from “To You” 

  • Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams, 
  • I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands; 
  • Even now, your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles,
  • follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you, 
  • Your true Soul and Body appear before me, 
  • They stand forth out of affairs — out of commerce, shops,
  • law, science, work, forms, clothes, the house, medicine, print, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.
  • Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem; 
  • I whisper with my lips close to your ear, 
  • I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you. 
  • O I have been dilatory and dumb; 
  • I should have made my way straight to you long ago;
  • I should have blabb’d nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing but you. 

Walt Whitman was born on the 31st of May, 1819, in Long Island, New York. He was a professional journalist and became a volunteer nurse during the American Civil War (1861–’65). Whitman, who is now revered as America’s greatest poet, published at his own expense the first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass, the collection of his poetry that he continued to edit and expand throughout his life. His poetry was highly controversial both because of his renunciation of traditional rhymed verse and because his poems sometimes dealt with sexuality and the human body in ways that seemed shocking at the time. It is generally understood today that he was homosexual though it is also quite possible that Whitman was bisexual. No American poet has been larger spirited or more luminous. This brief excerpt from Whitman’s poem “To You,” its opening stanzas, will give the reader a sense of the engaging directness and humanity of his work. He died on the 26th of March, 1892, at the age of 72.

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