 cellent to the soul,
Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he  
 brings everything to the test of himself,
Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the  
 sail, he strikes soundings at last only here,
Where else does he strike soundings, except  
The man's body is sacred, and the woman's body  
 is sacred—it is no matter who,
  [ begin page 174 ]ppp.00237.182.jpg Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immi- 
 grants just landed on the wharf?
Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as  
 the well-off, just as much as you,
Each has his or her place in the procession.
All is a procession! The universe is a procession, with measured and  
 beautiful motion!
Do you know so much, that you call the slave or  
 the dull-face ignorant?
Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight,  
 and he or she has no right to a sight?
Do you think matter has cohered together from its  
 diffused float, and the soil is on the surface,  
 and water runs, and vegetation sprouts, for  
 you, and not for him and her?
A man's body at auction! I help the auctioneer—the sloven does not half  
 know his business.
Gentlemen, look on this wonder! Whatever the bids of the bidders, they cannot be  
 high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years,  
 without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily  
  [ begin page 175 ]ppp.00237.183.jpg In this head the all-baffling brain, In it and below it the making of the attributes of  
Examine these limbs, red, black, or white—they  
 are so cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition, Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant back-bone and  
 neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and  
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs blood—the same old blood!  
 the same red running blood!
There swells and jets a heart—there all passions,  
 desires, reachings, aspirations,
Do you think they are not there because they are  
 not expressed in parlors and lecture-rooms?
This is not only one man—this is the father of  
 those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich re- 
Of him countless immortal lives, with countless  
 embodiments and enjoyments.
How do you know who shall come from the off- 
 spring of his offspring through the centuries?
  [ begin page 176 ]ppp.00237.184.jpg Who might you find you have come from yourself,  
 if you could trace back through the cen- 
A woman's body at auction! She too is not only herself, she is the teeming  
 mother of mothers,
She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be  
 mates to the mothers.
Her daughters, or their daughters' daughters —  
 who knows who shall mate with them?
Who knows through the centuries what heroes  
 may come from them?
In them, and of them, natal love—in them  
 the divine mystery, the same old beautiful  
Have you ever loved the body of a woman? Have you ever loved the body of a man? Your father, where is your father? Your mother, is she living? Have you been  
 much with her? and has she been much  
 with you?
Do you not see that these are exactly the same  
 to all, in all nations and times, all over the  
  [ begin page 177 ]ppp.00237.185.jpg If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred, And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of  
 manhood untainted,
And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred  
 body, is beautiful as the most beautiful face.
Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live  
 body? or the fool that corrupted her own live  
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot  
 conceal themselves.
O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in  
 other men and women, nor the likes of the  
 parts of you!
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with  
 the likes of the soul,
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with  
 my poems—for they are poems,
Man's, woman's, child's, youth's, wife's, husband's,  
 mother's, father's, young man's, young woman's  
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the  
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and  
 the waking or sleeping of the lids,
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth,  
 jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition, 8*   [ begin page 178 ]ppp.00237.186.jpg Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of  
 the neck, neck-slue,
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind- 
 shoulders, and the ample side-round of the  
Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm- 
 sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles,  
 thumb, forefinger, finger-balls, finger-joints,  
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast,  
 breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone, Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and out- 
 ward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk  
Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg, Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel, All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings  
 of my or your body, or of any one's body,  
 male or female,
The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels  
 sweet and clean,
The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame, Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality  
Womanhood, and all that is a woman—and the  
 man that comes from woman,
  [ begin page 179 ]ppp.00237.187.jpg The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears,  
 laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturba- 
 tions and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering,  
 shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walk- 
 ing, swimming,
Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing,  
 arm-curving, and tightening,
The continual changes of the flex of the mouth,  
 and around the eyes,
The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair, The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling  
 with the hand the naked meat of his own  
 body or another person's body,
The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in  
 and out,
The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips,  
 and thence downward toward the knees,
The thin red jellies within you, or within me —  
 the bones, and the marrow in the bones,
The exquisite realization of health, O I think these are not the parts and poems of  
 the body only, but of the soul,
O I think these are the soul! If these are not the soul, what is the soul?
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