I do not prove anything to the intellect,
The greatest of thoughts and truths are not susceptible of proof like a sum in simple multiplication,
Logic and sermons never convince—
The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.
What I give you, I know, cannot be argued about,
I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.
Do I not prove myself?
I carry the plenum of proof and everything else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.
What I tell requires no further proof than he or she who will hear me will furnish by silently meditating alone.
These words are for the great men, the gigantic few that have plunged themselves deep through density and confusion and pushed back the jealous coverings of the earth, and brought out the true and great things, and the sweet things, and hung them like oranges rounder and riper than all the rest, among our literature and science.
These words are for the five or six grand poets, too; and the masters of artists. I waste no ink, nor my throat, on the ever-deploying armies of professors, authors, lawyers, teachers, and what not. Of them we expect that they be very learned and nothing more.
I find myself thrown amidst a mild, pleasant society, really intellectual. It is all first-rate, good and smart, but too constrained and bookish for a free old hawk like me.
Erudition is low among the glories of humanity,
There is something in vast erudition melancholy and fruitless as an Arctic sea;
With most men it is a slow dream, dreamed in a moving fog.
The most learned scholars are often the most melancholy men in the world,
There is something lacking—something cold, a failure to satisfy the deepest emotions of the soul—a want of living glow, fondness, warmth, which the old exaltés and poets supply, and which the keenest modern philosophers so far do not.
The theories of the schools and governments and religions, all have something noble and true, all and every one of them—
But not the best that ever was built or ever will be built on earth can stand as the final destination of man.
Knowledge and sciences, however important, are branches, radiations only, each one relative,
The ambition for universal knowledge is a vain ambition, already carried to extravagant lengths and tainting the schools.
No philosophy possible can, in deepest analysis, explain the universe,
The least insect, the eyesight, motion, baffle us.
To glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the learning of all times,
A single glance mocks all the investigations of man and all the instruments and books of the earth and all reasoning,
Mocking all the textbooks and professor’s expositions and proofs and diagrams, stand or lie millions of all the most beautiful and common facts.
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till I look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Noble as books and the writers of books are—
The leaven of the bread of life, the stairs of humanity, the cables that hold to us, as to a shore, the freighted supply ship of the past,
Important as helping one’s personal qualities, and the use and power of a man—
There is something better than any and all books,
And that is the real stuff whereof they are the artificial transcript and portraiture.
There are plenty who do not own books, but all men and women possess in fee simple the curbless and bottomless mine itself, of whence books are but the dust and scraps;
To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.
Book learning is good, all book knowledge is,
But a man may be of great excellence and effect with very little of it,
(Because you are no scholar and never saw your name in print,
Do you give in that you are any less immortal?)
Powerful unlearned persons are also grand,
Powerful persons, and the first inventors and poets of the earth, never come from the depths of the schools—never.
The greatest writers are well pleased and at their ease among the unlearned,
Are received by common men and women familiarly, do not hold out obscure, but come welcome to table, bed, leisure, by day and night.
Who are you that wanted only a book to join you in your nonsense?
Who are you that wanted only to be told what you knew before?
Which is the theory or book that is not diseased?
Who are you, blabbing by rote, years, pages, languages, reminiscences?
Will you grub and chatter all your life,
Unwitting that you do not know how to speak properly a single word?
You shall no longer feed on the spectres in books.
When a university course convinces like a slumbering woman and child convince,
When I can touch the body of books by night or by day, and when they touch my body ,
I intend to reach them my hand, and make as much of them as I do of men and women like you.
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it to another not having it,
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
(Oh damnation! damnation! Thy other name is school-teaching.)
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are,
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!
Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?
I conn’d old times, I sat studying at the feet of the great masters,
Studied the new and antique, the Greek and Germanic systems,
The lore of Plato, and Socrates greater than Plato—
Now, if eligible, O that the great masters might return and study me,
That I eat and drink is spectacle enough for the great authors and schools.
I subject all the teachings of the schools, and all dicta and authority, to the tests of myself,
And I encourage you to subject the same to the tests of yourself.
Writing and talk do not prove me,
In libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead.
No shutter’d room or school can commune with me,
But roughs and little children better than they.
Shut not your doors to me proud libraries,
For that which was lacking on all your well-fill’d shelves, yet needed most, I bring.
I am a student, free, of a library—it is limitless and eternally open to me,
The books written in numberless tongues, always perfect and alive—
These forms, the least insect or animal,
I read every page, and enjoy the meaning of the same.
Beginning my studies, the first step pleas’d me so much—
The mere fact of consciousness, the power of motion,
The senses, eyesight, love—
The first step I say awed me and pleas’d me so much,
I have hardly gone and hardly wish’d to go any farther,
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic songs.
That I can think such large and melodious thoughts as these is wonderful,
And that I can remind you, and you put them in the windows of your brain and think them, is just as wonderful.
I am not so anxious to give you the truth,
But I am very anxious to have you understand that all truth and power are feeble to you except your own.
Are you faithful to things?
Do you teach what the land and sea, the bodies of men, womanhood, amativeness, heroic angers, teach?
Have you known that your hands are to grasp vigorously?
You are also to grasp with your mind vigorously;
Intellect is to me but as hands, or eyesight, or as a vessel.
If you have not yet learned to think, enter upon it now,
(Remember how many pass their whole lives and hardly once think and never learned themselves to think,)
Think at once with directness, breadth, aim, conscientiousness,
You will find a strange pleasure from the start and grow rapidly each successive week.
I perceive that sages, poets, inventors, benefactors, lawgivers, are only those who have thought;
Who thinks the amplest thoughts? For I will surround those thoughts.
Lessons to think I scatter as they come,
I know all and expose it—my knowledge my live parts,
It keeping tally with the meaning of all things.
Every great problem is the passage to India—
What else remains? The old ones being attained, what deeper, new problem?
What other passage to India?
Passage to you, your shores, ye aged fierce enigmas!
Passage to you, to mastership of you, ye strangling problems!
Thou too, 0 my Soul, takest thou passage to India?
O soul, repressless, I with thee and thou with me,
Thy circumnavigation of the world begin,
Of man, the voyage of his mind’s return,
To reason’s early paradise,
Back, back to wisdom’s birth, to innocent intuitions,
Again with fair creation.
Passage indeed O soul to primal thought!
To the mystic wisdom, to all the linked transcendental streams, their sources.
I scan and prophesy outside and in,
The earth recedes ashamed before my prophetical crisis,
Something unproved! mystic! in a trance!
I am a mystic in a trance, yet with all the senses alert—a state of high exalted musing—the objective world suspended or surmounted for a while, and the powers in exaltation, freedom, vision—yet the senses not lost or counteracted.
I put a second brain to the brain,
From the hearing proceeds another hearing.
From the eyesight proceeds another eyesight,
My sight. that was bound in my eyes, unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.
Of this country and every country, indoors and outdoors, one just as much as the other, I see,
And all else behind or through them,
Eye to pierce the deepest deeps and sweep the world,
In the ground and sea, and where it is neither ground nor sea,
Nigher and farther the same I see,
None shall escape me and none shall wish to escape me.
I am afoot with my visions,
My visions sweep through eternity.
Now I pierce the darkness,
As in a swoon, one instant, another sun, ineffable, full-dazzles me,
And all the orbs I knew—and brighter, unknown orbs.
O visions staggered with weight of light! with pouring glories!
All sorts of fancies running through the head, new beings appear,
Interior vistas, phantasmic, lambent tableaus, prophetic, spiritual projections.
O purged lumine! O hitherto unequalled!
O crowding too close upon me,
O copious! O thicker and faster!
I am finding how much I can pass through in a few minutes.
O lips becoming tremulous, powerless!
O heights! O infinitely too swift and dizzy yet!
You threaten me more than I can stand!
I foresee too much, it means more than I thought,
One instant of the future land, heaven’s land—
It appears to me I am dying.
I wander all night in my visions,
I know not whether I sleep or wake.
I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me as it did before,
Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.
The subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
In the murmurs of my dreams while I sleep,
And the other murmurs of these incredible dreams of every day.
Hasten throat and sound your last—
From the voice proceeds another voice eternally curious of the harmony of things with man.
(William Blake and Walt Whitman are both mystics, ecstatics. But Blake’s visions displace the normal condition, spurn this visible, objective life. Whitman, though he occasionally takes flight with abandon, always holds the mastery over himself, never once loses control or equilibrium. He goes off because he permits himself to do so, while ever the directing principle sits coolly at hand, able to stop the wild teetotum and reduce it to order at any moment. In Whitman, escapades of this sort are the exceptions. The main character of his poetry is the normal, the universal.)