The Zoo Fence

More Ampersand Selections at The Zoo Fence

Let's go back

The Way Home
The Way Home

Excerpts from



Walt Whitman

For the full text of this poem,
please click here.

This poem by Walt Whitman (1819-1892) appears in Leaves of Grass, a collection of poems published in several editions and revisions from 1855 to 1882. It was – is – one of America’s most influential volumes of poetry, not only for its powerful content, but also for its style, free of rhyme and meter. Whitman’s writing is particularly remarkable for its unabashed, out-loud celebration of life in its every aspect, natural and spiritual.

“Song of Myself” is a long poem, and, depending upon your internet connection, may take several minutes to load in a browser. Therefore, here we provide only a few excerpts that we particularly like. If you would prefer to read the poem in its entirety, please click here.

We are grateful to TZF’s good friend, Kathy Massimini, co-author of the book Talking with Children about Loss, for re-introducing us to Walt Whitman.

Ampersand at The Zoo Fence

   I celebrate myself, and sing myself, 
   And what I assume you shall assume, 
   For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. 
   Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin
      of all poems, 
   You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions 
      of suns left,) 
   You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look 
      through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, 
   You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, 
   You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self. 
   I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the 
      beginning and the end, 
   But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. 
   There was never any more inception than there is now, 
   Nor any more youth or age than there is now, 
   And will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
   Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. 
  Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that 
       is not my soul.
   Has any one supposed it lucky to be born? 
   I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, 
      and I know it. 
   I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe, 
      and am not contain’d between my hat and boots, 
   And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good, 
   The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good. 
   I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth, 
   I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal
      and fathomless as myself, 
   (They do not know how immortal, but I know.) 
   Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female, 
   For me those that have been boys and that love women, 
   For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted, 
   For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and
      the mothers of mothers, 
   For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears, 
   For me children and the begetters of children. 
   Undrape! you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded, 
   I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no, 
   And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless, and 
      cannot be shaken away.
   What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me, 
   Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns, 
   Adorning myself to bestow myself on the first that will take me, 
   Not asking the sky to come down to my good will, 
   Scattering it freely forever. 
   I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise, 
   Regardless of others, ever regardful of others, 
   Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man, 
   Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff 
      that is fine, 
   One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and
      the largest the same, 
   A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and 
      hospitable down by the Oconee I live, 
   A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest 
      joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth, 
   A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin 
      leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian, 
   A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier,
      Badger, Buckeye; 
   At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with
      fishermen off Newfoundland, 
   At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest
      and tacking, 
   At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the 
      Texan ranch, 
   Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving 
      their big proportions,) 
   Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands 
      and welcome to drink and meat, 
   A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest, 
   A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons, 
   Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion, 
   A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker, 
   Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest. 
   I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul, 
   The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are 
      with me, 
   The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I 
      translate into new tongue. 
   I am the poet of the woman the same as the man, 
   And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man, 
   And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men. 
   Writing and talk do not prove me, 
   I carry the plenum of proof and every thing else in my face, 
   With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic. 
   I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey work 
      of the stars, 
   And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and 
      the egg of the wren, 
   And the tree-toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest, 
   And the running blackberry would adorn the parlors of heaven, 
   And the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery, 
   And the cow crunching with depress’d head surpasses any statue, 
   And a mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels. 
   I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and 
   I stand and look at them long and long. 
   They do not sweat and whine about their condition, 
   They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, 
   They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, 
   Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania 
      of owning things, 
   Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands 
      of years ago, 
   Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth. 
   And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle 
      to try to alarm me. 
   There is that in me – I do not know what it is – but I know 
      it is in me. 
   I do not know it – it is without name – it is a word unsaid, 
   It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol. 
   The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab 
      and my loitering. 



For the full text of this poem,
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The Zoo Fence

Going up!

Get me out of this frame!

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