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Books by Whitman

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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.

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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

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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,

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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,

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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

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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,

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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.

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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

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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,

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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!

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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,

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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,

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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

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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,

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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!

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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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