I swear I will have each quality of my race in myself,
I am of the foolish as much as the wise,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Ignorant and accomplished, a chaos and an answering purpose,
Scheming, storming, planning, loving, cautioning,
Capable of all that is ugly and mean, and capable of all that is pure and heroic,
I become any presence or truth of humanity here.
I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician,
A carpenter, a blacksmith, a gentleman,
A farmer, cook, mechanic, sailor, lover,
A prisoner, lawyer, or artist, fancy-man, rowdy, physician, or priest,
He who has been famous and he who shall be famous after today,
The stammerer, the well-form’d person, the wasted or feeble person.
These tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am—
It is my face yellow and wrinkled instead of the old woman’s,
I sit low in a straw-bottom chair and carefully darn my grandson’s stockings.
I am of old and young, of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
Not only an American, but an African, European, and Asiatic—
I see the cities of the earth, and make myself at random a part of them,
Not merely of the New World but of Africa, Europe, or Asia.
I see the enslaved, the overthrown, the hurt, the opprest of the whole earth,
I feel the measureless shame and humiliation of my race,
Askers embody themselves in me and I am embodied in them,
I project my hat, sit shame-faced, and beg;
Mine too the revenges of humanity, the wrongs of ages, baffled feud and hatreds.
These become mine and me every one, and they are but little,
I become as much more as I like.
I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash’d babe,
I entertain all the aches of the human heart and feel the dull unintermitted pain,
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.
Not a cholera patient lies at the last gasp but I also lie at the last gasp,
My face is ash-color’d, my sinews gnarl, away from me people retreat,
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.
All this I swallow, it tastes good,
I like it well, it becomes all mine.
All this I not only feel and see but am,
I am the man, I suffer’d, I was there—
Agonies are one of my changes of garments.
Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers,
I sleep close with the other sleepers each in turn,
I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers,
And I become the other dreamers.
What is more subtle than this which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?
Always me joined with you,
You can do nothing and be nothing but what I will infold you.
I do not ask who you are, that is not important to me,
Incarnate me as I have incarnated you! whoever you are—
Though I am with you no more than I am with everybody;
None shall escape me and none shall wish to escape me.
NEXT: THE POET IS EVERY EVIL