Our edit of the best Walt Whitman poems
Walt Whitman was a groundbreaking American poet, best known for poems such as ‘Song of Myself’ and ‘I Sing the Body Electric’. Here, we’ve selected some of the very best Walt Whitman poetry.
Walt Whitman self published Leaves of Grass in 1855 as a collection of twelve poems, but revised and expanded it throughout his lifetime. His poems abandoned the regular 19th century rhythm and rhyming patterns and were open about love and democracy, sex and friendship, the body and the soul. Inspired by his travels through the American frontier, his visits to soldiers during the Civil War and his lifetime as a working man, Whitman was a revolutionary to his peers. He paved the way for a new type of poetry and influenced poets such as Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams.
The Macmillan Collector’s Library edition of Leaves of Grass: Selected Poems is taken from Whitman’s final version, the Deathbed edition, and features his most loved works.
An extract from 'I Sing the Body Electric'
I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.
Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves?
And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead?
And if the body does not do fully as much as the soul?
And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?
Read the full poem here.
Shut Not Your Doors
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,
Forth from the war emerging, a book I have made,
The words of my book nothing, the drift of it every
A book separate, not link’d with the rest nor felt by
But you ye untold latencies will thrill to every page.
To the States
To the States or any one of them, or any city of the
States, Resist much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this
earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty.
For You O Democracy
Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.
I will plant companionship thick as trees along all
the rivers of America, and along the shores of
the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about
each other’s necks,
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.
For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.
To a Stranger
Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly
I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking,
(it comes to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid,
affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has
become not yours only nor left my body mine
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh,
as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when
I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
We Two Boys Together Clinging
We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water
drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statutes mocking,
Fulfilling our foray.
An extract from '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
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous
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.
(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.)
Read the full poem here.
How Solemn as One by One
How solemn as one by one,
As the ranks returning worn and sweaty, as the men
file by where I stand,
As the faces the masks appear, as I glance at the faces
studying the masks,
(As I glance upward out of this page studying you,
dear friend, whoever you are,)
How solemn the thought of my whispering soul to
each in the ranks, and to you,
I see behind each mask that wonder a kindred soul,
O the bullet could never kill what you really are, dear
Nor the bayonet stab what you really are;
The soul! yourself I see, great as any, good as the
Waiting secure and content, which the bullet could
Nor the bayonet stab O friend.
An extract from 'Song of Myself'
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d
the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin
of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions
of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look
through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the begin-
ning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Read the full poem, here.