Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
 
366. From “The Song of Myself”
 
By Walt Whitman
 
 
MYSELF

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.        5
 
My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
 
Creeds and schools in abeyance,        10
Retiring back awhile sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.
 
LEAVES OF GRASS

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.        15
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
 
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?
 
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.        20
 
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
 
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.        25
 
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.        30
 
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
 
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.        35
 
I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.
 
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
 
They are alive and well somewhere,        40
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.
 
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.        45
 
I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.
 
One world is away and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,        50
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
 
My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.
 
HEROES

I UNDERSTAND the large hearts of heroes,
        55
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steamship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was faithful of days and faithful of nights,
And chalked in large letters on a board, Be of good cheer, we will not desert you;
How he followed with them and tacked with them three days and would not give it up,        60
How he saved the drifting company at last,
How the lank loose-gowned women looked when boated from the side of their prepared graves,
How the silent old-faced infants, and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipped unshaved men;
All this I swallow, it tastes good, I like it well, it becomes mine,
I am the man, I suffered, I was there.        65
 
Agonies are one of my changes of garments,
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person,
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.
 
I am the mashed fireman with breast-bone broken,
Tumbling walls buried me in their debris,        70
Heat and smoke I inspired, I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades,
I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels;
They have cleared the beams away, they tenderly lift me forth.
 
I lie in the night air in my red shirt, the pervading hush is for my sake,
Painless after all I lie exhausted but not so unhappy,        75
White and beautiful are the faces around me, the heads are bared of their firecaps,
The kneeling crowd fades with the light of the torches.
 
Distant and dead resuscitate,
They show as the dial or move as the hands of me, I am the clock myself.
 
I am an old artillerist, I tell of my fort’s bombardment,        80
I am there again.
 
Again the long roll of the drummers,
Again the attacking cannon, mortars,
Again to my listening ears the cannon responsive.
 
I take part, I see and hear the whole,        85
The cries, curses, roar, the plaudits for well-aimed shots,
The ambulanza slowly passing trailing its red drip,
Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs,
The fall of grenades through the rent roof, the fan-shaped explosion,
The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air.        90
 
Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general, he furiously waves with his hand,
He gasps through the clot Mind not me—mind—the entrenchments.
 
Would you hear of an old-time sea-fight?
Would you learn who won by the light of the moon and stars?
List to the yarn, as my grandmother’s father the sailor told it to me.        95
 
Our foe was no skulk in his ship I tell you, (said he)
His was the surly English pluck, and there is no tougher or truer, and never was, and never will be;
Along the lowered eve he came horribly raking us.
 
We closed with him, the yards entangled, the cannon touched,
My captain lashed fast with his own hands.        100
 
We had received some eighteen pound shots under the water,
On our lower gun-deck two large pieces had burst at the first fire, killing all around and blowing up overhead.
 
Fighting at sun-down, fighting at dark,
Ten o’clock at night, the full moon well up, our leaks on the gain, and five feet of water reported,
The master-at-arms loosing the prisoners confined in the after-hold to give them a chance for themselves.        105
 
The transit to and from the magazine is now stopped by the sentinels,
They see so many strange faces they do not know whom to trust.
 
Our frigate takes fire,
The other asks if we demand quarter?
If our colors are struck and the fighting done?        110
 
Now I laugh content for I hear the voice of my little captain,
We have not struck, he composedly cries, we have just begun our part of the fighting.
 
Only three guns are in use,
One is directed by the captain himself against the enemy’s mainmast,
Two well served with grape and canister silence his musketry and clear his decks.        115
 
The tops alone second the fire of this little battery, especially the main-top,
They hold out bravely during the whole of the action.
 
Not a moment’s cease,
The leaks gain fast on the pumps, the fire eats toward the powder-magazine.
 
One of the pumps has been shot away, it is generally thought we are sinking.        120
 
Serene stands the little captain,
He is not hurried, his voice is neither high nor low,
His eyes give more light to us than our battle-lanterns.
 
Toward twelve there in the beams of the moon they surrender to us.
 
INFINITY

>MY feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
        125
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travelled, and still I mount and mount.
 
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,        130
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.
 
Long I was hugged close—long and long.
 
Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.
Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,        135
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
 
Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.
 
For it the nebula cohered to an orb,        140
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care.
 
All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.        145
 
Old age superbly rising! O welcome, in effable grace of dying days!
 
Every condition promulges not only itself, it promulges what grows after and out of itself,
And the dark hush promulges as much as any.
I open my scuttle at night and see the far-sprinkled systems,
And all I see multiplied as high as I can cipher edge but the rim of the farther systems.        150
 
Wider and wider they spread, expanding, always expanding,
Outward and outward and forever outward.
My sun has his sun and round him obediently wheels,
He joins with his partners a group of superior circuit,
And greater sets follow, making specks of the greatest inside them.        155
 
There is no stoppage and never can be stoppage,
If I, you, and the worlds, and all beneath or upon their surfaces, were this moment reduced back to a pallid float, it would not avail in the long run,
We should surely bring up again where we now stand,
And surely go as much farther, and then farther and farther.
 
A few quadrillions of eras, a few octillions of cubic leagues, do not hazard the span or make it impatient,        160
They are but parts, anything is but a part.
See ever so far, there is limitless space outside of that,
Count ever so much, there is limitless time around that.
 
My rendezvous is appointed, it is certain,
The Lord will be there and wait till I come on perfect terms,        165
The great Camerado, the lover true for whom I pine will be there.
 

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