1  ELEMENTAL drifts!
O I wish I could impress others as you and the waves
        have just been impressing me.
2  As I ebb’d with an ebb of the ocean of life,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk’d where the sea—ripples wash you, Pau—
Where they rustle up, hoarse and sibilant,
Where the fierce old mother endlessly cries for her
I, musing, late in the autumn day, gazing off south–
Alone, held by this eternal self of me, out of the pride
        of which I have utter’d my poems,
Was seiz’d by the spirit that trails in the lines under–
In the rim, the sediment, that stands for all the water
        and all the land of the globe.
3  Fascinated, my eyes, reverting from the south,
        drop’t, to follow those slender winrows,
Chaff, straw, splinters of wood, weeds, and the sea–
Scum, scales from shining rocks, leaves of salt-lettuce,
        left by the tide;
Miles walking, the sound of breaking waves the other
        side of me,
Paumanok, there and then, as I thought the old
        thought of likenesses,
These you presented to me, you fish-shaped island,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walk’d with that eternal self of me, seeking
4  As I wend to the shores I know not,
As I list to the dirge, the voices of men and women
As I inhale the impalpable breezes that set in upon
As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer
        and closer,
I, too, but signify, at the utmost, a little wash’d-up
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and
5  O baffled, balk’d, bent to the very earth,
Opprest with myself that I have dared to open my
Aware now, that, amid all the blab whose echoes re–
        coil upon me, I have not once had the least
        idea who or what I am,
But that before all my insolent poems, the real ME
        stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether un–
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock—congratu—
        latory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word
        I have written,
Pointing in silence to all these songs, and then to
        the sand beneath.
6  Now I perceive I have not understood anything—
        not a single object—and that no man ever
7  I perceive Nature, here in sight of the sea, is taking
        advantage of me, to dart upon me, and sting
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at
8  You oceans both! I close with you;
These little shreds shall, indeed, stand for all.
9  You friable shore, with trails of debris!
You fish-shaped island! I take what is underfoot;
What is yours is mine, my father.
10  I too Paumanok,
I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float,
        and been wash’d on your shores;
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped
11  I throw myself upon your breast, my father,
I cling to you so that you cannot unloose me,
I hold you so firm, till you answer me something.
12  Kiss me, my father,
Touch me with your lips, as I touch those I love,
Breathe to me, while I hold you close, the secret of
        the wondrous murmuring I envy.
13  Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return,)
Cease not your moaning, you fierce old mother,
Endlessly cry for your castaways—but fear not, deny
        not me,
Rustle not up so hoarse and angry against my feet, as
        I touch you, or gather from you.
14  I mean tenderly by you,
I gather for myself, and for this phantom, looking
        down where we lead, and following me and
15  Me and mine!
We, loose winrows, little corpses,
Froth, snowy white, and bubbles,
(See! from my dead lips the ooze exuding at last!
See—the prismatic colors, glistening and rolling!)
Tufts of straw, sands, fragments,
Buoy’d hither from many moods, one contradicting
From the storm, the long calm, the darkness, the
Musing, pondering, a breath, a briny tear, a dab of
        liquid or soil;
Up just as much out of fathomless workings fer–
        mented and thrown;
A limp blossom or two, torn, just as much over waves
        floating, drifted at random;
Just as much for us that sobbing dirge of Nature;
Just as much, whence we come, that blare of the
We, capricious, brought hither, we know not whence,
        spread out before you,
You, up there, walking or sitting,
Whoever you are—we too lie in drifts at your feet.

Leaves of Grass


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