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Walt Whitman

(31 May 1819 - 26 March 1892 / New York / United States)

Song Of The Open Road



AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune--I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The earth--that is sufficient;
I do not want the constellations any nearer;
I know they are very well where they are;
I know they suffice for those who belong to them. 10

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens;
I carry them, men and women--I carry them with me wherever I go;
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them;
I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.)


You road I enter upon and look around! I believe you are not all that
is here;
I believe that much unseen is also here.

Here the profound lesson of reception, neither preference or denial;
The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas'd, the
illiterate person, are not denied;
The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar's tramp, the
drunkard's stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
The escaped youth, the rich person's carriage, the fop, the eloping
couple, 20
The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture into the
town, the return back from the town,
They pass--I also pass--anything passes--none can be interdicted;
None but are accepted--none but are dear to me.


You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings, and give them
shape!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable showers!
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
I think you are latent with unseen existences--you are so dear to me.

You flagg'd walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timber-lined sides!
you distant ships! 30
You rows of houses! you window-pierc'd façades! you roofs!
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!
You doors and ascending steps! you arches!
You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden crossings!
From all that has been near you, I believe you have imparted to
yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me;
From the living and the dead I think you have peopled your impassive
surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and amicable
with me.


The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not
wanted, 40
The cheerful voice of the public road--the gay fresh sentiment of the
road.

O highway I travel! O public road! do you say to me, Do not leave me?
Do you say, Venture not? If you leave me, you are lost?
Do you say, I am already prepared--I am well-beaten and undenied--
adhere to me?

O public road! I say back, I am not afraid to leave you--yet I love
you;
You express me better than I can express myself;
You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv'd in the open air, and all
great poems also;
I think I could stop here myself, and do miracles;
(My judgments, thoughts, I henceforth try by the open air, the
road;) 50
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and whoever
beholds me shall like me;
I think whoever I see must be happy.


From this hour, freedom!
From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,
Listening to others, and considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that
would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space;
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are
mine. 60

I am larger, better than I thought;
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me;
I can repeat over to men and women, You have done such good to me, I
would do the same to you.

I will recruit for myself and you as I go;
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go;
I will toss the new gladness and roughness among them;
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.


Now if a thousand perfect men were to appear, it would not amaze
me; 70
Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appear'd, it would not
astonish me.

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.

Here a great personal deed has room;
A great deed seizes upon the hearts of the whole race of men,
Its effusion of strength and will overwhelms law, and mocks all
authority and all argument against it.

Here is the test of wisdom;
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools;
Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it, to another not having it;
Wisdom is of the Soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own
proof, 80
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities, and is content,
Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the
excellence of things;
Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes
it out of the Soul.

Now I reëxamine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the
spacious clouds, and along the landscape and flowing currents.

Here is realization;
Here is a man tallied--he realizes here what he has in him;
The past, the future, majesty, love--if they are vacant of you, you
are vacant of them.

Only the kernel of every object nourishes;
Where is he who tears off the husks for you and me? 90
Where is he that undoes stratagems and envelopes for you and me?

Here is adhesiveness--it is not previously fashion'd--it is apropos;
Do you know what it is, as you pass, to be loved by strangers?
Do you know the talk of those turning eye-balls?


Here is the efflux of the Soul;
The efflux of the Soul comes from within, through embower'd gates,
ever provoking questions:
These yearnings, why are they? These thoughts in the darkness, why
are they?
Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me, the sun-
light expands my blood?
Why, when they leave me, do my pennants of joy sink flat and lank?
Why are there trees I never walk under, but large and melodious
thoughts descend upon me? 100
(I think they hang there winter and summer on those trees, and always
drop fruit as I pass;)
What is it I interchange so suddenly with strangers?
What with some driver, as I ride on the seat by his side?
What with some fisherman, drawing his seine by the shore, as I walk
by, and pause?
What gives me to be free to a woman's or man's good-will? What gives
them to be free to mine?


The efflux of the Soul is happiness--here is happiness;
I think it pervades the open air, waiting at all times;
Now it flows unto us--we are rightly charged.

Here rises the fluid and attaching character;
The fluid and attaching character is the freshness and sweetness of
man and woman; 110
(The herbs of the morning sprout no fresher and sweeter every day out
of the roots of themselves, than it sprouts fresh and sweet
continually out of itself.)

Toward the fluid and attaching character exudes the sweat of the love
of young and old;
From it falls distill'd the charm that mocks beauty and attainments;
Toward it heaves the shuddering longing ache of contact.


Allons! whoever you are, come travel with me!
Traveling with me, you find what never tires.

The earth never tires;
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first--Nature is rude
and incomprehensible at first;
Be not discouraged--keep on--there are divine things, well envelop'd;
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can
tell. 120

Allons! we must not stop here!
However sweet these laid-up stores--however convenient this dwelling,
we cannot remain here;
However shelter'd this port, and however calm these waters, we must
not anchor here;
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us, we are permitted
to receive it but a little while.


Allons! the inducements shall be greater;
We will sail pathless and wild seas;
We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper
speeds by under full sail.

Allons! with power, liberty, the earth, the elements!
Health, defiance, gayety, self-esteem, curiosity;
Allons! from all formules! 130
From your formules, O bat-eyed and materialistic priests!

The stale cadaver blocks up the passage--the burial waits no longer.

Allons! yet take warning!
He traveling with me needs the best blood, thews, endurance;
None may come to the trial, till he or she bring courage and health.

Come not here if you have already spent the best of yourself;
Only those may come, who come in sweet and determin'd bodies;
No diseas'd person--no rum-drinker or venereal taint is permitted
here.

I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes;
We convince by our presence. 140


Listen! I will be honest with you;
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes;
These are the days that must happen to you:

You shall not heap up what is call'd riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin'd--you hardly
settle yourself to satisfaction, before you are call'd by an
irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who
remain behind you;
What beckonings of love you receive, you shall only answer with
passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach'd hands
toward you.


Allons! after the GREAT COMPANIONS! and to belong to them! 150
They too are on the road! they are the swift and majestic men; they
are the greatest women.
Over that which hinder'd them--over that which retarded--passing
impediments large or small,
Committers of crimes, committers of many beautiful virtues,
Enjoyers of calms of seas, and storms of seas,
Sailors of many a ship, walkers of many a mile of land,
Habitués of many distant countries, habitués of far-distant dwellings,
Trusters of men and women, observers of cities, solitary toilers,
Pausers and contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the shore,
Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of
children, bearers of children,
Soldiers of revolts, standers by gaping graves, lowerers down of
coffins, 160
Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years--the curious
years, each emerging from that which preceded it,
Journeyers as with companions, namely, their own diverse phases,
Forth-steppers from the latent unrealized baby-days,
Journeyers gayly with their own youth--Journeyers with their bearded
and well-grain'd manhood,
Journeyers with their womanhood, ample, unsurpass'd, content,
Journeyers with their own sublime old age of manhood or womanhood,
Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of the
universe,
Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death.


Allons! to that which is endless, as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights, 170
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they
tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys;
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may reach it and
pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you--
however long, but it stretches and waits for you;
To see no being, not God's or any, but you also go thither,
To see no possession but you may possess it--enjoying all without
labor or purchase--abstracting the feast, yet not abstracting
one particle of it;
To take the best of the farmer's farm and the rich man's elegant
villa, and the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and
the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens,
To take to your use out of the compact cities as you pass through,
To carry buildings and streets with you afterward wherever you
go, 180
To gather the minds of men out of their brains as you encounter
them--to gather the love out of their hearts,
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you leave them
behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road--as many roads--as roads for
traveling souls.


The Soul travels;
The body does not travel as much as the soul;
The body has just as great a work as the soul, and parts away at last
for the journeys of the soul.

All parts away for the progress of souls;
All religion, all solid things, arts, governments,--all that was or
is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into niches and
corners before the procession of Souls along the grand roads of
the universe.

Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads
of the universe, all other progress is the needed emblem and
sustenance.

Forever alive, forever forward, 190
Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble,
dissatisfied,
Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go;
But I know that they go toward the best--toward something great.


Allons! whoever you are! come forth!
You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house, though
you built it, or though it has been built for you.

Allons! out of the dark confinement!
It is useless to protest--I know all, and expose it.

Behold, through you as bad as the rest,
Through the laughter, dancing, dining, supping, of people, 200
Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash'd and trimm'd
faces,
Behold a secret silent loathing and despair.

No husband, no wife, no friend, trusted to hear the confession;
Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,
Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities, polite and
bland in the parlors,
In the cars of rail-roads, in steamboats, in the public assembly,
Home to the houses of men and women, at the table, in the bed-room,
everywhere,
Smartly attired, countenance smiling, form upright, death under the
breast-bones, hell under the skull-bones,
Under the broadcloth and gloves, under the ribbons and artificial
flowers,
Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of itself, 210
Speaking of anything else, but never of itself.


Allons! through struggles and wars!
The goal that was named cannot be countermanded.

Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? nature?
Now understand me well--It is provided in the essence of things, that
from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth
something to make a greater struggle necessary.

My call is the call of battle--I nourish active rebellion;
He going with me must go well arm'd;
He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry enemies,
desertions.


Allons! the road is before us! 220
It is safe--I have tried it--my own feet have tried it well.

Allons! be not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen'd!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the court, and the judge expound the law.

Mon enfant! I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself, before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me? 230
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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Comments about this poem (Song Of The Open Road by Walt Whitman )

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  • Jane Moon (7/2/2009 9:48:00 AM)

    This is a love poem: love of his country and freedom to explore, to see its people and all facets of our country's life! Here, Walt Whitman celebrates freedom and the diversity of our country:
    'AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
    Healthy, free, the world before me,
    The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.'
    However, the poem is too long. Only in parts is it lyrical. So, unless carefully read, the message may not be clear. (Report) Reply

Read all 1 comments »

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