I Sing the Body Electric

Walt Whitman - 1819-1892

1

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own 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 fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?


2

The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account,
But 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,
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 quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
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 contour 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 to and from the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horse-man in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child, the farmer’s daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sundown 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-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.


3


I knew a man, a common farmer, the father of five sons,
And in them the fathers of sons, and in them the fathers of sons.
This man was a wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person,
The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes, the richness and breadth of his manners,
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 love,
He drank water only, the blood show’d like scarlet through the clear-brown skin of his face,
He was a frequent gunner and fisher, he sail’d 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 gang,
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.


4


I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or 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 contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.


5


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, and what was expected of heaven or fear’d of hell, are now consumed,
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
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 delirious nice,
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-flesh’d day.

This the nucleus—after the child is born of woman, man is born of woman,
This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.

Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and 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 and moves with perfect balance,
She is all things duly veil’d, she is both passive and active,
She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

As I see my soul reflected in Nature,
As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty,
See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.


6


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 defiance become him well,
The wildest 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 excellent to the soul,
Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he brings every thing 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 here?)

The man’s body is sacred and the woman’s body is sacred,
No matter who it is, it is sacred—is it the meanest one in the laborers’ gang?
Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants 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 perfect motion.)

Do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest 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 diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,
For you only, and not for him and her?


7


A man’s body at auction,
(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,)
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 roll’d.

In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are 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 backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
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 express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms?)

This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?)


8


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.

Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the body of a man?
Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?

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 more beautiful than the most beautiful face.
Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.


9


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, (and that they are the soul,)
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems,
Man’s, woman’s, child, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems,
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, 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,
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 chest,
Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
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, maternity,
Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, 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 sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the 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 say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
O I say now these are the soul!

More by Walt Whitman

A Noiseless Patient Spider

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

America

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, 
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich, 
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.

To Think of Time

1

To think of time—of all that retrospection!   
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!   
   
Have you guess'd you yourself would not continue?   
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?   
Have you fear'd the future would be nothing to you?
   
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?   
If the future is nothing, they are just as surely nothing.   
   
To think that the sun rose in the east! that men and women
   were flexible, real, alive! that everything was alive!   
To think that you and I did not see, feel, think, nor bear our
   part!   
To think that we are now here, and bear our part!
   
2

Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without an
   accouchement!   
Not a day passes—not a minute or second, without a corpse!   
   
The dull nights go over, and the dull days also,   
The soreness of lying so much in bed goes over,   
The physician, after long putting off, gives the silent and terrible
   look for an answer,
The children come hurried and weeping, and the brothers and sisters
   are sent for,   
Medicines stand unused on the shelf—(the camphor-smell has
   long pervaded the rooms,)   
The faithful hand of the living does not desert the hand of the dying,   
The twitching lips press lightly on the forehead of the dying,   
The breath ceases, and the pulse of the heart ceases,
The corpse stretches on the bed, and the living look upon it,   
It is palpable as the living are palpable.   
   
The living look upon the corpse with their eye-sight,   
But without eye-sight lingers a different living, and looks curiously
   on the corpse.   
   
3

To think the thought of Death, merged in the thought of materials! 
To think that the rivers will flow, and the snow fall, and fruits ripen,
   and act upon others as upon us now—yet not act upon us!   
To think of all these wonders of city and country, and others taking
   great interest in them—and we taking no interest in them!   
   
To think how eager we are in building our houses!   
To think others shall be just as eager, and we quite indifferent!   
   
(I see one building the house that serves him a few years, or seventy
   or eighty years at most,
I see one building the house that serves him longer than that.)   
   
Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never
   cease—they are the burial lines,   
He that was President was buried, and he that is now President shall
   surely be buried.   
   
4

A reminiscence of the vulgar fate,   
A frequent sample of the life and death of workmen,
Each after his kind:   
Cold dash of waves at the ferry-wharf—posh and ice in the river,
   half-frozen mud in the streets, a gray, discouraged sky overhead,
   the short, last daylight of Twelfth-month,   
A hearse and stages—other vehicles give place—the funeral
   of an old Broadway stage-driver, the cortege mostly drivers.   
   
Steady the trot to the cemetery, duly rattles the death-bell, the gate
   is pass'd, the new-dug grave is halted at, the living alight, the
   hearse uncloses,   
The coffin is pass'd out, lower'd and settled, the whip is laid on the
   coffin, the earth is swiftly shovel'd in, 
The mound above is flatted with the spades—silence,   
A minute—no one moves or speaks—it is done,   
He is decently put away—is there anything more?   
   
He was a good fellow, free-mouth'd, quick-temper'd, not bad-looking,
   able to take his own part, witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with
   life or death for a friend, fond of women, gambled, ate hearty,
   drank hearty, had known what it was to be flush, grew low-spirited
   toward the last, sicken'd, was help'd by a contribution, died, aged
   forty-one years—and that was his funeral.   
   
Thumb extended, finger uplifted, apron, cape, gloves, strap, wet-weather
   clothes, whip carefully chosen, boss, spotter, starter, hostler,
   somebody loafing on you, you loafing on somebody, headway, man before
   and man behind, good day's work, bad day's work, pet stock, mean
   stock, first out, last out, turning-in at night;
To think that these are so much and so nigh to other drivers—and
   he there takes no interest in them!   
   
5

The markets, the government, the working-man's wages—to think what
   account they are through our nights and days!   
To think that other working-men will make just as great account of
   them—yet we make little or no account!   
   
The vulgar and the refined—what you call sin, and what you call
   goodness—to think how wide a difference!   
To think the difference will still continue to others, yet we lie beyond
   the difference.
   
To think how much pleasure there is!   
Have you pleasure from looking at the sky? have you pleasure from poems?   
Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a
   nomination and election? or with your wife and family?   
Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful
   maternal cares?   
—These also flow onward to others—you and I flow onward, 
But in due time, you and I shall take less interest in them.   
   
Your farm, profits, crops,—to think how engross'd you are!   
To think there will still be farms, profits, crops—yet for you, of
   what avail?   
   
6

What will be, will be well—for what is, is well,   
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
   
The sky continues beautiful,   
The pleasure of men with women shall never be sated, nor the pleasure of
   women with men, nor the pleasure from poems,   
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of
   houses—these are not phantasms—they have weight, form,
   location;   
Farms, profits, crops, markets, wages, government, are none of them
   phantasms,   
The difference between sin and goodness is no delusion,
The earth is not an echo—man and his life, and all the things of
   his life, are well-consider'd.   
   
You are not thrown to the winds—you gather certainly and safely
   around yourself;   
Yourself! Yourself! Yourself, forever and ever!   
   
7

It is not to diffuse you that you were born of your mother and
   father—it is to identify you;   
It is not that you should be undecided, but that you should be decided;
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form'd in you,   
You are henceforth secure, whatever comes or goes.   
   
The threads that were spun are gather'd, the weft crosses the warp,
   the pattern is systematic.   
   
The preparations have every one been justified,   
The orchestra have sufficiently tuned their instruments—the
   baton has given the signal.
   
The guest that was coming—he waited long, for reasons—he
   is now housed,   
He is one of those who are beautiful and happy—he is one of
   those that to look upon and be with is enough.   
   
The law of the past cannot be eluded,   
The law of the present and future cannot be eluded,   
The law of the living cannot be eluded—it is eternal,
The law of promotion and transformation cannot be eluded,   
The law of heroes and good-doers cannot be eluded,   
The law of drunkards, informers, mean persons—not one iota thereof
   can be eluded.   
   
8

Slow moving and black lines go ceaselessly over the earth,   
Northerner goes carried, and Southerner goes carried, and they on the
   Atlantic side, and they on the Pacific, and they between, and all
   through the Mississippi country, and all over the earth.
   
The great masters and kosmos are well as they go—the heroes and
   good-doers are well,   
The known leaders and inventors, and the rich owners and pious and
   distinguish'd, may be well,   
But there is more account than that—there is strict account
   of all.   
   
The interminable hordes of the ignorant and wicked are not nothing,   
The barbarians of Africa and Asia are not nothing,
The common people of Europe are not nothing—the American
   aborigines are not nothing,   
The infected in the immigrant hospital are not nothing—the
   murderer or mean person is not nothing,   
The perpetual successions of shallow people are not nothing as
   they go,   
The lowest prostitute is not nothing—the mocker of religion
   is not nothing as he goes.   
   
9

Of and in all these things,
I have dream'd that we are not to be changed so much, nor the law
   of us changed,   
I have dream'd that heroes and good-doers shall be under the present
   and past law,   
And that murderers, drunkards, liars, shall be under the present
   and past law,   
For I have dream'd that the law they are under now is enough.   
   
If otherwise, all came but to ashes of dung,
If maggots and rats ended us, then Alarum! for we are betray'd!   
Then indeed suspicion of death.   
   
Do you suspect death? If I were to suspect death, I should die
   now,   
Do you think I could walk pleasantly and well-suited toward
   annihilation?   
   
10

Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,   
The whole universe indicates that it is good,   
The past and the present indicate that it is good.   
   
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!   
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
   
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just
   as perfect,   
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable
   fluids are perfect;   
Slowly and surely they have pass'd on to this, and slowly and surely
   they yet pass on.   
   
11

I swear I think now that everything without exception has an
   eternal Soul!   
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have!
   the animals!
   
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!   
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is
   for it, and the cohering is for it;   
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life
   and materials are altogether for it!