You, the Poet, and the Future


What will be the result of this years hence?
Whether I shall complete what is here started,
Whether I shall dart forth the true rays, the ones that wait unfired,
Whether I shall attain my own height, to justify these, yet unfinished,
Whether I shall make the poem of the New World, transcending all others,
Depends, rich persons, upon you.

O poets to come, orators, singers, musicians to come! I depend on you!
Not today, not merely what I tell, is to justify me,
You, a new brood, native, athletic, greater than before known,
Arouse! for you must justify me,
What I provoke from you and from ensuing times, is to justify me.
These poems are both offspring and parents of superior offspring,
And I charge the young that succeed me to train themselves and acquire terrible voices for disputes of life and death—and be ready to respond to whatever needs response.

Bards descended from me, my children,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I will not be a great philosopher and found any school, and build it with iron pillars, and make disciples, that new superior churches and politics shall come.
I charge that there be no theory or school founded out of me,
I charge you forever reject those who would expound me, for I cannot expound myself,
I charge you to leave all free, as I have left all free,
After me, vista!

Let none be content with me,
I have established nothing for good,
I have but established these things, till things farther onward shall be prepared to be established,
And I am myself the preparer of things farther onward
,
Like other primitive surveyors, I must do the best I can, leaving it to those who come after me to do much better,
(The service, in fact, if any, must be to break a sort of first path or track, no matter how rude and ungeometrical.)

Who is he that would become my follower?
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me.
As I have announced each age for itself, this moment I set the example,
I encourage you to subject me and my words to the strongest tests of any—
Who wants to be any man’s mere follower?

I myself seek a man better than I am, or a woman better than I am,
I invite defiance, and to make myself superseded,
I demand the choicest edifices to destroy them.
I have offer’d my style to everyone,
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher;
I am the teacher of athletes,
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own.
All I have done, I would cheerfully give to be trod under foot, it if might only be the soil of superior poems,
And bravas to him or her who, coming after me, achieves the work in triumph.

I teach straying from me, yet who can stray from me?
I follow you whoever you are from the present hour,
My steps drag behind yours, yet go before them,
I am not to be denied, I compel,
I know that it is good for you.
For your life adhere to me,
I only can unloose you and toughen you.

Eleves, I salute you! come forward!
I see the approach of your numberless gangs.

Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon’d,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard—
If blood like mine circle not in your veins,
If you be not silently selected by lovers and do not silently select lovers,
Of what use is it that you seek to become eleve of mine?

Nor will the candidates for my love (unless at most a very few) prove victorious.

Remember this above all: There is no royal road to learning,
I am not he bringing ointments and soft wool for you.
Your novitiate would be long and exhausting,
The way is suspicious, the result slow, uncertain, perhaps destructive,
For I confront peace, security, and all the settled laws, to unsettle them.

I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different—

Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also,
Nor will my poems do good only, they will do just as much evil, perhaps more.

These “Leaves” conning you con at peril,
My words are weapons;
The book will not serve as books serve,
But as the rude air, the salt sea, the burning fire, and the rocky ground—
Sharp, full of danger, full of contradictions and offense, full of death.

I put many things on record that you will not understand—but they must be understood,
My words itch at your ears till you understand them.
Continue your annotations, continue your questionings,
My book is my response, my truest explanation of all,
In it I have put my body and spirit.

These “Leaves” and me you will not understand at first,
They will elude you at first and still more afterward
,
I know very well they may have to be searched many times before they
come to you and comply with you,
But what of that? Has not nature to be searched many times?

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
I may have to be persuaded many times before I consent to give myself really to you, but what of that?
Must not nature be persuaded many times?

My books wrestle with you and puzzle you,
Of me the good comes by wrestling for it;
I am he with whom you must wrestle for the solid prizes of the universe,
For such I afford whoever can persevere to win them.

But even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
I will certainly elude you,
Already you see I have escaped from you.

So long, we must separate,
I feel like one who has done work for the day to retire awhile.
Farewell, dear friend, whoever you are,
And may the blessings of hope and peace never be absent from you,
May the sun of peace warm you, and the dews of prosperity fall thick around your path,
Sweet blossoms bloom beneath your eyes, and the songs of birds gladden your hearing,
May the bloom of health glow on your features, and the tide of joy swell in your heart,
May your kind angel hover in the invisible air, and lose sight of your blessed presence never.

To you, whoever you are, I will you, in all, myself,
I in all my songs behind me leaving,
Do not forget me, remember my words.

Here! take from my lips this kiss, I give it especially to you,
I love you, and I hope we shall meet again.

Wherever I go I believe I shall often return,
Where any one thinks of me or wishes me that will allure me,
Where personal love reaches toward me, that will allure me.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles,
Wafting to you, dear reader, from amid the fresh scent of the grass,
My best wishes, my true good-will and love,
With promise never to desert you,
To which I sign my name,
Walt Whitman.

We understand then, do we not?
What I promis’d without mentioning it, have you not accepted?
What the push of reading could not start is started by me personally, is it not?
What the study could not teach—what the preaching could not accomplish—is accomplish’d, is it not
?
Surely all will one day be accomplished.

NEXT: ABOUT THIS ANTHOLOGY