A Riddle Song

Walt Whitman 1819 (West Hills) – 1892 (Camden)

THAT which eludes this verse and any verse,
   Unheard by sharpest ear, unform'd in clearest eye or cunningest mind,
   Nor lore nor fame, nor happiness nor wealth,
   And yet the pulse of every heart and life throughout the world
   Which you and I and all pursuing ever ever miss,
   Open but still a secret, the real of the real, an illusion,
   Costless, vouchsafed to each, yet never man the owner,
   Which poets vainly seek to put in rhyme, historians in prose,
   Which sculptor never chisel'd yet, nor painter painted,
   Which vocalist never sung, nor orator nor actor ever utter'd,      10
   Invoking here and now I challenge for my song.

   Indifferently, 'mid public, private haunts, in solitude,
   Behind the mountain and the wood,
   Companion of the city's busiest streets, through the assemblage,
   It and its radiations constantly glide.

   In looks of fair unconscious babes,
   Or strangely in the coffin'd dead,
   Or show of breaking dawn or stars by night,
   As some dissolving delicate film of dreams,
   Hiding yet lingering.                                              20

   Two little breaths of words comprising it.
   Two words, yet all from first to last comprised in it.

   How ardently for it!
   How many ships have sail'd and sunk for it!
   How many travelers started from their homes and ne'er return'd!
   How much of genius boldly staked and lost for it!
   What countless stores of beauty, love, ventur'd for it!
   How all superbest deeds since Time began are traceable to it--and
         shall be to the end!
   How all heroic martyrdoms to it!
   How, justified by it, the horrors, evils, battles of the earth!    30
   How the bright fascinating lambent flames of it, in every age and
         land, have drawn men's eyes,
   Rich as a sunset on the Norway coast, the sky, the islands, and the
   Or midnight's silent glowing northern lights unreachable.

   Haply God's riddle it, so vague and yet so certain,
   The soul for it, and all the visible universe for it,
   And heaven at last for it.

Font size:
Collection  PDF     

Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 14, 2023

1:43 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic hexameter
Characters 2,053
Words 332
Stanzas 6
Stanza Lengths 12, 4, 5, 2, 14, 3

Walt Whitman

Walter "Walt" Whitman was an American poet, essayist and journalist. more…

All Walt Whitman poems | Walt Whitman Books

35 fans

Discuss the poem A Riddle Song with the community...



    Find a translation for this poem in other languages:

    Select another language:

    • - Select -
    • 简体中文 (Chinese - Simplified)
    • 繁體中文 (Chinese - Traditional)
    • Español (Spanish)
    • Esperanto (Esperanto)
    • 日本語 (Japanese)
    • Português (Portuguese)
    • Deutsch (German)
    • العربية (Arabic)
    • Français (French)
    • Русский (Russian)
    • ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)
    • 한국어 (Korean)
    • עברית (Hebrew)
    • Gaeilge (Irish)
    • Українська (Ukrainian)
    • اردو (Urdu)
    • Magyar (Hungarian)
    • मानक हिन्दी (Hindi)
    • Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Italiano (Italian)
    • தமிழ் (Tamil)
    • Türkçe (Turkish)
    • తెలుగు (Telugu)
    • ภาษาไทย (Thai)
    • Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
    • Čeština (Czech)
    • Polski (Polish)
    • Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Românește (Romanian)
    • Nederlands (Dutch)
    • Ελληνικά (Greek)
    • Latinum (Latin)
    • Svenska (Swedish)
    • Dansk (Danish)
    • Suomi (Finnish)
    • فارسی (Persian)
    • ייִדיש (Yiddish)
    • հայերեն (Armenian)
    • Norsk (Norwegian)
    • English (English)


    Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:


    "A Riddle Song" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2024. Web. 19 Apr. 2024. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/37943/a-riddle-song>.

    Become a member!

    Join our community of poets and poetry lovers to share your work and offer feedback and encouragement to writers all over the world!

    April 2024

    Poetry Contest

    Join our monthly contest for an opportunity to win cash prizes and attain global acclaim for your talent.

    Special Program

    Earn Rewards!

    Unlock exciting rewards such as a free mug and free contest pass by commenting on fellow members' poems today!

    Browse Poetry.com


    Are you a poetry master?

    How may lines and syllables are in a Japanese Waka poem?
    A 30 syllables in every other line
    B 31 syllables in five lines
    C 15 syllables in 7 lines
    D 50 syllables in 7 lines