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Night Poem.

26 — Night Poem.

I WANDER all night in my vision, Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noise- 
 lessly stepping and stopping,
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of  
Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill- 
 assorted, contradictory,
Pausing, gazing, bending, stopping.
How solemn they look there, stretched and still! How quiet they breathe, the little children in their  
The wretched features of ennuyees, the white  
 features of corpses, the livid faces of drunk- 
 ards, the sick-gray faces of onanists,
The gashed bodies on battle-fields, the insane in  
 their strong-doored rooms, the sacred idiots,
The new-born emerging from gates, and the dying  
 emerging from gates,
The night pervades them and enfolds them.
  [ begin page 287 ]ppp.00237.295.jpg The 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  
The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs, And the mother sleeps with her little child care- 
 fully wrapped.
The 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 murdered person—how does he sleep?
The female that loves unrequited sleeps, And the male that loves unrequited sleeps; The head of the money-maker that plotted all day  
And the enraged and treacherous dispositions  
I stand with drooping eyes by the worst-suffering  
 and restless,
I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few  
 inches from them,
The restless sink in their beds—they fitfully  
  [ begin page 288 ]ppp.00237.296.jpg 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.
I 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  
And I become the other dreamers.
I am a dance—Play up, there! the fit is whirling  
 me fast!
I am the ever-laughing—it is new moon and  
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.
Well do they do their jobs, those journeymen  
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  
And surround me and lead me, and run ahead  
 when I walk,
  [ begin page 289 ]ppp.00237.297.jpg To lift their cunning covers, to signify me with  
 stretched arms, and resume the way;
Onward we move! a gay gang of blackguards!  
 with mirth-shouting music and wild-flapping  
 pennants of joy!
I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the poli- 
The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that  
 stood in the box,
He who has been famous, and he who shall be  
 famous after today,
The stammerer, the well-formed person, the  
 wasted or feeble person.
I am she who adorned herself and folded her hair  
My truant lover has come, and it is dark.
Double yourself and receive me, darkness! Receive me and my lover too—he will not let me  
 go without him.
I roll myself upon you, as upon a bed—I resign  
 myself to the dusk.
He whom I call answers me and takes the place  
 of my lover,
He rises with me silently from the bed.
Darkness, you are gentler than my lover! his flesh  
 was sweaty and panting,
13   [ begin page 290 ]ppp.00237.298.jpg I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me. My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all  
I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you  
 are journeying.
Be careful, darkness! already, what was it touched  
I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he  
 are one,
I hear the heart-beat, I follow, I fade away.
O hot-cheeked 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?
Pier that I saw dimly last night, when I looked  
 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.
I am curious to know where my feet stand—and  
 what this is flooding me, childhood or man- 
 hood—and the hunger that crosses the bridge  
  [ begin page 291 ]ppp.00237.299.jpg The cloth laps a first sweet eating and drinking, Laps life-swelling yolks—laps ear of rose-corn,  
 milky and just ripened;
The white teeth stay, and the boss-tooth advances  
 in darkness,
And liquor is spilled on lips and bosoms by touch- 
 ing glasses, and the best liquor afterward.
I descend my western course, my sinews are  
Perfume and youth course through me, and I am  
 their wake.
It is my face yellow and wrinkled, instead of the  
 old woman's,
I sit low in a straw-bottom chair, and carefully darn  
 my grand-son's stockings.
It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the  
 winter midnight,
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid  
A shroud I see, and I am the shroud—I wrap a  
 body and lie in the coffin,
It is dark here underground, it is not evil or pain  
 here, it is blank here, for reasons.
It seems to me that everything in the light and air  
 ought to be happy,
  [ begin page 292 ]ppp.00237.300.jpg Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave,  
 let him know he has enough.
I 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  
 himself 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.
What are you doing, you ruffianly red-trickled  
Will you kill the courageous giant? Will you kill  
 him in the prime of his middle age?
Steady and long he struggles, He is baffled, banged, bruised—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 bruised on rocks,
Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.
I turn, but do not extricate myself, Confused, a past-reading, another, but with dark- 
 ness yet.
  [ begin page 293 ]ppp.00237.301.jpg The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind, the  
 wreck-guns sound,
The tempest lulls—the moon comes floundering  
 through the drifts.
I 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.
I cannot aid with my wringing fingers, I can but rush to the surf, and let it drench me  
 and freeze upon me.
I search with the crowd—not one of the company  
 is washed to us alive;
In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay  
 them in rows in a barn.
Now of the old war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn, Washington stands inside the lines, he stands on  
 the entrenched hills amid a crowd of officers,
His face is cold and damp, he cannot repress the  
 weeping drops, he lifts the glass perpetually  
 to his eyes, the color is blanched from his  
He sees the slaughter of the southern braves con- 
 fided to him by their parents.
The same, at last and at last, when peace is  
  [ begin page 294 ]ppp.00237.302.jpg He stands in the room of the old tavern—the  
 well-beloved 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-bye to the  
Now I tell what my mother told me today as we  
 sat at dinner together,
Of when she was a nearly grown girl living home  
 with her parents on the old homestead.
A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old  
On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for  
 rush-bottoming chairs,
Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse,  
 half-enveloped her face,
Her step was free and elastic, her voice sounded  
 exquisitely as she spoke.
My mother looked in delight and amazement at  
 the stranger,
She looked at the beauty of her tall-borne face,  
 and full and pliant limbs,
The more she looked upon her she loved her,   [ begin page 295 ]ppp.00237.303.jpg Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty  
 and purity,
She made her sit on a bench by the jamb of the  
 fire-place, she cooked food for her,
She had no work to give her, but she gave her  
 remembrance and fondness.
The 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 watched  
 for her many a month,
She remembered her many a winter and many a  
But the red squaw never came, nor was heard of  
 there again.
Now Lucifer was not dead—or if he was, I am  
 his sorrowful terrible heir!
I have been wronged—I am oppressed—I hate  
 him that oppresses me!
I will either destroy him, or he shall release me.
Damn 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!
  [ begin page 296 ]ppp.00237.304.jpg Now the vast dusk bulk that is the whale's bulk,  
 it seems mine,
Warily, sportsman! though I lie so sleepy and  
 sluggish, my tap is death.
A show of the summer softness! a contact of  
 something unseen! an amour of the light and  
I am jealous, and overwhelmed with friendli- 
And will go gallivant with the light and air myself, And have an unseen something to be in contact  
 with them also.
O love and summer! you are in the dreams, and  
 in me,
Autumn and winter are in the dreams—the far- 
 mer goes with his thrift,
The droves and crops increase, the barns are  
Elements merge in the night, ships make tacks in  
 the dreams, the sailor sails, the exile returns  
The fugitive returns unharmed, 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,
  [ begin page 297 ]ppp.00237.305.jpg They warmly welcome him, he is bare-foot again,  
 he forgets he is well-off;
The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman  
 and Welchman voyage home, and the native  
 of the Mediterranean voyages home,
To every port of England, France, Spain, enter  
 well-filled ships,
The Swiss foots it toward his hills, the Prussian  
 goes his way, the Hungarian his way, the  
 Pole his way,
The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian  
The homeward bound, and the outward bound, The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuyee, the  
 onanist, the female that loves unrequited, the  
The actor and actress, those through with their  
 parts, and those waiting to commence,
The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the  
 voter, the nominee that is chosen, and the  
 nominee that has failed,
The great already known, and the great any-time  
 after today,
The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-formed, the  
The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that  
 sat and sentenced him, the fluent lawyers, the  
 jury, the audience,
13*   [ begin page 298 ]ppp.00237.306.jpg The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight  
 widow, the red squaw,
The consumptive, the erysipalite, the idiot, he  
 that is wronged,
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 re- 
 tored them.
I swear they are all beautiful! Every one that sleeps is beautiful—every thing  
 in the dim light is beautiful,
The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace.
Peace is always beautiful, The myth of heaven indicates peace and night. The 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 embowered 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, proportioned, plumb, and  
 the bowels and joints proportioned and  
  [ begin page 299 ]ppp.00237.307.jpg The soul is always beautiful, The universe is duly in order, every thing is in its  
What is arrived is in its place, and what waits is  
 in its place;
The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood  
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 lived and died wait—the  
 far advanced are to go on in their turns,  
 and the far behind are to go on in their  
The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall  
 flow and unite—they unite now.
The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie  
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  
 European and American are hand in hand,
Learned and unlearned 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,
  [ begin page 300 ]ppp.00237.308.jpg 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 inarmed by friend,
The scholar kisses the teacher, and the teacher  
 kisses the scholar—the wronged is made  
The call of the slave is one with the master's call,  
 and the master salutes the slave,
The felon steps forth from the prison, the insane  
 becomes sane, the suffering of sick persons is  
The sweatings and fevers stop, the throat that was  
 unsound is sound, the lungs of the con- 
 sumptive are resumed, the poor distressed  
 head is free,
The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as  
 ever, and smoother than ever,
Stiflings and passages open, the paralysed become  
The swelled and convulsed and congested awake  
 to themselves in condition,
They pass the invigoration of the night and the  
 chemistry of the night, and awake.
I too pass from the night!   [ begin page 301 ]ppp.00237.309.jpg I stay awhile away O night, but I return to you  
 again, and love you!
Why 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.
I will stop only a time with the night, and rise  
I will duly pass the day, O my mother, and duly  
 return to you.
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