Page 13 of 72
Scented herbage of my breast, Leaves from you I glean, 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; 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 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, Yet you are 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, (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! 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 blades I leave you, now you serve me not, I will say what I have to say by itself, 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, 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, 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.
Whoever you are holding me now in hand, Without one thing all will be useless, I give you fair warning before you attempt me further, I am not what you supposed, but far different. Who is he that would become my follower? Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections? The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive, You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard, Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting, The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon'd, Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go your hand from my shoulders, Put me down and depart on your way. Or else by stealth in some wood for trial, Or back of a rock in the open air, (For in any roof'd room of a house I emerge not, nor in company, And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,) But just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest any person for miles around approach unawares, Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea or some quiet island, Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you, With the comrade's long-dwelling kiss or the new husband's kiss, For I am the new husband and I am the comrade. Or if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing, Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip, Carry me when you go forth over land or sea; For thus merely touching you is enough, is best, And thus touching you would I silently sleep and be carried eternally. But these leaves conning you con at peril, For these leaves and me you will not understand, They will elude you at first and still more afterward, I will certainly elude you. Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold! Already you see I have escaped from you. For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book, Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it, Nor do those know me best who admire me and vauntingly praise me, Nor will the candidates for my love (unless at most a very few) prove victorious, Nor will my poems do good only, they will do just as much evil, perhaps more, For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit, that which I hinted at; Therefore release me and depart on your way.
Come, I will make the continent indissoluble, I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon, I will make divine magnetic lands, With the love of comrades, With the life-long love of comrades. I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America, and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies, I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other's necks, By the love of comrades, By the manly love of comrades. For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme! For you, for you I am trilling these songs.
These I singing in spring collect for lovers, (For who but I should understand lovers and all their sorrow and joy? And who but I should be the poet of comrades?) Collecting I traverse the garden the world, but soon I pass the gates, Now along the pond-side, now wading in a little, fearing not the wet, Now by the post-and-rail fences where the old stones thrown there, pick'd from the fields, have accumulated, (Wild-flowers and vines and weeds come up through the stones and partly cover them, beyond these I pass,) Far, far in the forest, or sauntering later in summer, before I think where I go, Solitary, smelling the earthy smell, stopping now and then in the silence, Alone I had thought, yet soon a troop gathers around me, Some walk by my side and some behind, and some embrace my arms or neck, They the spirits of dear friends dead or alive, thicker they come, a great crowd, and I in the middle, Collecting, dispensing, singing, there I wander with them, Plucking something for tokens, tossing toward whoever is near me, Here, lilac, with a branch of pine, Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pull'd off a live-oak in Florida as it hung trailing down, Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage, And here what I now draw from the water, wading in the pondside, (O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me, and returns again never to separate from me, And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades, this calamus-root shall, Interchange it youths with each other! let none render it back!) And twigs of maple and a bunch of wild orange and chestnut, And stems of currants and plum-blows, and the aromatic cedar, These I compass'd around by a thick cloud of spirits, Wandering, point to or touch as I pass, or throw them loosely from me, Indicating to each one what he shall have, giving something to each; But what I drew from the water by the pond-side, that I reserve, I will give of it, but only to them that love as I myself am capable of loving.