Now I stand here, a personality in the universe, perfect and sound,
I need no assurances,
I am poised on myself alone.
I am not to be known as a piece of something but as a totality,
I swear I dare not shirk any part of myself, good or bad,
Not faith, sin, defiance, nor any disposition or duty of myself.
We must have the cares, the diseases, the dyspepticisms, all expressed, Along with the joy, the health, the wholesome inertia that round out every representative personality.
One, yet of contradictions made,
From many moods, one contradicting another,
I resist anything better than my own diversity.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
I am large, I contain multitudes,
Buoyed hither, in the vehement struggle so fierce for unity in one’s self.
Something long preparing and formless is arrived and form’d in me,
I go backward primeval, I descend many steps, I retrace steps oceanic,
The long patience through millions of years—the slow formation,
All which, had it not been, I would not now be here, as I am.
Afar down I see the huge first nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.
Immense have been the preparations for me,
Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
Long I was hugg’d close—long and long.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have help’d me.
Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it,
For it the nebula cohered to an orb, the long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care,
All forces have been steadily employ’d to complete and delight me.
I am an acme of things accomplish’d—and I an encloser of things to be,
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly travel’d, and still I mount and mount.
With the soul I defy you quicksand years, slipping from under my feet,
I bide my hour over billions and billions of years,
I never abandon myself nor the sweet of myself, nor the eternity of myself.
I effuse egotism, the unquenchable creed, and show it underlying all,
I know that ego is divine,
The full-spread pride of man, the endless pride and outstretching of man, is calming and excellent to the soul.
What good is it to argue about egotism? There can be no two thoughts on Walt Whitman’s egotism. That is what he steps out of the crowd and turns and faces them for.
All things and all other beings as an audience,
I will be the bard of personality,
Chant the chant of dilation or pride,
Avowedly chant the great pride of man in himself, bad and good.
I am Walt Whitman!
(I like best my name in full—Walt Whitman—it is a good name, to me!)
I am a man who is preoccupied of his own soul,
Egotism is my vein, and I must flow in it; I am not ashamed of it.
O me while I stride ahead, material, visible, imperious as ever,
I rate myself high—I receive no small sums,
I must have my full price, whoever enjoys me.
I am eternally equal with the best, I am not subordinate,
I know I am august, I am so wonderful!
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Yes Christ was large and Homer was great, and so Columbus and Washington—
Personal ambition, the pride of leadership, seems the means, all through progress and civilization, by which strong men and strong convictions achieve anything definite.
But greatness is the other word for development,
And in my soul I know that I am large and strong as any of them, probably larger,
Because all that they did I feel that I too could do, and more and that multiplied,
And after none of them or their achievements does my stomach say enough and satisfied.
Self-reliant, with haughty eyes,
What I shall attain to I can never tell,
I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles.
I have been accused of blowing my own horn; maybe I’m guilty—just a little bit. But a certain amount of egotism is necessary; one’s egotism carries him a great way towards endurance. It is so with me—I have stuck and stuck, through a something within me which my enemies would think hopeless conceit.
The egotism that backs me is in part the explanation of my work, of “Leaves of Grass.” But for having it, I never could have endured the strain—passed unharmed through the fire—especially in the years when “Leaves of Grass” stood alone, unfriended but by me. I had to say big things about myself in order to keep in a good frame of mind until the world caught up. A man has sometimes to whistle very loud to keep a stiff upper lip.
Wretched is that man who does not esteem himself,
We have had ducking and deprecating about enough,
To take an inferior place or be humble is unbecoming,
(A great dread of being egotistic, a shrinking from the suspicion of a show of it, is almost—who knows, quite?—an egotism itself.)
Yet I don’t want to practice self-exaltation,
I talk of myself as I would of you, blamed and praised just the same—
Look at myself just as if I was somebody else—
The sort of egotism that is willing to know itself as honestly as it is willing to know third or fourth parties;
I have never praised myself where I would not if I had been somebody else.
I have merely looked myself over and repeated candidly what I saw—the mean things and the good things,
I reckoned up my own account, so to speak.
I know this is unusual, but is it wrong?
Why should not everybody do it?
No man understands any greatness or goodness but his own, or the indication of his own.
Why shouldn’t a man be allowed to weigh himself?
He can’t do worse than go wrong; going wrong is no hurt.
Pride, indispensable, is not inconsistent with obedience, humility, deference, and self-questioning,
The utmost pride goes with the utmost resignation.
The soul has that measureless pride which revolts from every lesson but its own,
But it has sympathy as measureless as its pride and the one balances the other,
And neither can stretch too far while it stretches in company with the other.
There are two attributes of the soul, and both are illimitable,
And they are its north latitude and its south latitude—
One of these is love, the other is dilation or pride.
Dilation or pride is a father of causes,
And a mother of causes is goodness or love,
And they are the parents yet, and witness and register their amours eternally.
Walt Whitman, who has the most simplicity and good nature of any man alive, is also the haughtiest;
But I wouldn’t like people to say, he is a giant, and then forget I know how to love,
It would be no consolation to me to be a giant with the love left out,
I am awake to personality, contact, sympathy, emotionality at all times, anywhere.
I, the most loving and arrogant of men, no more modest than immodest,
I breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.
I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by after all,
(Careful lest this o’er topples, and falls down from too much pride.)
Friend, did you think then you knew me?
As if any man really knew aught of my life,
(As if you, cunning soul, did not keep your secret well!)
To write the life of a human being takes many a book,
And after all the story is not told;
All the years of all the beings that have ever lived on the earth, with all the science and genius,
Were nobly occupied investigating this single minute of my life.
Trippers and askers surround me,
People I meet, or the city I live in or the nation,
The horrors of war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events,
My dinner, dress, associates, looks,
Depressions or exaltations, the effect upon me of my early life;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the me myself.
(Did you think that talking and the laughter of me represented me?)
My final merit I refuse you,
I refuse putting from me what I really am,
(There is something furtive in my nature, like an old hen.)
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
NEXT: YOUR IDENTITY