9 Small Gems by Whitman


(a poet pondering Whitman gems in a populous city)

Walt Whitman is best-known for his long poems, but there is also a beauty in brevity, as Emily Dickinson proved in her own way. These nine obscure ‘shorties’ offer insights into Whitman’s sensibility and his view of the world, himself, and others. These are taken from his friend’s edition.

Once I Pass’d Through a Populous City

Once I pass’d through a populous city, imprinting my brain, for future use, with its shows, architecture, customs, and traditions;
Yet now, of all that city, I remember only a woman I casually met there, who detain’d me for love of me;
Day by day and night by night we were together,–All else has long been forgotten by me;
I remember, I say, only that woman who passionately clung to me;
Again we wander–we love–we separate again;
Again she holds me by the hand–I must not go!
I see her close beside me, with silent lips, and tremulous.


Only themselves understand themselves, and the like of themselves,
As Souls only understand Souls.

O You Whom I Often and Silently Come

O you whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you;
As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me.


Forms, qualities, lives, humanity, language, thoughts,
The ones known, and the ones unknown–the ones on the stars,
The stars themselves, some shaped, others unshaped,
Wonders as of those countries–the soil, trees, cities, inhabitants, whatever they may be,
Splendid suns, the moons and rings, the countless combinations and effects;
Such-like, and as good as such-like, visible here or anywhere, stand provided for in a handful of space; which I extend my arm and half enclose with my hand;
That contains the start of each and all–the virtue, the germs of all.

To Rich Givers

What you give me, I cheerfully accept,
A little resistance, a hut and garden, a little money–these, as I rendezvous with my poems;
A traveler’s lodging and breakfast as I journey through The States–Why should I be ashamed to own such gifts? Why to advertise for them?
For I myself am not one who bestows nothing upon man and woman;
For I bestow upon any man or woman the entrance to all the gifts of the universe.

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them–Ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,–seeking the spheres, to connect them; Till the bridge you will need, be form’d–till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

To Old Age

I see in you the estuary that enlarges and spreads itself grandly as it pours in the great Sea.


As they draw to a close,
Of what underlies the precedent songs–of my aims in them;
Of the seed I have sought to plant in them;
Of joy, sweet joy, through many a year, in them;
(For them–for them have I lived–In them my work is done;
Of many an aspiration fond–of many a dream and plan,
Of you, O mystery great!–no place on record faith in you, o death!
–To compact you, ye parted, diverse lives!
To put rapport the mountains, and rocks, and streams,
And the winds of the north, and the forests of oak and pine,
With you, O soul of man.

This Day, O Soul

This day O Soul, I give you a wondrous mirror;
Long in the dark, in tarnish and cloud it lay–But the cloud has pass’d, and the tarnish gone;
…Behold, O Soul! it is now a clean and bright mirror,
Faithfully showing you all the things of the world.


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