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Books by Whitman

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7 — Poem of The Body.

THE bodies of men and women engirth me, and
I engirth them,
They will not let me off, nor I them, till I go with
them, respond to them, love them.

Was it doubted if those who corrupt their own live
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 as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the

The expression of the body of man or woman
balks account,
The male is perfect, and that of the female is per-

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,

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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, supple quality he has, strikes
through the cotton and flannel,
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 con-
tour 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 in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in
row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their per-
The group of laborers seated at noon-time with
their open dinner-kettles, and their wives
The female soothing a child, the farmer's daughter
in the garden or cow-yard,
The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver
guiding his six horses through the crowd,

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The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys,
quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born,
out on the vacant lot at sun-down, 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-set-
ting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the
bell strikes suddenly again, the listening on
the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent
head, the curved neck, the counting,
Such-like I love, I loosen myself, pass freely,
am at the mother's breast with the little
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers,
march in line with the firemen, pause, listen,

I knew a man, he was a common farmer, he was
the father of five sons, and in them were the
fathers of sons, and in them were the fathers
of sons.

This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness,
beauty of person,

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The shape of his head, the richness and breadth
of his manners, the pale yellow and white
of his hair and beard, the immeasurable
meaning of his black eyes,
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
He drank water only, the blood showed like scar-
let through the clear brown skin of his face,
He was a frequent gunner and fisher, he sailed 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
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.

I have perceived that to be with those I like is

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To stop in company with the rest at evening is
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breath-
ing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, to touch any one, to 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 con-
tact and odor of them, that pleases the soul
All things please the soul, but these please the
soul well.

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,
the atmosphere and the clouds, what was
expected of heaven or feared of hell, are now
Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it,
the response likewise ungovernable,

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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 deliri-
ous juice,
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-
fleshed day.

This is the nucleus—after the child is born of
woman, the man is born of woman,
This is the bath of birth—this is the merge of
small and large, and the outlet again.

Be not ashamed, women! your privilege encloses
the rest, it 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, she moves with
perfect balance,
She is all things duly veiled, she is both passive
and active—she is to conceive daughters as
well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

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As I see my soul reflected in nature, as I see
through a mist, one with inexpressible com-
pleteness and beauty—see the bent head and
arms folded over the breast, the female I
I see the bearer of the great fruit which is im-
mortality—the good thereof is not tasted
by roues, and never can be.

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 defi-
ance become him well,
The fiercest 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 ex-
cellent to the soul,
Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he
brings everything 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

The man's body is sacred, and the woman's body
is sacred—it is no matter who,

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Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immi-
grants 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
beautiful motion!

Do you know so much, that you call the slave or
the dull-face 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
diffused float, and the soil is on the surface,
and water runs, and vegetation sprouts, for
you, and not for him and her?

A man's body at auction!
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

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In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the making of the attributes of

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white—they
are so 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 back-bone and
neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and
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 expressed in parlors and lecture-rooms?

This is not only one man—this is the father of
those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich re-
Of him countless immortal lives, with countless
embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the off-
spring of his offspring through the centuries?

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Who might you find you have come from yourself,
if you could trace back through the cen-

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.

Her daughters, or their daughters' daughters —
who knows who shall mate with them?
Who knows through the centuries what heroes
may come from them?

In them, and of them, natal love—in them
the divine mystery, the same old beautiful

Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
Have you ever loved the body of a man?
Your father, where is your father?
Your mother, is she living? Have you been
much with her? and has she been much
with you?
Do you not see that these are exactly the same
to all, in all nations and times, all over the

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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 beautiful as the most beautiful face.

Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live
body? or the fool that corrupted her own live
For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot
conceal themselves.

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,
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with
my poems—for they are poems,
Man's, woman's, child's, youth's, wife's, husband's,
mother's, father's, young man's, young woman's
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, 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,

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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
Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-
sinews, arm-bones,
Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles,
thumb, forefinger, finger-balls, finger-joints,
Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast,
breast-bone, breast-side,
Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone,
Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and out-
ward round, man-balls, man-root,
Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk
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
Womanhood, and all that is a woman—and the
man that comes from woman,

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The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears,
laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturba-
tions and risings,
The voice, articulation, language, whispering,
shouting aloud,
Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walk-
ing, 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 sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair,
The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling
with the hand the naked meat of his own
body or another person's 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 think these are not the parts and poems of
the body only, but of the soul,
O I think these are the soul!
If these are not the soul, what is the soul?


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