Loving Strangers in the City

In cities now, modern, I wander,
Days, places, indifferent—though various, the same.
Still I adhere to my city, my own Manhattan with spires,
America’s great democratic island city, the place of my dearest love,
(That I have lived and sung in your midst will one day make you illustrious.)
I think I have reason to be the proudest son alive,
For I am the son of the brawny and tall-topt city, the world’s city,
Me, a Manhattanese, the most loving, free, friendly, and proud!

Manhattan’s streets I saunter’d,
Day upon day and year upon year O city, walking your streets,
Curious, gay, observant and singing,
Pondering Manhattan streets with their powerful throbs,
The tumultuous streets, the myriad feet of rushing 
The endless sliding, mincing, shuffling feet,
Mighty land-river, pouring down through the center of Manhattan.

When million-footed Manhattan unpent descends to her pavements,
The city’s ceaseless crowd moves on the livelong day,
The thick crowds, well-dressed—hurrying, feverish, electric crowds,
The continual crowds as if they would never end,
Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus,
The broad, bright current, streaming, with strong voices, passions, pageants,
The heavy bass, low roar, great hum and harshness, composite and musical.

How strong is our instinct to seek social pleasures amidst a multitude;
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
The mere presence of a crowd, gathered to behold a spectacle, is a powerful excitement.

It is a never-ending amusement and study and recreation for me to ride a couple of hours, of a pleasant afternoon, on a Broadway stage,
You see everything as you pass—
the pageants, shifting tableaus, spectacles,
What a fascinating chaos, a sort of million-hued, ever-changing,
endless panorama.
So many splendid buildings, tall, ornamental, noble buildings,
High growths of iron, slender, strong, light,
Our tall-topt marble and iron beauties, they seem to almost reach the clouds.

The lamps are lit—the shops blaze,
Shops, great windows,
with lots of fine things in the windows,
(Are they not about the same, the civilized world over?)
As I turn from the crowded street and peer through the plate glass at the pictures or rich goods,
In Broadway, the reflections, moving, glistening, silent,

The faces and figures, old and young, all so various, all so phantasmic,
The thick crowds, well-dressed, sparkling eyes, human faces, magnetism,
Crowds of women, richly-dressed, continually passing, ambulating to and fro,
Altogether different, superior in style and looks from any to be seen anywhere else,
As if New York would show what it can do in its humanity, its choicest physique and physiognomy, and its countless prodigality of locomotion, glitter, magnetism, and happiness.

I sometimes think I am the particular man who enjoys the show of all these things in New York more than any other mortal,
As if it was all got up just for me to observe and study.

Again my walks through the Mannahatta, the streets I knew so well—
I resume with curiosity the crowds, those never-ending human currents, the great tides of humanity, with ever-shifting movements,
I always enjoy seeing the city let loose, and on the rampage
A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality.

What hurrying human tides, or day or night!
What passions, winnings, losses, ardors, swim thy waters!
Hurrying with the modern crowd as eager and fickle as any,
Among the men and women the multitude,
Here and there, couples or trios, young and old, clear-faced, and of perfect physique, walk with twined arms, in divine friendship, happy.

A dreamer would not fail to see spirits walking amid the crowd; devils busily whispering into scheming ears; the demons of falsehood, avarice, wrath, and impurity flitting hither and thither, and mingling eagerly their suggestions in the hot, seething atmosphere of human plots and devices.
(New York is one of the most crime-haunted and dangerous cities in Christendom; any affable stranger who makes friendly offers is very likely to attempt to swindle you as soon as he can get into your confidence.)
And angels, too, among or above the hurrying mass, seeking to lift some soul out of evil ways, or to guard it from imminent temptation.

Making all allowances for the shadows and side-streaks of a million-headed-city, (doubtless, there were plenty of hard-up folks along the pavements,) the brief total of the impressions, the human qualities, is to me comforting, even heroic, beyond statement. Alertness, generally fine physique, a singular combination of reticence and self-possession, with good nature and friendliness—and a palpable outcropping of personal comradeship—are not only constantly visible here in these mighty channels of men, but they form the rule and average.

I know well the real heart of this mighty city.
Fully aware of all that can be said on the other side, I find in this visit to New York, and the daily contact and rapport with its myriad people, on the scale of the oceans and tides, the best, most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken.
(I get along, very sociably, with any of them—as I let them do all the talking; only now and then I have a long confab, or ask a suggestive question or two.)
These, I say, and the like of these, completely satisfy my senses of power, fulness, motion, etc., and give me, through such senses and appetites, and through my esthetic conscience, a continued exaltation and absolute fulfilment.

The city of such young men, I swear I cannot live happy, without I often go talk, walk, eat, drink, sleep, with them!
The city of such women—many beautiful women—I am mad to be with them!

1 said to myself, I must pursue this people into its haunts—the great million, the city, where it lives.
I have gone thither, I have carefully viewed them,
I have not pierced those places with the eyes of the intellect merely,
Far more have I pierced them with the sense of sympathy and love;
I think that the persons thereof are mine, that I alone understand them and love them.

Superb-faced Manhattan! Endless humanity in all phases,
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me,
To make me glutted, enrich’d of soul, you give me forever faces,
Faces and faces and faces:
Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality,
The ugly face of some beautiful soul, the handsome detested or despised face,
The face of an amour, the face of veneration,
The face as of a dream, the face of an immobile rock,
The face withdrawn of its good and bad, a castrated face;
This face is a haze more chill than the arctic sea,
This face is a dog’s snout sniffing for garbage.
Good or bad I never question you,
I love all—I do not condemn anything,
I chant and celebrate all that is yours.

Give me these phantoms incessant and endless—give me faces and streets,
When the façades of the houses are alive with people.
When eyes gaze riveted tens of thousands at a time, clear eyes that look straight at you,
What curious questioning glances,
The glimpse just caught of the eyes and expressions—glints of love!
What can be subtler and finer than this play of faces on such occasions in these responding crowds?—what go more to one’s heart?

Gaze, loving and thirsting eyes, in the house or street or public assembly!
Give me interminable eyes—give me women—give me comrades and lovers by the thousand,
Let me see new ones every day, let me hold new ones by the hand every 
Well-form’d, beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eye.
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me.

I too arising, answering, merge with the crowd, and gaze with them;
The first glance out of my eyes electrifies me with love and delight.
O that you saw these million eyes of Manhattan!
Frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love, offering response to my own.
Push close my lovers and take the best I possess,
Yield closer and closer and give me the best you possess.

What is it I interchange so suddenly with strangers as I pass?
What gives me to be free to a woman’s and man’s good-will? what gives them to be free to mine?
City of orgies, walks and joys,
I share the midnight orgies of young men, young fellows, robust, friendly—
Sound out, voices of young men!

Yet comes one—the young man of Mannahatta, the celebrated rough—picking me out by secret and divine signs,
Acknowledging none else, not parent, wife, husband, brother, child, any nearer than I am.
Some are baffled, but that one is not—that one knows me,
I love him, though I do not know him.

Passing stranger, lover and perfect equal!
To you whoe’er you are—a look—the glances of my eyes,
These burin’d eyes that swept the daylight, flashing to you to pass to future time.
As we flit by each other, you do not know how longingly I look upon you.

If you passing meet me and desire to speak to me,
Why should you not speak to me? and why should I not speak to you?
Simple, spontaneous, curious, two souls interchanging,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking,
I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Remember you surging Manhattan’s crowds?
There in the crowds stood I, and singled you out with attachment;
I know not why, but I loved you,
(I never could explain why I love anybody, or anything,)
I meant that you should discover me so by faint indirections,
And to discover you by the like in you.

It seemed, after all, strangers that we were until this moment, that we were not strangers either, in fact, but old acquaintances.
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you.

Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as I pass,
Be not afraid of my body,
And ever at parting kiss me lightly on the lips with robust love,
And I on the crossing of the street or on the ship’s deck give a kiss in return.
If I worship one thing more than another,
Loving lounger in my winding paths, it shall be you!
Hands I have taken—face I have kiss’d—mortal I have ever touch’d!
It shall be you!

Through Mannahatta’s streets I walking, these things gathering,
I saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly—hundreds!—yet never told them a word—
As if I do not secretly love strangers! O tenderly, a long time, and never avow it.

The greatest love is that which makes no profession;
I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that which responds love,
It is that which contains itself, which never invites and never refuses,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others.

NEXT: Love of Women