Best Poems From
(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892)
Roots And Leaves Themselves Alone
ROOTS and leaves themselves alone are these;
Scents brought to men and women from the wild woods, and from the
Breast-sorrel and pinks of love--fingers that wind around tighter
Gushes from the throats of birds, hid in the foliage of trees, as the
sun is risen;
Breezes of land and love--breezes set from living shores out to you
on the living sea--to you, O sailors!
Frost-mellow'd berries, and Third-month twigs, offer'd fresh to young
persons wandering out in the fields when the winter breaks up,
Love-buds, put before you and within you, whoever you are,
Buds to be unfolded on the old terms;
If you bring the warmth of the sun to them, they will open, and bring
form, color, perfume, to you;
If you become the aliment and the wet, they will become flowers,
fruits, tall blanches and trees. 10
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Carol Of Words
EARTH, round, rolling, compact--suns, moons, animals--all these are
words to be said;
Watery, vegetable, sauroid advances--beings, premonitions, lispings
of the future,
Behold! these are vast words to be said.
Were you thinking that those were the words--those upright lines?
those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words--the substantial words are in the ground
They are in the air--they are in you.
Were you thinking that those were the words--those delicious sounds
out of your friends' mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.
Human bodies are words, myriads of words;
In the best poems re-appears the body, man's or woman's, well-shaped,
natural, gay, 10
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the need of
Air, soil, water, fire--these are words;
I myself am a word with them--my qualities interpenetrate with
theirs--my name is nothing to them;
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what would air,
soil, water, fire, know of my name?
A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture, are words,
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and women, are
sayings and meanings also.
The workmanship of souls is by the inaudible words of the earth;
The great masters know the earth's words, and use them more than the
Amelioration is one of the earth's words;
The earth neither lags nor hastens; 20
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from the
It is not half beautiful only--defects and excrescences show just as
much as perfections show.
The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough;
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal'd
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print;
They are imbued through all things, conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation of the earth--I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not, of what avail am I to you?
To bear--to better--lacking these, of what avail am I?
Accouche! Accouchez! 30
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?
The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none out.
The earth does not exhibit itself, nor refuse to exhibit itself--
possesses still underneath;
Underneath the ostensible sounds, the august chorus of heroes, the
wail of slaves, 40
Persuasions of lovers, curses, gasps of the dying, laughter of young
people, accents of bargainers,
Underneath these, possessing the words that never fail.
To her children, the words of the eloquent dumb great mother never
The true words do not fail, for motion does not fail, and reflection
does not fail;
Also the day and night do not fail, and the voyage we pursue does not
Of the interminable sisters,
Of the ceaseless cotillions of sisters,
Of the centripetal and centrifugal sisters, the elder and younger
The beautiful sister we know dances on with the rest.
With her ample back towards every beholder, 50
With the fascinations of youth, and the equal fascinations of age,
Sits she whom I too love like the rest--sits undisturb'd,
Holding up in her hand what has the character of a mirror, while her
eyes glance back from it,
Glance as she sits, inviting none, denying none,
Holding a mirror day and night tirelessly before her own face.
Seen at hand, or seen at a distance,
Duly the twenty-four appear in public every day,
Duly approach and pass with their companions, or a companion,
Looking from no countenances of their own, but from the countenances
of those who are with them,
From the countenances of children or women, or the manly
From the open countenances of animals, or from inanimate things,
From the landscape or waters, or from the exquisite apparition of the
From our countenances, mine and yours, faithfully returning them,
Every day in public appearing without fail, but never twice with the
Embracing man, embracing all, proceed the three hundred and sixty-
five resistlessly round the sun;
Embracing all, soothing, supporting, follow close three hundred and
sixty-five offsets of the first, sure and necessary as they.
Tumbling on steadily, nothing dreading,
Sunshine, storm, cold, heat, forever withstanding, passing, carrying,
The Soul's realization and determination still inheriting,
The fluid vacuum around and ahead still entering and dividing, 70
No balk retarding, no anchor anchoring, on no rock striking,
Swift, glad, content, unbereav'd, nothing losing,
Of all able and ready at any time to give strict account,
The divine ship sails the divine sea.
Whoever you are! motion and reflection are especially for you;
The divine ship sails the divine sea for you.
Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and
You are he or she for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality. 80
Each man to himself, and each woman to herself, such is the word of
the past and present, and the word of immortality;
No one can acquire for another--not one!
Not one can grow for another--not one!
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him;
The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him;
The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him;
The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him;
The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him;
The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him--it cannot fail;
The oration is to the orator, the acting is to the actor and actress,
not to the audience; 90
And no man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the
indication of his own.
I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall be
I swear the earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who
remains jagged and broken!
I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate those of
I swear there can be no theory of any account, unless it corroborate
the theory of the earth!
No politics, art, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account,
unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of
I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that which
It is that which contains itself--which never invites, and never
I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible words! 100
I swear I think all merges toward the presentation of the unspoken
meanings of the earth!
Toward him who sings the songs of the Body, and of the truths of the
Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that print cannot
I swear I see what is better than to tell the best;
It is always to leave the best untold.
When I undertake to tell the best, I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.
The best of the earth cannot be told anyhow--all or any is best; 110
It is not what you anticipated--it is cheaper, easier, nearer;
Things are not dismiss'd from the places they held before;
The earth is just as positive and direct as it was before;
Facts, religions, improvements, politics, trades, are as real as before;
But the Soul is also real,--it too is positive and direct;
No reasoning, no proof has establish'd it,
Undeniable growth has establish'd it.
This is a poem--a carol of words--these are hints of meanings,
These are to echo the tones of Souls, and the phrases of Souls;
If they did not echo the phrases of Souls, what were they then? 120
If they had not reference to you in especial, what were they then?
I swear I will never henceforth have to do with the faith that tells
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best untold.
Say on, sayers!
Delve! mould! pile the words of the earth!
Work on--(it is materials you must bring, not breaths;)
Work on, age after age! nothing is to be lost;
It may have to wait long, but it will certainly come in use;
When the materials are all prepared, the architects shall appear.
I swear to you the architects shall appear without fail! I announce
them and lead them; 130
I swear to you they will understand you, and justify you;
I swear to you the greatest among them shall be he who best knows
you, and encloses all, and is faithful to all;
I swear to you, he and the rest shall not forget you--they shall
perceive that you are not an iota less than they;
I swear to you, you shall be glorified in them.
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Crossing Brooklyn Ferry
FLOOD-TIDE below me! I watch you face to face;
Clouds of the west! sun there half an hour high! I see you also face
Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes! how curious
you are to me!
On the ferry-boats, the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning
home, are more curious to me than you suppose;
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence, are more to
me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.
The impalpable sustenance of me from all things, at all hours of the
The simple, compact, well-join'd scheme--myself disintegrated, every
one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme:
The similitudes of the past, and those of the future;
The glories strung like beads on my smallest sights and hearings--on
the walk in the street, and the passage over the river;
The current rushing so swiftly, and swimming with me far away; 10
The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them;
The certainty of others--the life, love, sight, hearing of others.
Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide;
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and the
heights of Brooklyn to the south and east;
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half
an hour high;
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others
will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood-tide, the falling
back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
It avails not, neither time or place--distance avails not; 20
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many
I project myself--also I return--I am with you, and know how it is.
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd;
Just as you are refresh'd by the gladness of the river and the bright
flow, I was refresh'd;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift
current, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships, and the thick-
stem'd pipes of steamboats, I look'd.
I too many and many a time cross'd the river, the sun half an hour
I watched the Twelfth-month sea-gulls--I saw them high in the air,
floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
I saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and
left the rest in strong shadow, 30
I saw the slow-wheeling circles, and the gradual edging toward the
I too saw the reflection of the summer sky in the water,
Had my eyes dazzled by the shimmering track of beams,
Look'd at the fine centrifugal spokes of light around the shape of my
head in the sun-lit water,
Look'd on the haze on the hills southward and southwestward,
Look'd on the vapor as it flew in fleeces tinged with violet,
Look'd toward the lower bay to notice the arriving ships,
Saw their approach, saw aboard those that were near me,
Saw the white sails of schooners and sloops--saw the ships at anchor,
The sailors at work in the rigging, or out astride the spars, 40
The round masts, the swinging motion of the hulls, the slender
The large and small steamers in motion, the pilots in their pilot-
The white wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl of the
The flags of all nations, the falling of them at sun-set,
The scallop-edged waves in the twilight, the ladled cups, the
frolicsome crests and glistening,
The stretch afar growing dimmer and dimmer, the gray walls of the
granite store-houses by the docks,
On the river the shadowy group, the big steam-tug closely flank'd on
each side by the barges--the hay-boat, the belated lighter,
On the neighboring shore, the fires from the foundry chimneys burning
high and glaringly into the night,
Casting their flicker of black, contrasted with wild red and yellow
light, over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of
These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you; 50
I project myself a moment to tell you--also I return.
I loved well those cities;
I loved well the stately and rapid river;
The men and women I saw were all near to me;
Others the same--others who look back on me, because I look'd forward
(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)
What is it, then, between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails
I too lived--Brooklyn, of ample hills, was mine; 60
I too walk'd the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the
waters around it;
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day, among crowds of people, sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night, or as I lay in my bed, they came upon
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution;
I too had receiv'd identity by my Body;
That I was, I knew was of my body--and what I should be, I knew I
should be of my body.
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw patches down upon me also;
The best I had done seem'd to me blank and suspicious; 70
My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality
meagre? would not people laugh at me?
It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;
I am he who knew what it was to be evil;
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb'd, blush'd, resented, lied, stole, grudg'd,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these
But I was Manhattanese, friendly and proud!
I was call'd by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as
they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of
their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly,
yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing,
Play'd the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.
Closer yet I approach you;
What thought you have of me, I had as much of you--I laid in my
stores in advance; 90
I consider'd long and seriously of you before you were born.
Who was to know what should come home to me?
Who knows but I am enjoying this?
Who knows but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot
It is not you alone, nor I alone;
Not a few races, nor a few generations, nor a few centuries;
It is that each came, or comes, or shall come, from its due emission,
From the general centre of all, and forming a part of all:
Everything indicates--the smallest does, and the largest does;
A necessary film envelopes all, and envelopes the Soul for a proper
Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to
me than my mast-hemm'd Manhattan,
My river and sun-set, and my scallop-edg'd waves of flood-tide,
The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the twilight,
and the belated lighter;
Curious what Gods can exceed these that clasp me by the hand, and
with voices I love call me promptly and loudly by my nighest
name as I approach;
Curious what is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or
man that looks in my face,
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you.
We understand, then, do we not?
What I promis'd without mentioning it, have you not accepted?
What the study could not teach--what the preaching could not
accomplish, is accomplish'd, is it not?
What the push of reading could not start, is started by me
personally, is it not? 110
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sun-set! drench with your splendor me, or the
men and women generations after me;
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!--stand up, beautiful hills of
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house, or street, or public
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or
Play the old role, the role that is great or small, according as one
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be
looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly, yet
haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in
Receive the summer sky, you water! and faithfully hold it, till all
downcast eyes have time to take it from you;
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any
one's head, in the sun-lit water;
Come on, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sail'd
schooners, sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower'd at sunset;
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at
nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are; 130
You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul;
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest
Thrive, cities! bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual;
Keep your places, objects than which none else is more lasting.
We descend upon you and all things--we arrest you all;
We realize the soul only by you, you faithful solids and fluids;
Through you color, form, location, sublimity, ideality;
Through you every proof, comparison, and all the suggestions and
determinations of ourselves.
You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers! you
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves
We use you, and do not cast you aside--we plant you permanently
We fathom you not--we love you--there is perfection in you also;
You furnish your parts toward eternity;
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.
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Earth! my Likeness!
EARTH! my likeness!
Though you look so impassive, ample and spheric there,
I now suspect that is not all;
I now suspect there is something fierce in you, eligible to burst
For an athlete is enamour'd of me--and I of him;
But toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me, eligible
to burst forth,
I dare not tell it in words--not even in these songs.
Read more: song poems