The Poet Is Every Evil


Dear friend, let me warn you somewhat about myself,
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade?
O admirers, praise not me—compliment not me—you make me wince;
I am by no means that benevolent, equable, happy creature you portray,
Nor do those know me best who admire me and vauntingly praise 
me—
I call to the world to distrust the accounts of my friends, but listen to my enemies, as I myself do.

Let others deny the evil their enemies charge against them—but how can I the like?
I am no angel by a long shot,
I am myself, like all human specimens, a compound of both good and evil.
How could Walt Whitman have taken the attitude toward evil, and things evil, which is behind every page of his utterance in “Leaves of Grass,” so different on that subject from every writer known, unless he enfolded all that evil within him?

Maybe one is now reading this who knows some wrong-doing of my past life:
I see what you do not—I know what you do not,

Nothing ever has been or ever can be charged against me half as bad as the evil I really am.

O conscience-struck! O self-convicted!
Inside these breast-bones I lie smutch’d and choked,
Beneath this face that appears so impassive, this film of Satan’s seething pit, hell’s tides continually run—
Drops of my blood, drops of evil, native flames, flames of evil,
My wilful and savage soul’s volition.

How many faults have I! How many weaknesses!
What foul thought but I think it—or have in me the stuff out of which it is thought?
What in darkness in bed at night, alone or with a companion,
Not a star shining, all dark and desolate?
Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine,
Do you think I cannot remember my own stuff of wrong-doing,
my many faults and derelictions, foolish and outlaw’d deeds?
And I own that I remain so yet—
As if it could cease transpiring from me until it must cease.

I am he who knew what it was to be evil, I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,
Refused my love to those that gave me theirs;
The words of my mouth, rude, ignorant, arrogant,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Many a hungry wish told to the skies only—that is me.

Much that is bad, harsh, an undutiful person, a thriftless debtor, is me,
I have been sIy, thievish, mean, a prevaricator—many an oath and promise broken—that is me,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

I know now why the earth is gross, tantalizing, wicked,
It is for my sake.
I enclose the heroic, and I enclose the mean and vicious,
I embody all presences outlaw’d or suffering,
The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood in the 
box—
The universal and fluid soul impounds within itself not only all the good characters and heroes but the distorted characters, murderers, thieves.
(Ah, if the flesh could but act what my rational mind, in its moments of clear inspiration, aspires to, how much better I should be!)

Now I betake myself from all others, and go among criminals,
Amid the thieves and outlaws of the land;
The prisoner in his cell will certainly allure me.
You felons on trials in courts,
You convicts in prison cells—
Who am I, that I am not on trial, or in prison?
Me, ruthless and devilish as any, that my wrists are not chained with iron?
To me, detected persons are not, in any respect, worse than undetected persons—and are not in any respect worse than I am myself.

I walk with delinquents with passionate love, 
Outlaw’d offenders, sear-faced murderers, wily counterfeiters—I feel I am of them,

I belong to those convicts and prostitutes myself,
Henceforth I will not deny them—for how can I deny myself?

O you shunn’d persons, condemn’d by others for deeds done,
I at least do not shun you,
A thousand varied, crafty, brutal, seam’d, and beauteous faces,
I scan you with kindred eyes, and carry you with me the same as any.
If you become degraded, criminal, then I become so for your sake,
I come forthwith in your midst, I will be your poet,
I will be more to you than to any of the rest.

Not a mutineer walks handcuff’d to jail but I am handcuff’d to him and walk by his side,
(I am less the jolly one there, and more the silent one with sweat on my twitching lips,)
Not a youngster is taken for larceny but I go up too, and am tried and sentenced,
For me the keepers of convicts shoulder their carbines and keep watch.
See myself in prison shaped like another man,
A soul confined by bars and bands,

Nor hand of friend, nor loving face,
Nor favor comes, nor word of grace.

The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck,
The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other.
Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you,
I salute you with a significant look that you do not forget me,
Who am I that I should call you more obscene than myself?
Lusts and wickedness are acceptable to me.

I am she who adorn’d herself and folded her hair expectantly,
The faithful one, the prostitute, (who detained me when I went to the city,)
Singing what, to the soul, entirely redeemed her,
Singing the song of prostitutes.

Lo, an outcast form, a poor dead prostitute brought,
Her corpse they deposit unclaim’d,
it lies on the damp brick pavement.
The divine woman, her body, I see the body, I look on it alone,
That house once full of passion and beauty—that wondrous house—that delicate fair house—
That ruin! fair, fearful wreck—tenement of a soul—itself a soul,
That immortal house—poor, desperate house!
Unclaim’d, avoided house, dead house of love—house of madness and sin, crumbled, crush’d,
Take one breath from my tremulous lips,
Take one tear dropt aside as I go for thought of you.

Because you are a prostitute,
Were once drunk, or a thief, diseas’d, or rheumatic,
Do you give in that you are any less immortal?
Does the light or heat pick out? Does the attraction of gravity pick out?
Not till the sun excludes you do I exclude you,
Not till the waters refuse to glisten for you and the leaves to rustle for you, do my words refuse to glisten and rustle for you.

NEXT: CONNECTING WITH THE UNIVERSE