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Cluster: Calamus. (1860)

Table of Contents (1860–1861)

Poems in this cluster



IN paths untrodden, In the growth by margins of pond-waters, Escaped from the life that exhibits itself, From all the standards hitherto published—from  
 the pleasures, profits, conformities,
Which too long I was offering to feed to my Soul Clear to me now, standards not yet published— 
 clear to me that my Soul,
That the Soul of the man I speak for, feeds, rejoices  
 only in comrades;
Here, by myself, away from the clank of the world, Tallying and talked to here by tongues aromatic, No longer abashed—for in this secluded spot I can  
 respond as I would not dare elsewhere,
Strong upon me the life that does not exhibit itself, 
 yet contains all the rest,
Resolved to sing no songs to-day but those of manly  
Projecting them along that substantial life, Bequeathing, hence, types of athletic love, 29*   [ begin page 342 ]ppp.01500.350.jpg Afternoon, this delicious Ninth Month, in my forty- 
 first year,
I proceed, for all who are, or have been, young  
To tell the secret of my nights and days, To celebrate the need of comrades.


SCENTED herbage of my breast, Leaves from you I yield, I write, to be perused best  
Tomb-leaves, body-leaves, growing up above me, above  
Perennial roots, tall leaves—O the winter shall not  
 freeze you, delicate leaves,
Every year shall you bloom again—Out from where  
 you retired, you shall emerge again;
O I do not know whether many, passing by, will dis- 
 cover you, or inhale your faint odor—but I  
 believe a few will;
O slender leaves! O blossoms of my blood! I permit  
 you to tell, in your own way, of the heart that is  
 under you,
O burning and throbbing—surely all will one day be  
O I do not know what you mean, there underneath  
 yourselves—you are not happiness,
You are often more bitter than I can bear—you burn  
 and sting me,
  [ begin page 343 ]ppp.01500.351.jpg Yet you are very beautiful to me, you faint-tinged  
 roots—you make me think of Death,
Death is beautiful from you—(what indeed is beau- 
 tiful, except Death and Love?)
O I think it is not for life I am chanting here my  
 chant of lovers—I think it must be for Death,
For how calm, how solemn it grows, to ascend to the  
 atmosphere of lovers,
Death or life I am then indifferent—my Soul de- 
 clines to prefer,
I am not sure but the high Soul of lovers welcomes  
 death most;
Indeed, O Death, I think now these leaves mean pre- 
 cisely the same as you mean;
Grow up taller, sweet leaves, that I may see! Grow  
 up out of my breast!
Spring away from the concealed heart there! Do not fold yourselves so in your pink-tinged roots, 
 timid leaves!
Do not remain down there so ashamed, herbage of my  
Come, I am determined to unbare this broad breast of  
 mine—I have long enough stifled and choked;
Emblematic and capricious blades, I leave you—now  
 you serve me not,
Away! I will say what I have to say, by itself, I will escape from the sham that was proposed to me, I will sound myself and comrades only—I will never  
 again utter a call, only their call,
I will raise, with it, immortal reverberations through  
 The States,
I will give an example to lovers, to take permanent  
 shape and will through The States;
  [ begin page 344 ]ppp.01500.352.jpg Through me shall the words be said to make death  
Give me your tone therefore, O Death, that I may  
 accord with it,
Give me yourself—for I see that you belong to me  
 now above all, and are folded together above all  
 —you Love and Death are,
Nor will I allow you to balk me any more with what  
 I was calling life,
For now it is conveyed to me that you are the pur- 
 ports essential,
That you hide in these shifting forms of life, for  
 reasons—and that they are mainly for you,
That you, beyond them, come forth, to remain, the  
 real reality,
That behind the mask of materials you patiently  
 wait, no matter how long,
That you will one day, perhaps, take control of all, That you will perhaps dissipate this entire show of  
That may be you are what it is all for—but it does  
 not last so very long,
But you will last very long.


1WHOEVER you are holding me now in hand, Without one thing all will be useless, I give you fair warning, before you attempt me  
I am not what you supposed, but far different.
  [ begin page 345 ]ppp.01500.353.jpg 2Who is he that would become my follower? Who would sign himself a candidate for my affec- 
 tions? Are you he?
3The way is suspicious—the result slow, uncertain,  
 may-be destructive;
You would have to give up all else—I alone would  
 expect to be your God, sole and exclusive,
Your novitiate would even then be long and ex- 
The whole past theory of your life, and all conformity  
 to the lives around you, would have to be aban- 
Therefore release me now, before troubling yourself  
 any further—Let go your hand from my  
Put me down, and depart on your way.
4Or else, only by stealth, in some wood, for trial, Or back of a rock, in the open air, (For in any roofed room of a house I emerge not—  
 nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn,  
 or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill—first  
 watching lest any person, for miles around,  
 approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of  
 the sea, or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you, With the comrade's long-dwelling kiss, or the new  
 husband's kiss,
For I am the new husband, and I am the comrade.
  [ begin page 346 ]ppp.01500.354.jpg 5Or, if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing, Where I may feel the throbs of your heart, or rest  
 upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea; For thus, merely touching you, is enough—is best, And thus, touching you, would I silently sleep and be  
 carried eternally.
6But these leaves conning, you con at peril, For these leaves, and me, you will not understand, They will elude you at first, and still more after- 
 ward—I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably  
 caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.
7For it is not for what I have put into it that I have  
 written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it, Nor do those know me best who admire me, and  
 vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love, (unless at most a  
 very few,) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only—they will do just  
 as much evil, perhaps more,
For all is useless without that which you may guess  
 at many times and not hit—that which I  
 hinted at,
Therefore release me, and depart on your way.
  [ begin page 347 ]ppp.01500.355.jpg


THESE I, singing in spring, collect for lovers, (For who but I should understand lovers, and all their  
 sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?) Collecting, I traverse the garden, the world—but  
 soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side—now wading in a little, 
 fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences, where the old stones  
 thrown there, picked from the fields, have accu- 
Wild-flowers and vines and weeds come up through  
 the stones, and partly cover them—Beyond these  
 I pass,
Far, far in the forest, before I think where I get, Solitary, smelling the earthy smell, stopping now and  
 then in the silence,
Alone I had thought—yet soon a silent troop gathers  
 around me,
Some walk by my side, and some behind, and some  
 embrace my arms or neck,
They, the spirits of friends, dead or alive—thicker  
 they come, a great crowd, and I in the middle,
Collecting, dispensing, singing in spring, there I wan- 
 der with them,
Plucking something for tokens—something for these, 
 till I hit upon a name—tossing toward whoever  
 is near me,
  [ begin page 348 ]ppp.01500.356.jpg Here! lilac, with a branch of pine, Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pulled off  
 a live-oak in Florida, as it hung trailing down,
Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of  
And here what I now draw from the water, wading in  
 the pond-side,
(O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me—and  
 returns again, never to separate from me,
And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of  
 comrades—this calamus-root shall,
Interchange it, youths, with each other! Let none  
 render it back!)
And twigs of maple, and a bunch of wild orange, and  
And stems of currants, and plum-blows, and the  
 aromatic cedar;
These I, compassed around by a thick cloud of  
Wandering, point to, or touch as I pass, or throw them  
 loosely from me,
Indicating to each one what he shall have—giving  
 something to each,
But what I drew from the water by the pond-side, that  
 I reserve,
I will give of it—but only to them that love, as I  
 myself am capable of loving.
  [ begin page 349 ]ppp.01500.357.jpg


1STATES! Were you looking to be held together by the lawyers? By an agreement on a paper? Or by arms? 2Away! I arrive, bringing these, beyond all the forces of  
 courts and arms,
These! to hold you together as firmly as the earth  
 itself is held together.
3The old breath of life, ever new, Here! I pass it by contact to you, America. 4O mother! have you done much for me? Behold, there shall from me be much done for you. 5There shall from me be a new friendship—It shall  
 be called after my name,
It shall circulate through The States, indifferent of  
It shall twist and intertwist them through and around  
 each other—Compact shall they be, showing  
 new signs,
Affection shall solve every one of the problems of  
Those who love each other shall be invincible, They shall finally make America completely victo- 
 rious, in my name.
30   [ begin page 350 ]ppp.01500.358.jpg 6One from Massachusetts shall be comrade to a Mis- 
One from Maine or Vermont, and a Carolinian and  
 an Oregonese, shall be friends triune, more pre- 
 cious to each other than all the riches of the  
7To Michigan shall be wafted perfume from Florida, To the Mannahatta from Cuba or Mexico, Not the perfume of flowers, but sweeter, and wafted  
 beyond death.
8No danger shall balk Columbia's lovers, If need be, a thousand shall sternly immolate them- 
 selves for one,
The Kanuck shall be willing to lay down his life for  
 the Kansian, and the Kansian for the Kanuck,  
 on due need.
9It shall be customary in all directions, in the houses  
 and streets, to see manly affection,
The departing brother or friend shall salute the re- 
 maining brother or friend with a kiss.
10There shall be innovations, There shall be countless linked hands—namely, the  
 Northeasterner's, and the Northwesterner's, and  
 the Southwesterner's, and those of the interior,  
 and all their brood,
These shall be masters of the world under a new  
They shall laugh to scorn the attacks of all the re- 
 mainder of the world.
  [ begin page 351 ]ppp.01500.359.jpg 11The most dauntless and rude shall touch face to face  
The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers, The continuance of Equality shall be comrades.
12These shall tie and band stronger than hoops of iron, I, extatic, O partners! O lands! henceforth with the  
 love of lovers tie you.
13I will make the continent indissoluble, I will make the most splendid race the sun ever yet  
 shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands.
14I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the  
 rivers of America, and along the shores of the  
 great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities, with their arms about  
 each other's necks.
15For you these, from me, O Democracy, to serve you,  
 ma femme!
For you! for you, I am trilling these songs.


NOT heaving from my ribbed breast only, Not in sighs at night, in rage, dissatisfied with myself, Not in those long-drawn, ill-suppressed sighs, Not in many an oath and promise broken, Not in my wilful and savage soul's volition,   [ begin page 352 ]ppp.01500.360.jpg Not in the subtle nourishment of the air, Not in this beating and pounding at my temples and  
Not in the curious systole and diastole within, which  
 will one day cease,
Not in many a hungry wish, told to the skies only, Not in cries, laughter, defiances, thrown from me  
 when alone, far in the wilds,
Not in husky pantings through clenched teeth, Not in sounded and resounded words—chattering  
 words, echoes, dead words,
Not in the murmurs of my dreams while I sleep, Nor the other murmurs of these incredible dreams of  
 every day,
Nor in the limbs and senses of my body, that take you  
 and dismiss you continually—Not there,
Not in any or all of them, O adhesiveness! O pulse  
 of my life!
Need I that you exist and show yourself, any more  
 than in these songs.


OF the terrible question of appearances, Of the doubts, the uncertainties after all, That may-be reliance and hope are but speculations  
 after all,
That may-be identity beyond the grave is a beautiful  
 fable only,
May-be the things I perceive—the animals, plants, 
 men, hills, shining and flowing waters,
  [ begin page 353 ]ppp.01500.361.jpg The skies of day and night—colors, densities, forms  
 —May-be these are, (as doubtless they are,) only  
 apparitions, and the real something has yet to be  
(How often they dart out of themselves, as if to con- 
 found me and mock me!
How often I think neither I know, nor any man  
 knows, aught of them;)
May-be they only seem to me what they are, (as  
 doubtless they indeed but seem,) as from my  
 present point of view—And might prove, (as of  
 course they would,) naught of what they appear, 
 or naught any how, from entirely changed points  
 of view;
To me, these, and the like of these, are curiously  
 answered by my lovers, my dear friends;
When he whom I love travels with me, or sits a long  
 while holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that  
 words and reason hold not, surround us and  
 pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wis- 
 dom—I am silent—I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances, or that  
 of identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent—I am satisfied, He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.
  [ begin page 354 ]ppp.01500.362.jpg


LONG I thought that knowledge alone would suffice  
 me—O if I could but obtain knowledge!
Then my lands engrossed me—Lands of the prairies, 
 Ohio's land, the southern savannas, engrossed  
 me—For them I would live—I would be their  
Then I met the examples of old and new heroes—I  
 heard of warriors, sailors, and all dauntless per- 
 sons—And it seemed to me that I too had it  
 in me to be as dauntless as any—and would  
 be so;
And then, to enclose all, it came to me to strike up  
 the songs of the New World—And then I be- 
 lieved my life must be spent in singing;
But now take notice, land of the prairies, land of  
 the south savannas, Ohio's land,
Take notice, you Kanuck woods—and you Lake  
 Huron—and all that with you roll toward  
 Niagara—and you Niagara also,
And you, Californian mountains—That you each  
 and all find somebody else to be your singer of  
For I can be your singer of songs no longer—One  
 who loves me is jealous of me, and withdraws me  
 from all but love,
With the rest I dispense—I sever from what I  
 thought would suffice me, for it does not—it is  
 now empty and tasteless to me,
I heed knowledge, and the grandeur of The States, 
 and the example of heroes, no more,
  [ begin page 355 ]ppp.01500.363.jpg I am indifferent to my own songs—I will go with  
 him I love,
It is to be enough for us that we are together—We  
 never separate again.


HOURS continuing long, sore and heavy-hearted, Hours of the dusk, when I withdraw to a lonesome  
 and unfrequented spot, seating myself, leaning  
 my face in my hands;
Hours sleepless, deep in the night, when I go forth, 
 speeding swiftly the country roads, or through  
 the city streets, or pacing miles and miles, sti- 
 fling plaintive cries;
Hours discouraged, distracted—for the one I cannot  
 content myself without, soon I saw him content  
 himself without me;
Hours when I am forgotten, (O weeks and months are  
 passing, but I believe I am never to forget!)
Sullen and suffering hours! (I am ashamed—but it  
 is useless—I am what I am;)
Hours of my torment—I wonder if other men ever  
 have the like, out of the like feelings?
Is there even one other like me—distracted—his  
 friend, his lover, lost to him?
Is he too as I am now? Does he still rise in the morn- 
 ing, dejected, thinking who is lost to him? and  
 at night, awaking, think who is lost?
  [ begin page 356 ]ppp.01500.364.jpg Does he too harbor his friendship silent and endless? 
 harbor his anguish and passion?
Does some stray reminder, or the casual mention of a  
 name, bring the fit back upon him, taciturn and  
Does he see himself reflected in me? In these hours, 
 does he see the face of his hours reflected?


YOU bards of ages hence! when you refer to me, mind  
 not so much my poems,
Nor speak of me that I prophesied of The States, and  
 led them the way of their glories;
But come, I will take you down underneath this  
 impassive exterior—I will tell you what to say  
 of me:
Publish my name and hang up my picture as that of  
 the tenderest lover,
The friend, the lover's portrait, of whom his friend, his  
 lover, was fondest,
Who was not proud of his songs, but of the measure- 
 less ocean of love within him—and freely poured  
 it forth,
Who often walked lonesome walks, thinking of his  
 dear friends, his lovers,
Who pensive, away from one he loved, often lay sleep- 
 less and dissatisfied at night,
Who knew too well the sick, sick dread lest the one  
 he loved might secretly be indifferent to him,
  [ begin page 357 ]ppp.01500.365.jpg Whose happiest days were far away, through fields, in  
 woods, on hills, he and another, wandering hand  
 in hand, they twain, apart from other men,
Who oft as he sauntered the streets, curved with his  
 arm the shoulder of his friend—while the arm of  
 his friend rested upon him also.


WHEN I heard at the close of the day how my name  
 had been received with plaudits in the capitol, 
 still it was not a happy night for me that fol- 
And else, when I caroused, or when my plans were  
 accomplished, still I was not happy;
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of  
 perfect health, refreshed, singing, inhaling the  
 ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and  
 disappear in the morning light,
When I wandered alone over the beach, and, undress- 
 ing, bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and  
 saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, 
 was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day  
 my food nourished me more—And the beautiful  
 day passed well,
And the next came with equal joy—And with the  
 next, at evening, came my friend;
  [ begin page 358 ]ppp.01500.366.jpg And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters  
 roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, 
 as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate  
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the  
 same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face  
 was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—And that  
 night I was happy.


ARE you the new person drawn toward me, and asking  
 something significant from me?
To begin with, take warning—I am probably far  
 different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal? Do you think it so easy to have me become your  
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloyed  
Do you suppose I am trusty and faithful? Do you see no further than this façade—this smooth  
 and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground  
 toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all  
 maya, illusion? O the next step may precipitate  
  [ begin page 359 ]ppp.01500.367.jpg O let some past deceived one hiss in your ears, how  
 many have prest on the same as you are pressing  
How many have fondly supposed what you are sup- 
 posing now—only to be disappointed.


CALAMUS taste, (For I must change the strain—these are not to be  
 pensive leaves, but leaves of joy,)
Roots and leaves unlike any but themselves, Scents brought to men and women from the wild  
 woods, and from the pond-side,
Breast-sorrel and pinks of love—fingers that wind  
 around tighter than vines,
Gushes from the throats of birds, hid in the foliage  
 of trees, as the sun is risen,
Breezes of land and love—Breezes set from living  
 shores out to you on the living sea—to you, 
 O sailors!
Frost-mellowed berries, and Third Month twigs, of- 
 fered fresh to young persons wandering out in  
 the fields when the winter breaks up,
Love-buds, put before you and within you, whoever  
 you are,
Buds to be unfolded on the old terms, If you bring the warmth of the sun to them, they will  
 open, and bring form, color, perfume, to you,
If you become the aliment and the wet, they will  
 become flowers, fruits, tall branches and trees,
  [ begin page 360 ]ppp.01500.368.jpg They are comprised in you just as much as in them- 
 selves—perhaps more than in themselves,
They are not comprised in one season or succession, 
 but many successions,
They have come slowly up out of the earth and me, 
 and are to come slowly up out of you.


NOT heat flames up and consumes, Not sea-waves hurry in and out, Not the air, delicious and dry, the air of the ripe  
 summer, bears lightly along white down-balls of  
 myriads of seeds, wafted, sailing gracefully, to  
 drop where they may,
Not these—O none of these, more than the flames  
 of me, consuming, burning for his love whom I  
O none, more than I, hurrying in and out; Does the tide hurry, seeking something, and never  
 give up? O I the same;
O nor down-balls, nor perfumes, nor the high  
 rain-emitting clouds, are borne through the open  
Any more than my Soul is borne through the open  
Wafted in all directions, O love, for friendship, for  
  [ begin page 361 ]ppp.01500.369.jpg


O DROPS of me! trickle, slow drops, Candid, from me falling—drip, bleeding drops, From wounds made to free you whence you were  
From my face—from my forehead and lips, From my breast—from within where I was con- 
 cealed—Press forth, red drops—confession  
Stain every page—stain every song I sing, every  
 word I say, bloody drops,
Let them know your scarlet heat—let them glisten, Saturate them with yourself, all ashamed and wet, Glow upon all I have written or shall write, bleed- 
 ing drops,
Let it all be seen in your light, blushing drops.


1WHO is now reading this? 2May-be one is now reading this who knows some  
 wrong-doing of my past life,
Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly  
 loved me,
Or may-be one who meets all my grand assumptions  
 and egotisms with derision,
Or may-be one who is puzzled at me.
31   [ begin page 362 ]ppp.01500.370.jpg 3As if I were not puzzled at myself! Or as if I never deride myself! (O conscience-struck!  
 O self-convicted!)
Or as if I do not secretly love strangers! (O tenderly,  
 a long time, and never avow it;)
Or as if I did not see, perfectly well, interior in  
 myself, the stuff of wrong-doing,
Or as if it could cease transpiring from me until it  
 must cease.


OF him I love day and night, I dreamed I heard he  
 was dead,
And I dreamed I went where they had buried him I  
 love—but he was not in that place,
And I dreamed I wandered, searching among burial- 
 places, to find him,
And I found that every place was a burial-place, The houses full of life were equally full of death, 
 (This house is now,)
The streets, the shipping, the places of amusement, 
 the Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, the Manna- 
 hatta, were as full of the dead as of the living,
And fuller, O vastly fuller, of the dead than of the  
—And what I dreamed I will henceforth tell to every  
 person and age,
And I stand henceforth bound to what I dreamed; And now I am willing to disregard burial-places, and  
 dispense with them,
  [ begin page 363 ]ppp.01500.371.jpg And if the memorials of the dead were put up indif- 
 ferently everywhere, even in the room where I  
 eat or sleep, I should be satisfied,
And if the corpse of any one I love, or if my own  
 corpse, be duly rendered to powder, and poured  
 in the sea, I shall be satisfied,
Or if it be distributed to the winds, I shall be sat- 


CITY of my walks and joys! City whom that I have lived and sung there will one  
 day make you illustrious,
Not the pageants of you—not your shifting tab- 
 leaux, your spectacles, repay me,
Not the interminable rows of your houses—nor the  
 ships at the wharves,
Nor the processions in the streets, nor the bright win- 
 dows, with goods in them,
Nor to converse with learned persons, or bear my  
 share in the soiree or feast;
Not those—but, as I pass, O Manhattan! your fre- 
 quent and swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering me the response of my own—these repay  
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.
  [ begin page 364 ]ppp.01500.372.jpg


1MIND you the timid models of the rest, the  
Long I minded them, but hence I will not—for I  
 have adopted models for myself, and now offer  
 them to The Lands.
2Behold this swarthy and unrefined face—these gray  
This beard—the white wool, unclipt upon my neck, My brown hands, and the silent manner of me, with- 
 out charm;
Yet comes one, a Manhattanese, and ever at parting,  
 kisses me lightly on the lips with robust love,
And I, in the public room, or on the crossing of the  
 street, or on the ship's deck, kiss him in return;
We observe that salute of American comrades, land  
 and sea,
We are those two natural and nonchalant persons.


I SAW in Louisiana a live-oak growing, All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the  
Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous  
 leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think  
 of myself,
  [ begin page 365 ]ppp.01500.373.jpg But I wondered how it could utter joyous leaves, 
 standing alone there, without its friend, its  
 lover near—for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of  
 leaves upon it, and twined around it a little  
And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight  
 in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear  
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of  
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me  
 think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in  
 Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend, a  
 lover, near,
I know very well I could not.


MUSIC always round me, unceasing, unbeginning— 
 yet long untaught I did not hear,
But now the chorus I hear, and am elated, A tenor, strong, ascending, with power and health, 
 with glad notes of day-break I hear,
A soprano, at intervals, sailing buoyantly over the  
 tops of immense waves,
A transparent base, shuddering lusciously under and  
 through the universe,
31*   [ begin page 366 ]ppp.01500.374.jpg The triumphant tutti—the funeral wailings, with  
 sweet flutes and violins—All these I fill myself  
I hear not the volumes of sound merely—I am  
 moved by the exquisite meanings,
I listen to the different voices winding in and out, 
 striving, contending with fiery vehemence to  
 excel each other in emotion,
I do not think the performers know themselves—But  
 now I think I begin to know them.


PASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I  
 look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, 
 (It comes to me, as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with  
All is recalled as we flit by each other, fluid, affec- 
 tionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl  
 with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has  
 become not yours only, nor left my body mine  
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as  
 we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands, 
 in return,
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you  
 when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
  [ begin page 367 ]ppp.01500.375.jpg I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you  
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.


THIS moment as I sit alone, yearning and thoughtful, 
 it seems to me there are other men in other  
 lands, yearning and thoughtful;
It seems to me I can look over and behold them, 
 in Germany, Italy, France, Spain—Or far, far  
 away, in China, or in Russia or India—talking  
 other dialects;
And it seems to me if I could know those men better, 
 I should become attached to them, as I do to men  
 in my own lands,
It seems to me they are as wise, beautiful, benevolent, 
 as any in my own lands;
O I know we should be brethren and lovers, I know I should be happy with them.


I HEAR it is charged against me that I seek to destroy  
But really I am neither for nor against institutions, (What indeed have I in common with them?—Or  
 what with the destruction of them?)
  [ begin page 368 ]ppp.01500.376.jpg Only I will establish in the Mannahatta, and in every  
 city of These States, inland and seaboard,
And in the fields and woods, and above every keel  
 little or large, that dents the water,
Without edifices, or rules, or trustees, or any ar- 
The institution of the dear love of comrades.


THE prairie-grass dividing—its own odor breathing, I demand of it the spiritual corresponding, Demand the most copious and close companionship  
 of men,
Demand the blades to rise of words, acts, beings, Those of the open atmosphere, coarse, sunlit, fresh, 
Those that go their own gait, erect, stepping with  
 freedom and command—leading, not following,
Those with a never-quell'd audacity—those with  
 sweet and lusty flesh, clear of taint, choice and  
 chary of its love-power,
Those that look carelessly in the faces of Presidents  
 and Governors, as to say, Who are you?
Those of earth-born passion, simple, never constrained, 
 never obedient,
Those of inland America.
  [ begin page 369 ]ppp.01500.377.jpg


WE two boys together clinging, One the other never leaving, Up and down the roads going—North and South  
 excursions making,
Power enjoying—elbows stretching—fingers clutch- 
Armed and fearless—eating, drinking, sleeping, lov- 
No law less than ourselves owning—sailing, soldier- 
 ing, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming—air breathing, 
 water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach  
With birds singing—With fishes swimming—With  
 trees branching and leafing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking, 
 feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.


O LOVE! O dying—always dying! O the burials of me, past and present! O me, while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperi- 
 ous as ever!
  [ begin page 370 ]ppp.01500.378.jpg O me, what I was for years, now dead, (I lament not  
 —I am content;),
O to disengage myself from those corpses of me, 
 which I turn and look at, where I cast them!
To pass on, (O living! always living!) and leave the  
 corpses behind!


WHEN I peruse the conquered fame of heroes, and the  
 victories of mighty generals, I do not envy the  
Nor the President in his Presidency, nor the rich in  
 his great house;
But when I read of the brotherhood of lovers, how it  
 was with them,
How through life, through dangers, odium, un- 
 changing, long and long,
Through youth, and through middle and old age, how  
 unfaltering, how affectionate and faithful they  
Then I am pensive—I hastily put down the book, 
 and walk away, filled with the bitterest envy.
  [ begin page 371 ]ppp.01500.379.jpg


ONE flitting glimpse, caught through an interstice, Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room, 
 around the stove, late of a winter night—And  
 I unremarked, seated in a corner;
Of a youth who loves me, and whom I love, silently  
 approaching, and seating himself near, that he  
 may hold me by the hand;
A long while, amid the noises of coming and going  
 —of drinking and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, 
 speaking little, perhaps not a word.


A PROMISE and gift to California, Also to the great Pastoral Plains, and for Oregon: Sojourning east a while longer, soon I travel to you, 
 to remain, to teach robust American love;
For I know very well that I and robust love belong  
 among you, inland, and along the Western  
For These States tend inland, and toward the Western  
 Sea—and I will also.
  [ begin page 372 ]ppp.01500.380.jpg


1WHAT ship, puzzled at sea, cons for the true reck- 
Or, coming in, to avoid the bars, and follow the chan- 
 nel, a perfect pilot needs?
Here, sailor! Here, ship! take aboard the most per- 
 fect pilot,
Whom, in a little boat, putting off, and rowing, I,  
 hailing you, offer.
2What place is besieged, and vainly tries to raise the  
Lo! I send to that place a commander, swift, brave,  
And with him horse and foot—and parks of artillery, And artillerymen, the deadliest that ever fired gun.


WHAT think you I take my pen in hand to record? The battle-ship, perfect-model'd, majestic, that I saw  
 pass the offing to-day under full sail?
The splendors of the past day? Or the splendor of the  
 night that envelops me?
Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city  
 spread around me?—No;
But I record of two simple men I saw to-day, on the  
 pier, in the midst of the crowd, parting the part- 
 ing of dear friends,
  [ begin page 373 ]ppp.01500.381.jpg The one to remain hung on the other's neck, and pas- 
 sionately kissed him,
While the one to depart, tightly prest the one to  
 remain in his arms.


NO labor-saving machine, Nor discovery have I made, Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy  
 bequest to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage, for America, Nor literary success, nor intellect—nor book for the  
Only these carols, vibrating through the air, I leave, For comrades and lovers.


I DREAMED in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the  
 attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth,
I dreamed that was the new City of Friends, Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust  
 love—it led the rest,
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of  
 that city,
And in all their looks and words.
32   [ begin page 374 ]ppp.01500.382.jpg


TO you of New England, To the man of the Seaside State, and of Pennsylvania, To the Kanadian of the north—to the Southerner I  
These, with perfect trust, to depict you as myself— 
 the germs are in all men;
I believe the main purport of These States is to found  
 a superb friendship, exalté, previously unknown,
Because I perceive it waits, and has been always wait- 
 ing, latent in all men.


EARTH! my likeness! Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric  
I now suspect that is not all; I now suspect there is something fierce in you, eligible  
 to burst forth;
For an athlete is enamoured of me—and I of him, But toward him there is something fierce and terrible  
 in me, eligible to burst forth,
I dare not tell it in words—not even in these songs.
  [ begin page 375 ]ppp.01500.383.jpg


A LEAF for hand in hand! You natural persons old and young! You on the  
 Eastern Sea, and you on the Western!
You on the Mississippi, and on all the branches and  
 bayous of the Mississippi!
You friendly boatmen and mechanics! You roughs! You twain! And all processions moving along the  
I wish to infuse myself among you till I see it com- 
 mon for you to walk hand in hand.


PRIMEVAL my love for the woman I love, O bride ! O wife ! more resistless, more enduring  
 than I can tell, the thought of you !
Then separate, as disembodied, the purest born, The ethereal, the last athletic reality, my consolation, I ascend—I float in the regions of your love, O man, O sharer of my roving life.


SOMETIMES with one I love, I fill myself with rage, for  
 fear I effuse unreturned love;
But now I think there is no unreturned love—the  
 pay is certain, one way or another,
  [ begin page 376 ]ppp.01500.384.jpg Doubtless I could not have perceived the universe, 
 or written one of my poems, if I had not freely  
 given myself to comrades, to love.


THAT shadow, my likeness, that goes to and fro, seek- 
 ing a livelihood, chattering, chaffering,
How often I find myself standing and looking at it  
 where it flits,
How often I question and doubt whether that is really  
But in these, and among my lovers, and carolling my  
O I never doubt whether that is really me.


1AMONG the men and women, the multitude, I per- 
 ceive one picking me out by secret and divine  
Acknowledging none else—not parent, wife, hus- 
 band, brother, child, any nearer than I am;
Some are baffled—But that one is not—that one  
 knows me.
2Lover and perfect equal! I meant that you should discover me so, by my faint  
And I, when I meet you, mean to discover you by the  
 like in you.
  [ begin page 377 ]ppp.01500.385.jpg


TO the young man, many things to absorb, to engraft, 
 to develop, I teach, to help him become élève of  
But if blood like mine circle not in his veins, If he be not silently selected by lovers, and do not  
 silently select lovers,
Of what use is it that he seek to become élève of  


O YOU whom I often and silently come where you  
 are, that I may be with you,
As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the  
 same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your  
 sake is playing within me.


HERE my last words, and the most baffling, Here the frailest leaves of me, and yet my strongest- 
Here I shade down and hide my thoughts—I do not  
 expose them,
And yet they expose me more than all my other  
32*   [ begin page 378 ]ppp.01500.386.jpg


1FULL of life, sweet-blooded, compact, visible, I, forty years old the Eighty-third Year of The States, To one a century hence, or any number of centuries  
To you, yet unborn, these, seeking you.
2When you read these, I, that was visible, am become  
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems,  
 seeking me,
Fancying how happy you were, if I could be with  
 you, and become your lover;
Be it as if I were with you. Be not too certain but I  
 am now with you.

Table of Contents (1860–1861)

Poems in this cluster

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