Leaves of Grass

(1855 Edition)

by Walt Whitman

A Song for Occupations

Come closer to me,
Push close my lovers and take the best I possess,
Yield closer and closer and give me the best you possess.

This is unfinished business with me . . . . how is it with you?
I was chilled with the cold types and cylinder and wet paper between us.

I pass so poorly with paper and types . . . . I must pass with the contact of bodies and souls.

I do not thank you for liking me as I am, and liking the touch of me . . . . I know that it is good for you to do so.

Were all educations practical and ornamental well displayed out of me, what would it amount to?
Were I as the head teacher or charitable proprietor or wise statesman, what would it amount to?
Were I to you as the boss employing and paying you, would that satisfy you?

The learned and virtuous and benevolent, and the usual terms;
A man like me, and never the usual terms.

Neither a servant nor a master am I,
I take no sooner a large price than a small price . . . . I will have my own whoever enjoys me,
I will be even with you, and you shall be even with me.

If you are a workman or workwoman I stand as nigh as the nighest that works in the same shop,
If you bestow gifts on your brother or dearest friend, I demand as good as your brother or dearest friend,
If your lover or husband or wife is welcome by day or night, I must be personally as welcome;
If you have become degraded or ill, then I will become so for your sake;
If you remember your foolish and outlawed deeds, do you think I cannot remember my foolish and outlawed deeds?
If you carouse at the table I say I will carouse at the opposite side of the table;
If you meet some stranger in the street and love him or her, do I not often meet strangers in the street and love them?
If you see a good deal remarkable in me I see just as much remarkable in you.

Why what have you thought of yourself?
Is it you then that thought yourself less?
Is it you that thought the President greater than you? or the rich better off than you? or the educated wiser than you?

Because you are greasy or pimpled — or that you was once drunk, or a thief, or diseased, or rheumatic, or a prostitute — or are so now — or from frivolity or impotence — or that you are no scholar, and never saw your name in print . . . . do you give in that you are any less immortal?

Souls of men and women! it is not you I call unseen, unheard, untouchable and untouching;
It is not you I go argue pro and con about, and to settle whether you are alive or no;
I own publicly who you are, if nobody else owns . . . . and see and hear you, and what you give and take;
What is there you cannot give and take?

I see not merely that you are polite or whitefaced . . . . married or single . . . . citizens of old states or citizens of new states . . . . eminent in some profession . . . . a lady or gentleman in a parlor . . . . or dressed in the jail uniform . . . . or pulpit uniform,
Not only the free Utahan, Kansian, or Arkansian . . . . not only the free Cuban . . . not merely the slave . . . . not Mexican native, or Flatfoot, or negro from Africa,
Iroquois eating the warflesh — fishtearer in his lair of rocks and sand . . . . Esquimaux in the dark cold snowhouse . . . . Chinese with his transverse eyes . . . . Bedowee — or wandering nomad — or tabounschik at the head of his droves,
Grown, half-grown, and babe — of this country and every country, indoors and outdoors I see . . . . and all else is behind or through them.

The wife — and she is not one jot less than the husband,
The daughter — and she is just as good as the son,
The mother — and she is every bit as much as the father.

Offspring of those not rich — boys apprenticed to trades,
Young fellows working on farms and old fellows working on farms;
The naive . . . . the simple and hardy . . . . he going to the polls to vote . . . . he who has a good time, and he who has a bad time;
Mechanics, southerners, new arrivals, sailors, mano'warsmen, merchantmen, coasters,
All these I see . . . . but nigher and farther the same I see;
None shall escape me, and none shall wish to escape me.

I bring what you much need, yet always have,
I bring not money or amours or dress or eating . . . . but I bring as good;
And send no agent or medium . . . . and offer no representative of value — but offer the value itself.

There is something that comes home to one now and perpetually,
It is not what is printed or preached or discussed . . . . it eludes discussion and print,
It is not to be put in a book . . . . it is not in this book,
It is for you whoever you are . . . . it is no farther from you than your hearing and sight are from you,
It is hinted by nearest and commonest and readiest . . . . it is not them, though it is endlessly provoked by them . . . . What is there ready and near you now?

You may read in many languages and read nothing about it;
You may read the President's message and read nothing about it there,
Nothing in the reports from the state department or treasury department . . . . or in the daily papers, or the weekly papers,
Or in the census returns or assessors' returns or prices current or any accounts of stock.

The sun and stars that float in the open air . . . . the appleshaped earth and we upon it . . . . surely the drift of them is something grand;
I do not know what it is except that it is grand, and that it is happiness,
And that the enclosing purport of us here is not a speculation, or bon-mot or reconnoissance,
And that it is not something which by luck may turn out well for us, and without luck must be a failure for us,
And not something which may yet be retracted in a certain contingency.

The light and shade — the curious sense of body and identity — the greed that with perfect complaisance devours all things — the endless pride and outstretching of man — unspeakable joys and sorrows,
The wonder every one sees in every one else he sees . . . . and the wonders that fill each minute of time forever and each acre of surface and space forever,
Have you reckoned them as mainly for a trade or farmwork? or for the profits of a store? or to achieve yourself a position? or to fill a gentleman's leisure or a lady's leisure?

Have you reckoned the landscape took substance and form that it might be painted in a picture?
Or men and women that they might be written of, and songs sung?
Or the attraction of gravity and the great laws and harmonious combinations and the fluids of the air as subjects for the savans?
Or the brown land and the blue sea for maps and charts?
Or the stars to be put in constellations and named fancy names?
Or that the growth of seeds is for agricultural tables or agriculture itself?

Old institutions . . . . these arts libraries legends collections — and the practice handed along in manufactures . . . . will we rate them so high?
Will we rate our prudence and business so high? . . . . I have no objection,
I rate them as high as the highest . . . . but a child born of a woman and man I rate beyond all rate.

We thought our Union grand and our Constitution grand;
I do not say they are not grand and good — for they are,
I am this day just as much in love with them as you,
But I am eternally in love with you and with all my fellows upon the earth.

We consider the bibles and religions divine . . . . I do not say they are not divine,
I say they have all grown out of you and may grow out of you still,
It is not they who give the life . . . . it is you who give the life;
Leaves are not more shed from the trees or trees from the earth than they are shed out of you.

The sum of all known value and respect I add up in you whoever you are;
The President is up there in the White House for you . . . . it is not you who are here for him,
The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you . . . . not you here for them,
The Congress convenes every December for you,
Laws, courts, the forming of states, the charters of cities, the going and coming of commerce and mails are all for you.

All doctrines, all politics and civilization exurge from you,
All sculpture and monuments and anything inscribed anywhere are tallied in you,
The gist of histories and statistics as far back as the records reach is in you this hour — and myths and tales the same;
If you were not breathing and walking here where would they all be?
The most renowned poems would be ashes . . . . orations and plays would be vacuums.

All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it;
Did you think it was in the white or gray stone? or the lines of the arches and cornices?

All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets . . . . it is not the oboe nor the beating drums — nor the notes of the baritone singer singing his sweet romanza . . . . nor those of the men's chorus, nor those of the women's chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.

Will the whole come back then?
Can each see the signs of the best by a look in the lookingglass? Is there nothing greater or more?
Does all sit there with you and here with me?

The old forever new things . . . . you foolish child! . . . . the closest simplest things — this moment with you,
Your person and every particle that relates to your person,
The pulses of your brain waiting their chance and encouragement at every deed or sight;
Anything you do in public by day, and anything you do in secret betweendays,
What is called right and what is called wrong . . . . what you behold or touch . . . . what causes your anger or wonder,
The anklechain of the slave, the bed of the bedhouse, the cards of the gambler, the plates of the forger;
What is seen or learned in the street, or intuitively learned,
What is learned in the public school — spelling, reading, writing and ciphering . . . . the blackboard and the teacher's diagrams:
The panes of the windows and all that appears through them . . . . the going forth in the morning and the aimless spending of the day;
(What is it that you made money? what is it that you got what you wanted?)
The usual routine . . . . the workshop, factory, yard, office, store, or desk;
The jaunt of hunting or fishing, or the life of hunting or fishing,
Pasturelife, foddering, milking and herding, and all the personnel and usages;
The plum-orchard and apple-orchard . . . . gardening . . seedlings, cuttings, flowers and vines,
Grains and manures . . marl, clay, loam . . the subsoil plough . . the shovel and pick and rake and hoe . . irrigation and draining;
The currycomb . . the horse-cloth . . the halter and bridle and bits . . the very wisps of straw,
The barn and barn-yard . . the bins and mangers . . the mows and racks:
Manufactures . . commerce . . engineering . . the building of cities, and every trade carried on there . . and the implements of every trade,
The anvil and tongs and hammer . . the axe and wedge . . the square and mitre and jointer and smoothingplane;
The plumbob and trowel and level . . the wall-scaffold, and the work of walls and ceilings . . or any mason-work:
The ship's compass . . the sailor's tarpaulin . . the stays and lanyards, and the ground-tackle for anchoring or mooring,
The sloop's tiller . . the pilot's wheel and bell . . the yacht or fish-smack . . the great gay-pennanted three-hundred-foot steamboat under full headway, with her proud fat breasts and her delicate swift-flashing paddles;
The trail and line and hooks and sinkers . . the seine, and hauling the seine;
Smallarms and rifles . . . . the powder and shot and caps and wadding . . . . the ordnance for war . . . . the carriages:
Everyday objects . . . . the housechairs, the carpet, the bed
and the counterpane of the bed, and him or her sleeping at night, and the wind blowing, and the indefinite noises:
The snowstorm or rainstorm . . . . the tow-trowsers . . . . the lodge-hut in the woods, and the still-hunt:
City and country . . fireplace and candle . . gaslight and heater and aqueduct;
The message of the governor, mayor, or chief of police . . . . the dishes of breakfast or dinner or supper;
The bunkroom, the fire-engine, the string-team, and the car or truck behind;
The paper I write on or you write on . . and every word we write . . and every cross and twirl of the pen . . and the curious way we write what we think . . . . yet very faintly;
The directory, the detector, the ledger . . . . the books in ranks or the bookshelves . . . . the clock attached to the wall,
The ring on your finger . . the lady's wristlet . . the hammers of stonebreakers or coppersmiths . . the druggist's vials and jars;
The etui of surgical instruments, and the etui of oculist's or aurist's instruments, or dentist's instruments;
Glassblowing, grinding of wheat and corn . . casting, and what is cast . . tinroofing, shingledressing,
Shipcarpentering, flagging of sidewalks by flaggers . . dockbuilding, fishcuring, ferrying;
The pump, the piledriver, the great derrick . . the coalkiln and brickkiln,
Ironworks or whiteleadworks . . the sugarhouse . . steam-saws, and the great mills and factories;
The cottonbale . . the stevedore's hook . . the saw and buck of the sawyer . . the screen of the coalscreener . . the mould of the moulder . . the workingknife of the butcher;
The cylinder press . . the handpress . . the frisket and tympan . . the compositor's stick and rule,
The implements for daguerreotyping . . . . the tools of the rigger or grappler or sailmaker or blockmaker,
Goods of guttapercha or papiermache . . . . colors and brushes . . . . glaziers' implements,
The veneer and gluepot . . the confectioner's ornaments . . the decanter and glasses . . the shears and flatiron;
The awl and kneestrap . . the pint measure and quart measure . . the counter and stool . . the writingpen of quill or metal;
Billiards and tenpins . . . . the ladders and hanging ropes of the gymnasium, and the manly exercises;
The designs for wallpapers or oilcloths or carpets . . . . the fancies for goods for women . . . . the bookbinder's stamps;
Leatherdressing, coachmaking, boilermaking, ropetwisting, distilling, signpainting, limeburning, coopering, cottonpicking,
The walkingbeam of the steam-engine . . the throttle and governors, and the up and down rods,
Stavemachines and plainingmachines . . . . the cart of the carman . . the omnibus . . the ponderous dray;
The snowplough and two engines pushing it . . . . the ride in the express train of only one car . . . . the swift go through a howling storm:
The bearhunt or coonhunt . . . . the bonfire of shavings in the open lot in the city . . the crowd of children watching;
The blows of the fighting-man . . the upper cut and one-two-three;
The shopwindows . . . . the coffins in the sexton's wareroom . . . . the fruit on the fruitstand . . . . the beef on the butcher's stall,
The bread and cakes in the bakery . . . . the white and red pork in the pork-store;
The milliner's ribbons . . the dressmaker's patterns . . . . the tea-table . . the homemade sweetmeats:
The column of wants in the one-cent paper . . the news by telegraph . . . . the amusements and operas and shows:
The cotton and woolen and linen you wear . . . . the money you make and spend;
Your room and bedroom . . . . your piano-forte . . . . the stove and cookpans,
The house you live in . . . . the rent . . . . the other tenants . . . . the deposite in the savings-bank . . . . the trade at the grocery,
The pay on Saturday night . . . . the going home, and the purchases;
In them the heft of the heaviest . . . . in them far more than you estimated, and far less also,
In them, not yourself . . . . you and your soul enclose all things, regardless of estimation,
In them your themes and hints and provokers . . if not, the whole earth has no themes or hints or provokers, and never had.

I do not affirm what you see beyond is futile . . . . I do not advise you to stop,
I do not say leadings you thought great are not great,
But I say that none lead to greater or sadder or happier than those lead to.

Will you seek afar off? You surely come back at last,
In things best known to you finding the best or as good as the best,
In folks nearest to you finding also the sweetest and strongest and lovingest,
Happiness not in another place, but this place . . not for another hour, but this hour,
Man in the first you see or touch . . . . always in your friend or brother or nighest neighbor . . . . Woman in your mother or lover or wife,
And all else thus far known giving place to men and women.

When the psalm sings instead of the singer,
When the script preaches instead of the preacher,
When the pulpit descends and goes instead of the carver that carved the supporting desk,
When the sacred vessels or the bits of the eucharist, or the lath and plast, procreate as effectually as the young silversmiths or bakers, or the masons in their overalls,
When a university course convinces like a slumbering woman and child convince,
When the minted gold in the vault smiles like the nightwatchman's daughter,
When warrantee deeds loafe in chairs opposite and are my friendly companions,
I intend to reach them my hand and make as much of them as I do of men and women.

Next: To Think of Time

Monadnock Valley Press > Whitman > Leaves (1855)