I Sing the Body Electric

Original Text: 
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1891-92): 81-88. PS 3201 1891 Robarts Library.
1I sing the body electric,
2The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
3They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
4And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
5Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
6And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
7And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
8And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
10That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.
11The expression of the face balks account,
12But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
13It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
14It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
15The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
16To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
17You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.
18The 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 contour of their shape downwards,
19The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
20The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,
21Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances,
22The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner-kettles, and their wives waiting,
23The female soothing a child, the farmer's daughter in the garden or cow-yard,
24The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
25The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
26The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
27The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
28The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
29The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
30The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv'd neck and the counting;
31Such-like I love -- I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother's breast with the little child,
32Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.
33I knew a man, a common farmer, the father of five sons,
34And in them the fathers of sons, and in them the fathers of sons.
35This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person,
36The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes, the richness and breadth of his manners,
37These I used to go and visit him to see, he was wise also,
38He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old, his sons were massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome,
39They and his daughters loved him, all who saw him loved him,
40They did not love him by allowance, they loved him with personal love,
41He drank water only, the blood show'd like scarlet through the clear-brown skin of his face,
42He was a frequent gunner and fisher, he sail'd 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,
43When 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 gang,
44You 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.
45I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,
46To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
47To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
48To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
49I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.
50There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
51All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.
52This is the female form,
53A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot,
54It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction,
55I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it,
56Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, and what was expected of heaven or fear'd of hell, are now consumed,
57Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it, the response likewise ungovernable,
58Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands all diffused, mine too diffused,
59Ebb stung by the flow and flow stung by the ebb, love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching,
60Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice,
61Bridegroom night of love working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn,
62Undulating into the willing and yielding day,
63Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh'd day.
64This the nucleus -- after the child is born of woman, man is born of woman,
65This the bath of birth, this the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.
66Be not ashamed women, your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest,
67You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.
68The female contains all qualities and tempers them,
69She is in her place and moves with perfect balance,
70She is all things duly veil'd, she is both passive and active,
71She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.
72As I see my soul reflected in Nature,
73As I see through a mist, One with inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty,
74See the bent head and arms folded over the breast, the Female I see.
75The male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,
76He too is all qualities, he is action and power,
77The flush of the known universe is in him,
78Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well,
79The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost become him well, pride is for him,
80The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul,
81Knowledge becomes him, he likes it always, he brings every thing to the test of himself,
82Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail he strikes soundings at last only here,
83(Where else does he strike soundings except here?)
84The man's body is sacred and the woman's body is sacred,
85No matter who it is, it is sacred -- is it the meanest one in the laborers' gang?
86Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?
87Each belongs here or anywhere just as much as the well-off, just as much as you,
88Each has his or her place in the procession.
89(All is a procession,
90The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.)
91Do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest ignorant?
92Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight?
93Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,
94For you only, and not for him and her?
95A man's body at auction,
96(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,)
97I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business.
98Gentlemen look on this wonder,
99Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
100For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
101For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll'd.
102In this head the all-baffling brain,
103In it and below it the makings of heroes.
104Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
105They shall be stript that you may see them.
106Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
107Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
108And wonders within there yet.
109Within there runs blood,
110The same old blood! the same red-running blood!
111There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations,
112(Do you think they are not there because they are not express'd in parlors and lecture-rooms?)
113This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
114In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
115Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.
116How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
117(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?)
118A woman's body at auction,
119She too is not only herself, she is the teeming mother of mothers,
120She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.
121Have you ever loved the body of a woman?
122Have you ever loved the body of a man?
123Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all in all nations and times all over the earth?
124If any thing is sacred the human body is sacred,
125And the glory and sweet of a man is the token of manhood untainted,
126And in man or woman a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is more beautiful than the most beautiful face.
127Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body?
128For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.
129O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you,
130I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)
131I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems, and that they are my poems,
132Man's, woman's, child's, youth's, wife's, husband's, mother's, father's, young man's, young woman's poems,
134Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eyebrows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,
135Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,
136Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,
139Upper-arm, armpit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones,
140Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, forefinger, finger-joints, finger-nails,
141Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,
142Ribs, belly, backbone, joints of the backbone,
143Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root,
144Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above,
145Leg fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under-leg,
146Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel;
147All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one's body, male or female,
148The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean,
149The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame,
150Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity,
151Womanhood, and all that is a woman, and the man that comes from woman,
152The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings,
153The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud,
154Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming,
155Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening,
156The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes,
157The skin, the sunburnt shade, freckles, hair,
158The curious sympathy one feels when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body,
159The circling rivers the breath, and breathing it in and out,
160The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees,
161The thin red jellies within you or within me, the bones and the marrow in the bones,
162The exquisite realization of health;
163O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul,
164O I say now these are the soul!


9] balks: prevents, obstructs. Back to Line
133] tympan: drum. Back to Line
137] neck-slue: perhaps "the neck's twist," the "turned neck." Back to Line
138] scapula: shoulder-blade. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.