Skip to main content

Saturday Poem for National Poetry Month - from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman


Walt Whitman (1819-1892) self-published the first edition of his opus, Leaves of Grass in 1855. At the time, he was living in Brooklyn and working as a freelance journalist and a printer / bookseller. The book drew favorable attention from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.  After the outbreak of the Civil War he  volunteered as a nurse in military hospitals around Washington D.C. — an experience he drew inspiration from for his notorious memoir Specimen Days and Collect. He is considered by many to be one of the fathers of modern American poetry. This is a seasonal selection from his book-length poem Leaves of Grass…

From Leaves of Grass (1855).

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have . . . . for the April rain has, and the mica on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? or the early redstart twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody but I will tell you.

Who goes there! hankering, gross, mystical, nude?
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?

What is man anyhow? What am I? and what are you?
All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.

I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth,
That life is a suck and a sell, and nothing remains at the end but threadbare crape and tears.

Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids
. . . . conformity goes to the fourth-removed,
I cock my hat as I please indoors or out.

Shall I pray? Shall I venerate and be ceremonious?

I have pried through the strata and analyzed to a hair,
And counseled with doctors and calculated close and found no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

And I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.