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POTD - The Sleepers - Part 1  by Walt Whitman

POTD - The Sleepers - Part 1 by Walt Whitman

Photo by flickr/ben▐

Photo by flickr/ben▐

The Sleepers

by Walt Whitman


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 ennuyes, 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.

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 

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

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

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 
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 
And I become the other dreamers.

I am a dance--play up there! the fit is whirling me 

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 nor 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 
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; 
Onward we move, a gay gang of blackguards! with 
mirth-shouting music and wild-flapping pennants of 

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 
The stammerer, the well-form'd person, the wasted or 
feeble person.

I am she who adorn'd herself and folded her hair 
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. 
He whom I call answers me and takes the place of my 
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 
I would sound up the shadowy shore to which you are 

Be careful darkness! already what was it touch'd me? 
I thought my lover had gone, else darkness and he are 

I hear the heart-beat, I follow, I fade away.

Whitman is one of those figures who arrives at your doorstep packed with some many other people's opinion about him, but once I finally unwrapped him I was struck by his inimitable spirit most of all.

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