Now I believe that all waits for the right voice.
Such meanings, such sounds, continually wait in every word that exists, perhaps slumbering through years, until that comes which has the quality patiently waiting in the words,
Which has the quality to bring forth what lies slumbering forever ready in all words.
Powerful words uttered with copiousness and decision,
They debouch as they are wanted to march obediently through the mouth of that man or that woman.
What a lurking curious charm in the sound of some words!
The charm of the beautiful pronunciation of all words, of all tongues, is in perfect flexible vocal organs, and in a developed harmonious soul. All words, spoken from these, have deeper, sweeter sounds, new meanings, impossible on any less terms.
(All sorts of physical, moral, and mental deformities are inevitably returned in the voice.)
Nothing is better than a superb vocalism—
The best philosophy and poetry, or something like the best, after all these centuries, perhaps waits to be rous’d out yet, or suggested, by the perfect human voice,
Every word utter’d thence has deeper, sweeter, new sounds, impossible on less terms.
It must have its intellectual completeness, its proofs, its reasoning to convince,
Lively, close, concise style, which expresses a great many ideas in few words,
Thought and demonstration clothed with sentiment—adorned as the goodly tree is, by the efflorescence of its own branches—
Pleasing and natural and simple effects, uniting beauty with strength—the glory of perfect art.
Finally it must have that irresistible attraction and robust living treat, deeper than art, deeper even than proof—
Something in the quality and power of the right voice that touches the soul, the abysms,
Its reference to the spiritual, to immortality, to the mystic in man, which knows without proof, and is beyond materialism.
It reaches the souls of men by pleasing channels, mysterious, penetrating, as the light, the air, beauty, the songs of birds reach the soul,
Those piercing and all-lively strokes that reach the inmost soul, without the soul being conscious of it.
The sound of the voice also joins in the wondrous transformation.
I see that power is folded in a great crackling vocalism—measure, concentration, determination,
It becomes determined, copious, resistless,
Unflagging vitality and determination in every assertion, suggestion, inquiry, rebuke, etc.
There must be something in the very vibration of the sounds of the mouth, something in the movements of the lips and mouth, something in the spirituality and personality that produces full effects.
The place of the orator and his hearers is truly an agonistic arena,
There he wrestles and contends with them—he suffers, sweats, undergoes his great toil and ecstasy.
Earnest and honest, his heart’s desire is to communicate with the mind of his audience,
To lay hold of it and wield it for some cherished purpose;
His earnestness springs from thoroughly honest conviction and passionate love of truth;
Notwithstanding the diversity of minds in such a multitude, by the lightning of eloquence, they are melted into one mass, the whole assembly actuated in one and the same way.
(The greatest orator is he who contains always a crowded and critical audience in himself, and speaks to that invisible house more than to any other.)
O what is it in me that makes me tremble so at voices?
Sometimes nature affords the vocal organ in perfection, or rather I would say near enough to whet one’s appreciation and appetite for a voice that might be truly call’d perfection.
Wait till he speaks—What God’s voice is that sounding from his mouth, the practis’d and perfect organ whose sound outvies music, who held every hearer by spells?
Vocal utterance to shake me through and through, and become fix’d in my memory—
When you hear it, the merciless light shall pour, and the storm rage around—
Voice bringing hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old.
Surely whoever speaks to me in the right voice,
Singing his songs in liquid-flowing syllables, with a flowing mouth and indicative hand,
With the strength, command, and natural flowing vocal luxuriance; the charm of unswervingly perfect vocalization; the inner, apparently inexhaustible, fund of latent volcanic passion,
Him or her I shall follow, as the water follows the moon, silently, with fluid steps, anywhere around the globe.
A call in the midst of the crowd,
My own voice, orotund sweeping and final:
I have come at last, no more ashamed nor afraid,
I too am not a bit tamed,
I have not felt to warble and trill, however sweetly,
I, exultant, have felt to soar in freedom and in the fulness of power, joy, volition,
This electric self out of the pride of which I utter poems, will now shake out carols stronger and haughtier than have ever yet been heard upon earth.
Loud O my throat, and clear O soul!
So capricious and loud my savage song, the voice of full-yielding.
While I have a horror of ranting and bawling, I at certain moments let the spirit impulse (demon?) rage its utmost, its wildest, damnedest,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world—
I feel to do so in my “Leaves of Grass,” and I do so.
Erect and haughty this song, its words and scope, free and luxuriant,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind,
The air which furnishes me the breath to speak is subtle and boundless,
But what is it compared to the things it serves me to speak—the meanings.
Open mouth of my soul uttering gladness,
I am mad with devouring ecstasy to make joyous hymns for the whole earth.
O to have the gag remov’d from one’s mouth!
To make the most jubilant song! full of music, full of manhood, womanhood, infancy!
Full of common employments—
Employments! I will put in my poems that with you is heroism upon land and sea,
To teach the average man the glory of his daily walk and trade.
Workman! Whoever you are, your daily life!
In that and them the heft of the heaviest,
In them realities for you and me, in them poems for you and me,
In them all themes, hints, possibilities.
The working-man and working-woman were to be in my pages from first to last,
The employment and personnel of mechanics, farmers, boatmen, laborers, and men and women in factories, seized upon with decision, saturated with fullest charges of electric illumination,
All the workmen of the world here to be represented, and held up forever with enthusiasm and dignity.
Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas’d and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs.
And of the rights of them the others are down upon,
Of the deform’d, trivial, flat, foolish, despised.
Through me forbidden voices, voices of sexes and lusts,
Voices veil’d and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d,
(It is not the picture or nude statue or text, with clear aim, that is indecent; it is the beholder’s own thought, inference, distorted construction.)
Of physiology complete, from top to toe, I sing,
What facts of organism and impulse I find in myself, I will have scrupulously put in my song.
These “Leaves” image that physiology, not apologizing for it, but exulting openly in it,
As something not gross or impure, but entirely consistent with highest manhood and womanhood, and indispensable to both.
There is a pretty strong enmity toward me and “Leaves of Grass,” among certain classes—not only that it is a great mess of crazy talk and hard words, all tangled up, without sense or meaning—but others sincerely think that it is a bad book, improper, and ought to be denounced and put down, and its author along with it.
There are some venomous but laughable squibs occasionally in the papers. When they get off a good squib, however, I laugh at it, just as much as any one.
Whatever others do, let me sing these things loud and clear, and without a particle of compromise, as part of the song of democracy.
The conventional standards and laws proper enough for ordinary society apply neither to the action of the soul, nor its poets. In fact the latter know no laws but the laws of themselves, planted in them by God, and are themselves the last standards of the law, and its final exponents—responsible to Him directly, and not at all to mere etiquette.
Often the best service that can be done to the race is to lift the veil, at least for a time, from these rules and fossil-etiquettes.
As the assumption of the sanity of birth, nature, and humanity is the key to any true theory of life and the universe—at any rate, the only theory out of which I wrote—it is, and must inevitably be, the only key to “Leaves of Grass,” and every part of it—
The sanity of everything was to be the atmosphere of the poems.
The old pieces, the sexuality ones, about which the original row was started and kept up so long, are all retained, and must go in the same as ever,
The lines I allude to, and the spirit in which they are spoken, permeate all “Leaves of Grass,” and the work must stand or fall with them, as the human body and soul must remain as an entirety;
The bulk of the pieces might as well have been left unwritten were those lines omitted.
“Leaves of Grass” is only to be rightly construed by and within its own atmosphere and essential character, all of its pages and pieces coming strictly under that,
Each claim, ideal, line, by all lines, claims, ideals, temper’d,
Each right and wish by other wishes, rights.
I wholly stand by “Leaves of Grass” as it is, long as all parts and pages are construed by their own ensemble, spirit, and atmosphere.
I, chanter of pains and joys,
I make the poem of evil also, I commemorate that part also.
Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the evil you entertain in yourself—
No one will perfectly enjoy me who has not some of my own rudeness, sensuality, and hauteur.
I reject none, accept all, then reproduce all in my own forms,
Not to exclude or demarcate, or pick out evils from their formidable masses (even to expose them,)
But to celebrate the immortal and the good.
I also sing war, and a longer and greater one than any,
A new soldier, bound for new campaigns, waged in my book,
For life and death, for the body and for the eternal soul,
The field the world,
With varying fortune, with flight, advance and retreat, victory deferr’d and wavering,
(Yet methinks certain, or as good as certain, at the last,)
War, peace, day and night absorbing,
Shooting in pulses of fire ceaseless to vivify all.
What is known I strip away,
I sing the dark, vast unknown,
Every flash shall be a revelation on the interior and exterior of man or woman,
On the laws of nature, on passive materials,
On what you call death—
The puzzle, the thrice-tied knot, the deep and dark pool, all untied and illumin’d!
For not my life and years alone I give—all, all I give,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds,
To span vast realms of space and time,
Evolution—the cumulative—growths and generations,
Space and time fused in a chant, and the flowing eternal identity.
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun,
I bestow upon any man or woman the entrance to all the gifts of the universe.
NEXT: THE POET’S PURPOSE