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The Sleepers

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


  I WANDER all night in my vision,
  Stepping with light feet, swiftly and noiselessly stepping and
  stopping,
  Bending with open eyes over the shut eyes of sleepers,
  Wandering and confused, lost to myself, ill-assorted, contradictory,
  Pausing, gazing, bending, and stopping.

  How solemn they look there, stretch'd and still!
  How quiet they breathe, the little children in their cradles!

  The wretched features of ennuyés, the white features of
  corpses, the livid faces of drunkards, the sick-gray faces of
  onanists,
  The gash'd bodies on battle-fields, the insane in their strong-door'd
  rooms, the sacred idiots, the new-born emerging from gates, and
  the dying emerging from gates,
  The night pervades them and infolds them. 10

  The married couple sleep calmly in their bed--he with his palm on the
  hip of the wife, and she with her palm on the hip of the
  husband,
  The sisters sleep lovingly side by side in their bed,
  The men sleep lovingly side by side in theirs,
  And the mother sleeps, with her little child carefully wrapt.

  The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
  The prisoner sleeps well in the prison--the run-away son sleeps;
  The murderer that is to be hung next day--how does he sleep?
  And the murder'd person--how does he sleep?

  The female that loves unrequited sleeps,
  And the male that loves unrequited sleeps, 20
  The head of the money-maker that plotted all day sleeps,
  And the enraged and treacherous dispositions--all, all sleep.

  I stand in the dark with drooping eyes by the worst-suffering and the
  most restless,
  I pass my hands soothingly to and fro a few inches from them,
  The restless sink in their beds--they fitfully sleep.

  Now I pierce the darkness--new beings appear,
  The earth recedes from me into the night,
  I saw that it was beautiful, and I see that what is not the earth is
  beautiful.

  I go from bedside to bedside--I sleep close with the other sleepers,
  each in turn,
  I dream in my dream all the dreams of the other dreamers, 30
  And I become the other dreamers.

  I am a dance--Play up, there! the fit is whirling me fast!

  I am the ever-laughing--it is new moon and twilight,
  I see the hiding of douceurs--I see nimble ghosts whichever way I
  look,
  Cache, and cache again, deep in the ground and sea, and where it is
  neither ground or sea.

  Well do they do their jobs, those journeymen divine,
  Only from me can they hide nothing, and would not if they could,
  I reckon I am their boss, and they make me a pet besides,
  And surround me and lead me, and run ahead when I walk,
  To lift their cunning covers, to signify me with stretch'd arms, and
  resume the way; 40
  Onward we move! a gay gang of blackguards! with mirth-shouting music,
  and wild-flapping pennants of joy!

  I am the actor, the actress, the voter, the politician;
  The emigrant and the exile, the criminal that stood in the box,
  He who has been famous, and he who shall be famous after to-day,
  The stammerer, the well-form'd person, the wasted or feeble person.

  I am she who adorn'd herself and folded her hair expectantly,
  My truant lover has come, and it is dark.

  Double yourself and receive me, darkness!
  Receive me and my lover too--he will not let me go without him.

  I roll myself upon you, as upon a bed--I resign myself to the
  dusk. 50

  He whom I call answers me, and takes the place of my lover,
  He rises with me silently from the bed.

  Darkness! you are gentler than my lover--his flesh was sweaty and
  panting,
  I feel the hot moisture yet that he left me.

  My hands are spread forth, I pass them in all directions,
  I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are journeying.

  Be careful, darkness! already, what was it touch'd me?
  I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are one,
  I hear the heart-beat--I follow, I fade away.

  O hot-cheek'd and blushing! O foolish hectic! 60
  O for pity's sake, no one must see me now! my clothes were stolen
  while I was abed,
  Now I am thrust forth, where shall I run?

  Pier that I saw dim
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:34 min read
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Walt Whitman

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

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