Long I was held by the life that exhibits itself,
By what is done in the houses or the streets, or in company,
The usual pleasures and aims, the standards hitherto publish’d,
The intercourse to which all conform, and which the writers celebrate,
Which too long I was offering to feed my soul.
But I will escape from the sham that was proposed to me,
Come I am determin’d to unbare this broad breast of mine, I have long enough stifled and choked—
In paths untrodden, I proceed for all who are or have been young men,
To tell the secret of my nights and days.
Here the frailest leaves of me and yet my strongest lasting,
Here I shade and hide my thoughts, I myself do not expose them,
And yet they expose me more than all my other poems,
For now I know the life which does not exhibit itself but which contains all the rest,
I celebrate the untold and carefully concealed life.
Escaped from all the standards hitherto publish’d,
Clear to me now standards not yet publish’d,
Clear to me that my soul, that the soul of the man I speak for, rejoices in comrades,
In the high-towering love of comrades.
Resolv’d to sing no songs today but those of manly attachment,
I will sound myself and comrades only,
For who but I should be the poet of comrades?
I will write the evangel-poem of comrades and of love,
I will raise with it immortal reverberations,
A few carols vibrating through the air I leave for comrades and lovers,
I will never again utter a call, only their call,
To celebrate the need of the love of comrades.
I will establish without edifices or rules or trustees or any argument,
The institution of the dear love of comrades,
The most copious and close companionship of men,
I will give an example to lovers to take permanent shape and will,
Bequeathing hence types of athletic love.
Now along the pondside, collecting, dispensing, singing, there I wander,
Plucking something for tokens, tossing toward whoever is near me,
Indicating to each one what he shall have, giving something to each.
And here what I now draw from the water—
This, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades, this calamus-root shall,
I will give of it, but only to them that love as I myself am capable of loving;
Interchange it youths with each other! let none render it back!
(Calamus—often called sweet flag—is the very large and aromatic grass, or rush, growing by margins of water-ponds in the valleys. The ethereal sense of the term, as used in my book, arises from calamus presenting the biggest and hardiest kind of spears of grass, about three feet high, and their fresh, aquatic, pungent bouquet.)
Under present arrangements, the love and comradeship of a woman, of his wife, however welcome, however complete, does not and cannot satisfy the grandest requirements of a manly soul for love and comradeship. The man he loves, he often loves with more passionate attachment than he ever bestows on any woman, even his wife. Is it that the growth of love needs the free air, the seasons, perhaps more wildness, more rudeness?
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 forth,
For an athlete—the young man of Mannahatta, the celebrated rough—is enamour’d of me, and I of him,
One who loves me is jealous of me, and withdraws me from all but love.
But toward him there is something fierce and terrible in me eligible to burst forth;
Not heat flames up and consumes,
Not sea-waves hurry in and out,
O none of these more than the flames of me, full of animal-fire,
Consuming, burning for his love whom I love.
I will therefore let flame from me the burning fires that were threatening to consume me,
I will lift what has too long kept down those smouldering fires,
I will give them complete abandonment.
I have found him who loves me, as I him in perfect love,
I am to go with him I love—a natural prince, tender, sweet, and magnetic—
And he is to go with me; with the rest I dispense.
I sever from what I thought would suffice me, for it does not,
It is now empty and tasteless to me,
I heed knowledge, and the grandeur of the states, and the example of heroes, no more.
Publish my name and hang up my picture as that of the tenderest lover,
The friend the lover’s portrait, of whom his friend his lover was fondest,
It is to be enough for each of us that we are together.
In a bar-room around the stove,
The arm of my friend hanging idly over my shoulder,
Amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,
We are those two natural and nonchalant persons,
We two, content, happy in being together,
Speaking little, perhaps not a word.
We but look’d on each other,
When lo! more than all the gifts of the world you gave me,
The memory of only one look—the boy lingering and waiting.
Not a day or night passes but I think of you,
I want to see you, my darling son, and I can’t wait any longer,
How I wish you could come now, even if but for an hour, and take off your coat, and sit down on my lap.
Just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest any person for miles around approach unawares,
Or else by stealth in some wood for trial,
Or back of a rock in the open air,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you.
Touch me with your lips as I touch those I love,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband and I am the comrade,
I ascend, I float in the regions of your love O man,
Ethereal, as disembodied or another born.
O camerado close!
O wholesome pleasure—O one more desirer and lover!
O you and me at last, and us two only.
O now I triumph—and you shall also, O sharer of my roving life,
Who oft as he saunter’d the streets curv’d with his arm the shoulder of his friend,
While the arm of his friend rested upon him also,
Whose happiest days were far away, rambling in lanes and country fields, in woods, on hills,
He and another wandering hand in hand,
The glow and pressure as he confides what he was dreaming.
O to haste firm holding—to haste, haste on with me,
In the air, in the woods, over fields,
We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
The one so unwilling to have me leave, and me just as unwilling to leave.
When I heard how my name had been receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol,
And else when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d,
Still I was not happy.
But when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend,
And that night the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was happy—
Loved! loved! loved! loved! loved!
Full of wickedness, I—of many a smutch’d deed reminiscent—of worse deeds capable,
Yet I look composedly upon nature, drink day and night the joys of life, and await death with perfect equanimity,
Because of my tender and boundless love for him I love and because of his boundless love for me.
NEXT: SEXUAL LOVE