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
         incessantly,
   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
         cliffs,
   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.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 14, 2023

1:43 min read
119

Quick analysis:

Scheme XXXXXXAXXXXX XXXX XXXXX BB BBXBBCXBXCXXXX ABB
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…

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