Verse > Walt Whitman > Leaves of Grass
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Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Leaves of Grass.  1900.

36. Scented Herbage of My Breast


SCENTED herbage of my breast, 
Leaves from you I yield, I write, to be perused best afterwards, 
Tomb-leaves, body-leaves, growing up above me, above death, 
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;         5
O I do not know whether many, passing by, will discover 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 accomplish’d; 
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,  10
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 finally beautiful, 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 declines to prefer,  15
I am not sure but the high Soul of lovers welcomes death most; 
Indeed, O Death, I think now these leaves mean precisely the same as you mean; 
Grow up taller, sweet leaves, that I may see! grow up out of my breast! 
Spring away from the conceal’d heart there! 
Do not fold yourself so in your pink-tinged roots, timid leaves!  20
Do not remain down there so ashamed, herbage of my breast! 
Come, I am determin’d to unbare this broad breast of mine—I have long enough stifled and choked: 
—Emblematic and capricious blade, 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,  25
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; 
Through me shall the words be said to make death exhilarating; 
Give me your tone therefore, O Death, that I may accord with it,  30
Give me yourself—for I see that you belong to me now above all, and are folded inseparably together—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 convey’d to me that you are the purports 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,  35
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 appearance, 
That may-be you are what it is all for—but it does not last so very long; 
But you will last very long.  40


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