The Poet as Democrat


As for me I am a born democrat.
Others are more correct and elegant than I,
But I alone advance among the people en-masse, coarse and strong,
I alone, of all bards, am suffused as with the common people,
I alone receive them with a perfect reception and love.
The human interior and exterior of these great seething oceanic populations is to me best of all,
The democratic masses, turbulent, wilful, as I love them.

Walt Whitman, no sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
I advance from the people in their own spirit.
I will not descend among professors and capitalists; I love to go away from books, and walk amidst the strong coarse talk of men .
Cleanly shaven and grammatical folks I call mister, and lay the tips of my fingers inside their elbows after the orthodox fashion; but for the others, my arm leans over their shoulders and around their necks.

Myself and mine gymnastic ever,
To feel at home among common people,
I take my place by rights among the sweaty classes, among men in their shirt sleeves,
The sunburnt, the unshaved, the huge paws.
Here are the roughs, beards, friendliness, combativeness, the soul loves,
O you coarse and wilful! I at any rate include you all with perfect love!

O workmen and workwomen forever for me!
O all and each well-loved by me!
The noble character of mechanics and farmers, their curiosity, good temper, and open-handedness, the whole composite make,
Significant alike in their apathy, and in the promptness of their love.

The young mechanic is closest to me, he knows me well,
The farm-boy ploughing in the field feels good at the sound of my voice,
The young mother and old mother comprehend me.
To cotton-field drudge or cleaner of privies I lean,
On his right cheek I put the family kiss,
And in my soul I swear I never will deny him.

I see all the menials of the earth laboring,
The endless races of work-people, farmers, and seamen.
In the labor of engines and trades and the labor of fields I find the developments,
And find the eternal meanings;
Ah little recks the laborer how near his work is holding him to God. 

I will turn up the ends of my trowsers around my boots, and my cuffs back from my wrists, and go with drivers and boatmen and men that catch fish or work in the field. I know they are sublime.
If you stand at work in a shop I stand as nigh as the nighest in the same shop,
In vessels that sail my words sail, I go with fishermen and seamen and love them.
How gladly we leave the best of what is called learned and refined society to sail all day on the river amid a party of fresh and jovial boatmen, with no coats or suspenders and their trousers tucked in their boots. Then the quick blood within joins their gay blood and the twain dance polkas from the bottom to the top of the house.

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.

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.
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.

NEXT: A PERFECT FUTURE