Monday, May 2, 2016

In Celebration of Black and White and Form

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!











































































 





























































































































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