Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892. Leaves of Grass (1855)
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[I Sing the Body Electric]
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 and respond to them and love them.
Was it dreamed whether those who corrupted their own live bodies could conceal themselves?
And whether those who defiled the living were as bad as they who defiled the dead?
The expression of the body of man or woman balks account,
The male is perfect and that of the female is perfect.
The expression of a wellmade 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 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 shoulderside.
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 swimmingbath . . seen as he swims through the salt transparent greenshine, or lies on his back and rolls silently with the heave of the water;
Framers bare-armed framing a house . . hoisting the beams in their places . . or using the mallet and mortising-chisel,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in rowboats . . . . the horseman in his saddle;
Girls and mothers and housekeepers in all their exquisite offices,
The group of laborers seated at noontime with their open dinnerkettles, and their wives waiting,
The female soothing a child . . . . the farmer's daughter in the garden or cowyard,
The woodman rapidly swinging his axe in the woods . . . . the young fellow hoeing corn . . . . the sleighdriver guiding his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers . . two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, goodnatured, nativeborn, out on the vacant lot at sundown after work,
The coats vests and caps thrown down . . the embrace of love and resistance,
The upperhold and underhold -- the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes -- the play of the masculine muscle through cleansetting trowsers and waistbands,
The slow return from the fire . . . . the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again -- the listening on the alert,
The natural perfect and varied attitudes . . . . the bent head, the curved neck, the counting:
Suchlike I love . . . . I loosen myself and pass freely . . . . and am at the mother's breast with the little child,
And swim with the swimmer, and wrestle with wrestlers, and march in line with the firemen, and pause and listen and count.
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 and calmness and beauty of person;
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 tanfaced and 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 showed like scarlet 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 shipjoiner . . . . he had fowling-pieces, presented to him by men that loved him;
When he went with his five sons and many grandsons 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.
I have perceived 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 . . 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 contact and odor of them that pleases the soul well,
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 fringed clouds . . what was expected of heaven or feared 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 . . . . loveflesh swelling and deliciously aching,
Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous . . . . quivering jelly of love . . . white-blow and delirious 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 sweetfleshed 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.
As I see my soul reflected in nature . . . . as I see through a mist one with inexpressible completeness and beauty . . . . see the bent head and arms folded over the breast . . . . the female I see,
I see the bearer of the great fruit which is immortality . . . . 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 defiance become him well,
The fiercest largest passions . . bliss that is utmost and sorrow that is utmost become him well . . . . pride is for him,
The fullspread pride of man is calming and excellent 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 here?
The man's body is sacred and the woman's body is sacred . . . . it is no matter who,
Is it a slave? Is it one of the dullfaced immigrants just landed on the wharf?
Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the welloff . . . . 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 dullface 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 slave at auction!
I help the auctioneer . . . . the sloven does not half know his business.
Gentlemen look on this curious creature,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for him,
For him the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For him the revolving cycles truly and steadily rolled.
In that head the allbaffling brain,
In it and below it the making of the attributes of heroes.
Examine these limbs, red black or white . . . . they are very cunning in tendon and nerve;
They shall be stript that you may see them.
Exquisite senses, lifelit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breastmuscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, goodsized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.
Within there runs his blood . . . . the same old blood . . the same red running blood;
There swells and jets his heart . . . . There all passions and desires . . all reachings and aspirations:
Do you think they are not there because they are not expressed in parlors and lecture-rooms?
This is not only one man . . . . he is 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?
A woman 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 mystery.
Have you ever loved a woman?
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 earth?
If life and the soul are 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 firmfibred 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 body?
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.
Who degrades or defiles the living human body is cursed,
Who degrades or defiles the body of the dead is not more