To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too,
To have great heroic poetry we need great readers—a heroic appetite and audience.
The messages of great poets to each man and woman are:
Come to us on equal terms, only then can you understand us—
We are no better than you; you are not an iota less,
What we enclose you enclose, what we enjoy you may enjoy.
Here is the poet, without monopoly or secrecy,
Glad to pass anything to anyone, hungry for equals night and day,
He sees health for himself in being one of the mass.
The poet sees for a certainty how one not a great artist may be just as sacred and perfect as the greatest artist,
He knows that he is unspeakably great and that all are unspeakably great,
The others are as good as he, only he sees it and they do not.
He and the rest shall not forget you, they shall perceive that you are not an iota less than they,
The greatest among them shall be he who best knows you, and encloses all and is faithful to all,
I swear to you they will understand you and justify you,
You shall be fully glorified in them.
Poems have long been directing admiration and awe to something in others, other days;
In “Leaves of Grass” the reader is pointed in the main, and quite altogether, to him and herself, the existing day,
To bring the spirit of all events and persons and passions to the formation of the one individual that hears or reads—of you up there.
Of today I know I am momentary, untouched,
I pass, a little time vocal, visible, contrary,
I write a poem which addresses those who will, in future ages, understand me,
With reference to being far better understood then than I can possibly be now—
Afterward a melodious echo, passionately bent for.
The very greatest writers can never be understood or appreciated forthwith any more than the very greatest discoverers,
It takes some ages to enfold the scope of the invention of steam-power or printing, or the discovery of America, or the commencement of the greatest breed of poets.
I depend on being realized long hence,
Put in only what must be appropriate centuries hence,
Scattered and dropt, in seeds, for time to germinate fully.
After a long, long course, hundreds of years—
After ages’ and ages’ encrustations, denials, hopes, wishes, aspirations, ponderings—
By young and old haply will I be read in full rapport at last,
Then only may these songs reach fruition.
Who knows but there are consequences to me seasons and centuries afterward,
The best of me then when no longer visible, (death making me really undying,)
For toward that I have been incessantly preparing.
See, projected through time, for me an audience interminable,
With faces turn’d sideways or backward towards me to listen, with eyes retrospective towards me,
Others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them.
Leaves I write, to be perused best afterwards;
To one a century hence, three centuries hence, or thirty centuries hence,
To one any number of centuries hence,
To you yet unborn, you whoe’er you are my book perusing,
These, seeking you.
These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands—they are not original with me,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they had not reference to you in especial what were they then?
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing.
I like the feeling of a general partnership,
As if “Leaves of Grass” was anybody’s who chooses just as truly as mine.
I have come to solace and perhaps flatter myself that it is you indeed in my pages, as much as I,
It is you talking just as much as myself,
At the most I am only the mouthpiece,
I am your voice—it was tied in you—in me it begins to talk,
I act as the tongue of you,
Tied in your mouth, in mine it begins to be loosen’d.
You, born years, centuries after me, I seek,
You that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose,
What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you—I laid in my stores in advance,
For I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born;
When you read these I that was visible am become invisible,
Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poem, seeking me.
It is the most emotional and yearning of poems, and really unfolds itself only in the presence of you, the reader, with no third person near,
Fancying how happy you were if I could be with you and become your comrade;
If I were with you, maybe we would love one another.
Be it as if I were with you.
Was I buried very long ago?
What is it then between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?
The time will come, though I stop here today and tonight.
For all that, I may now be watching you here, this moment,
Who knows, for all the distance, but I am as good as looking at you now, for all you cannot see me?
Who knows but I am enjoying this,
As I glance upward out of this page studying you, dear friend, whoever you are?
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you,
Be not too certain but I am now with you.
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence,
Ages and ages returning at intervals,
Undestroy’d, wandering immortal.
Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? As every one is immortal,
I know it is wonderful—but that I am here anyhow,
And that my soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other without ever seeing each other, and never perhaps to see each other, is every bit as wonderful.
O death! O for all that, I am yet of you unseen this hour with irrepressible love,
A friend, a traveler, of and through the states as during life,
Observing shows, births, improvements, structures, arts,
Each man and woman my neighbor,
Yet sailing to other shores to annex the same, yet welcoming every new brother,
Coming among the new ones myself to be their companion and equal, coming personally to you now.
You distant, dim, unknown—or young or old—countless, unspecified, readers belov’d,
We never met, and ne’er shall meet—and yet our souls embrace, long, close and long.
Dear friend, whoe’er you are, at last arriving hither,
Accept from me a word of welcome and hospitality,
Lift me close to your face till I whisper:
Is it night? are we here together alone?
This is unfinished business with me—How is it with you?
From behind the screen where I hid I advance personally solely to you,
I project myself to tell you,
I was chilled with the cold types and cylinder and wet paper between us,
I pass so poorly with paper and types, I must pass with the contact of bodies and souls,
The personal urge and form for me,
Not merely paper, automatic type, and ink—my life’s hot pulsing blood.
Camerado, what you are holding is in reality no book, nor part of a book,
Who touches this touches a man, flushed and full-bodied,
It is I who live in these poems—O they are truly me!
From fibre heart of mine—from throat and tongue,
It is I, bathing, leavening this leaf especially with my breath—pressing on it a moment with my own hands.
No leaves of print are these, but human lips, for your sake freely speaking,
My love for you I fold here in every leaf,
I mean tenderly by you and all.
Come closer to me,
Closer yet I approach you,
I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth—
It is I you hold and who holds you, in loving flesh and blood.
O how your fingers drowse me,
I feel through every leaf the curving hold and pressure of your hand, which I return,
Here! Feel how the pulse beats in my wrists! how my heart’s-blood is swelling, contracting!
(I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking the touch of me—
I know that it is good for you to do so.)
I seek to behold and exhibit these material, aesthetic, and spiritual relations I am, as specimen to all, and tally the same in you, whoever you are;
You shall stand by my side and look in the mirror with me,
The apparition of the whole form, as of one unclothed before a mirror, is cast back.
Let me pick you out singly, reader dear, and talk in perfect freedom, negligently, confidentially—
This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you,
From me to you, we twain, alone together, a conference, our two souls exclusively,
Giving up all my private interior musings, yearnings, extasies, discords, and contradictory moods, reserving nothing.
I would make a full confession:
Among people whose company is pleasant to me, I almost invariably grow fonder and fonder of those who constantly like me and are not afraid to show it.
I also sent out “Leaves of Grass” to arouse and set flowing in men’s and women’s hearts, young and old, endless streams of living, pulsating love and friendship, directly from them to myself, now and ever,
To be one whom all look toward with attention, respect, love.