Song of the Open Road

Original Text: 
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891-92): 120-29. PS 3201 1891 Robarts Library.
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1Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
2Healthy, free, the world before me,
3The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
4Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
5Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
6Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
7Strong and content I travel the open road.
8The earth, that is sufficient,
9I do not want the constellations any nearer,
10I know they are very well where they are,
11I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
12(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
13I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
14I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
15I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.)
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16You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
17I believe that much unseen is also here.
18Here the profound lesson of reception, nor preference nor denial,
19The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas'd, the illiterate person, are not denied;
20The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar's tramp, the drunkard's stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
21The escaped youth, the rich person's carriage, the fop, the eloping couple,
22The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the town, the return back from the town,
23They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be interdicted,
24None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.
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25You air that serves me with breath to speak!
26You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give them shape!
27You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
28You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
29I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so dear to me.
30You flagg'd walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
31You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides! you distant ships!
32You rows of houses! you window-pierc'd façades! you roofs!
34You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!
35You doors and ascending steps! you arches!
36You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!
37From all that has touch'd you I believe you have imparted to yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,
38From the living and the dead you have peopled your impassive surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable with me.
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39The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
40The picture alive, every part in its best light,
41The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
42The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment of the road.
43O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
44Do you say Venture not -- if you leave me you are lost?
45Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and undenied, adhere to me?
46O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you,
47You express me better than I can express myself,
48You shall be more to me than my poem.
49I think heroic deeds were all conceiv'd in the open air, and all free poems also,
50I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
51I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever beholds me shall like me,
52I think whoever I see must be happy.
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53From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
54Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
55Listening to others, considering well what they say,
56Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
57Gently,but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
58I inhale great draughts of space,
59The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
60I am larger, better than I thought,
61I did not know I held so much goodness.
62All seems beautiful to me,
63I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
64I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
65I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
66I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
67Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
68Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.
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69Now if a thousand perfect men were to appear it would not amaze me,
70Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appear'd it would not astonish me.
71Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
72It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.
73Here a great personal deed has room,
74(Such a deed seizes upon the hearts of the whole race of men,
75Its effusion of strength and will overwhelms law and mocks all authority and all argument against it.)
76Here is the test of wisdom,
77Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
78Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it to another not having it,
79Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
80Applies to all stages and objects and qualities and is content,
81Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the excellence of things;
82Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul.
83Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
84They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.
85Here is realization,
86Here is a man tallied -- he realizes here what he has in him,
87The past, the future, majesty, love -- if they are vacant of you, you are vacant of them.
88Only the kernel of every object nourishes;
89Where is he who tears off the husks for you and me?
90Where is he that undoes stratagems and envelopes for you and me?
91Here is adhesiveness, it is not previously fashion'd, it is apropos;
92Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by strangers?
93Do you know the talk of those turning eye-balls?
95The efflux of the soul comes from within through embower'd gates, ever provoking questions,
96These yearnings why are they? these thoughts in the darkness why are they?
97Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me the sunlight expands my blood?
98Why when they leave me do my pennants of joy sink flat and lank?
99Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
100(I think they hang there winter and summer on those trees and always drop fruit as I pass;)
101What is it I interchange so suddenly with strangers?
102What with some driver as I ride on the seat by his side?
104What gives me to be free to a woman's and man's good-will? what gives them to be free to mine?
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105The efflux of the soul is happiness, here is happiness,
106I think it pervades the open air, waiting at all times,
107Now it flows unto us, we are rightly charged.
108Here rises the fluid and attaching character,
109The fluid and attaching character is the freshness and sweetness of man and woman,
110(The herbs of the morning sprout no fresher and sweeter every day out of the roots of themselves, than it sprouts fresh and sweet continually out of itself.)
111Toward the fluid and attaching character exudes the sweat of the love of young and old,
112From it falls distill'd the charm that mocks beauty and attainments,
113Toward it heaves the shuddering longing ache of contact.
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114Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
115Traveling with me you find what never tires.
116The earth never tires,
117The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,
118Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop'd,
119I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
120Allons! we must not stop here,
121However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here,
122However shelter'd this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here,
123However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.
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124Allons! the inducements shall be greater,
125We will sail pathless and wild seas,
126We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper speeds by under full sail.
127Allons! with power, liberty, the earth, the elements,
128Health, defiance, gayety, self-esteem, curiosity;
130From your formules, O bat-eyed and materialistic priests.
131The stale cadaver blocks up the passage -- the burial waits no longer.
132Allons! yet take warning!
134None may come to the trial till he or she bring courage and health,
135Come not here if you have already spent the best of yourself,
136Only those may come who come in sweet and determin'd bodies,
137No diseas'd person, no rum-drinker or venereal taint is permitted here.
138(I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
139We convince by our presence.)
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140Listen! I will be honest with you,
141I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
142These are the days that must happen to you:
143You shall not heap up what is call'd riches,
144You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
145You but arrive at the city to which you were destin'd, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call'd by an irresistible call to depart,
146You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
147What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
148You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach'd hands toward you.
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149Allons! after the great Companions, and to belong to them!
150They too are on the road -- they are the swift and majestic men -- they are the greatest women,
151Enjoyers of calms of seas and storms of seas,
152Sailors of many a ship, walkers of many a mile of land,
153Habituès of many distant countries, habituès of far-distant dwellings,
154Trusters of men and women, observers of cities, solitary toilers,
155Pausers and contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the shore,
156Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of children, bearers of children,
157Soldiers of revolts, standers by gaping graves, lowerers-down of coffins,
158Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years, the curious years each emerging from that which preceded it,
159Journeyers as with companions, namely their own diverse phases,
160Forth-steppers from the latent unrealized baby-days,
161Journeyers gayly with their own youth, journeyers with their bearded and well-grain'd manhood,
162Journeyers with their womanhood, ample, unsurpass'd, content,
163Journeyers with their own sublime old age of manhood or womanhood,
164Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the universe,
165Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.
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166Allons! to that which is endless as it was beginningless,
167To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
168To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to,
169Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys,
170To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
171To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and pass it,
172To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you, however long but it stretches and waits for you,
173To see no being, not God's or any, but you also go thither,
174To see no possession but you may possess it, enjoying all without labor or purchase, abstracting the feast yet not abstracting one particle of it,
175To take the best of the farmer's farm and the rich man's elegant villa, and the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens,
176To take to your use out of the compact cities as you pass through,
177To carry buildings and streets with you afterward wherever you go,
178To gather the minds of men out of their brains as you encounter them, to gather the love out of their hearts,
179To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them behind you,
180To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.
181All parts away for the progress of souls,
182All religion, all solid things, arts, governments -- all that was or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and corners before the procession of souls along the grand roads of the universe.
183Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads of the universe, all other progress is the needed emblem and sustenance.
184Forever alive, forever forward,
185Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied,
186Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
187They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go,
188But I know that they go toward the best -- toward something great.
189Whoever you are, come forth! or man or woman come forth!
190You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though you built it, or though it has been built for you.
191Out of the dark confinement! out from behind the screen!
192It is useless to protest, I know all and expose it.
193Behold through you as bad as the rest,
194Through the laughter, dancing, dining, supping, of people,
195Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash'd and trimm'd faces,
196Behold a secret silent loathing and despair.
197No husband, no wife, no friend, trusted to hear the confession,
198Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,
199Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities, polite and bland in the parlors,
200In the cars of railroads, in steamboats, in the public assembly,
201Home to the houses of men and women, at the table, in the bedroom, everywhere,
202Smartly attired, countenance smiling, form upright, death under the breast-bones, hell under the skull-bones,
203Under the broadcloth and gloves, under the ribbons and artificial flowers,
204Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of itself,
205Speaking of any thing else but never of itself.
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206Allons! through struggles and wars!
207The goal that was named cannot be countermanded.
208Have the past struggles succeeded?
209What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? Nature?
210Now understand me well -- it is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.
211My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion,
212He going with me must go well arm'd,
213He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry enemies, desertions.
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214Allons! the road is before us!
215It is safe -- I have tried it -- my own feet have tried it well -- be not detain'd!
216Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen'd!
217Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!
218Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
219Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.
220Camerado, I give you my hand!
221I give you my love more precious than money,
222I give you myself before preaching or law;
223Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
224Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Notes

33] copings: sloping top of a wall. Back to Line
94] efflux: expiration. Back to Line
103] seine: fishing net. Back to Line
129] Allons: "Let us go" (French).
formules: prescribed rules. Back to Line
133] thews: muscles. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1856
Publication Notes: 
(as "Poem of the Road")
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.
Rhyme: