The Sleepers

Walt Whitman

 
1
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 wrapt.
The blind sleep, and the deaf and dumb sleep,
The prisoner sleeps well in the prison, the runaway 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,
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,
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 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 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;
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.
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.
2
I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid,
Perfume and youth course through me and I am their wake.
It is my face yellow and wrinkled instead of the old woman's,
I sit low in a straw-bottom chair and carefully darn my grandson's
stockings.
It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the winter midnight,
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid earth.
A shroud I see and I am the shroud, I wrap a body and lie in the coffin,
It is dark here under ground, it is not evil or pain here, it is
blank here, for reasons.
(It seems to me that every thing in the light and air ought to be happy,
Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough.)
3
I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies
of the sea,
His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with
courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs,
I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes,
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on
the rocks.
What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?
Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime
of his middle age?
Steady and long he struggles,
He is baffled, bang'd, bruis'd, he holds out while his strength
holds out,
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away,
they roll him, swing him, turn him,
His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is
continually bruis'd on rocks,
Swiftly and ought of sight is borne the brave corpse.
4
I turn but do not extricate myself,
Confused, a past-reading, another, but with darkness yet.
The beach is cut by the razory ice-wind, the wreck-guns sound,
The tempest lulls, the moon comes floundering through the drifts.
I look where the ship helplessly heads end on, I hear the burst as
she strikes, I hear the howls of dismay, they grow fainter and fainter.
I cannot aid with my wringing fingers,
I can but rush to the surf and let it drench me and freeze upon me.
I search with the crowd, not one of the company is wash'd to us alive,
In the morning I help pick up the dead and lay them in rows in a barn.
5
Now of the older war-days, the defeat at Brooklyn,
Washington stands inside the lines, he stands on the intrench'd
hills amid a crowd of officers.
His face is cold and damp, he cannot repress the weeping drops,
He lifts the glass perpetually to his eyes, the color is blanch'd
from his cheeks,
He sees the slaughter of the southern braves confided to him by
their parents.
The same at last and at last when peace is declared,
He stands in the room of the old tavern, the well-belov'd soldiers
all pass through,
The officers speechless and slow draw near in their turns,
The chief encircles their necks with his arm and kisses them on the cheek,
He kisses lightly the wet cheeks one after another, he shakes hands
and bids good-by to the army.
6
Now what my mother told me one day as we sat at dinner together,
Of when she was a nearly grown girl living home with her parents on
the old homestead.
A red squaw came one breakfast-time to the old homestead,
On her back she carried a bundle of rushes for rush-bottoming chairs,
Her hair, straight, shiny, coarse, black, profuse, half-envelop'd
her face,
Her step was free and elastic, and her voice sounded exquisitely as
she spoke.
My mother look'd in delight and amazement at the stranger,
She look'd at the freshness of her tall-borne face and full and
pliant limbs,
The more she look'd upon her she loved her,
Never before had she seen such wonderful beauty and purity,
She made her sit on a bench by the jamb of the fireplace, she cook'd
food for her,
She had no work to give her, but she gave her remembrance and fondness.
The red squaw staid all the forenoon, and toward the middle of the
afternoon she went away,
O my mother was loth to have her go away,
All the week she thought of her, she watch'd for her many a month,
She remember'd her many a winter and many a summer,
But the red squaw never came nor was heard of there again.
7
A show of the summer softness--a contact of something unseen--an
amour of the light and air,
I am jealous and overwhelm'd with friendliness,
And will go gallivant with the light and air myself.
O love and summer, you are in the dreams and in me,
Autumn and winter are in the dreams, the farmer goes with his thrift,
The droves and crops increase, the barns are well-fill'd.
Elements merge in the night, ships make tacks in the dreams,
The sailor sails, the exile returns home,
The fugitive returns unharm'd, the immigrant is back beyond months
and years,
The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his childhood with
the well known neighbors and faces,
They warmly welcome him, he is barefoot again, he forgets he is well off,
The Dutchman voyages home, and the Scotchman and Welshman voyage
home, and the native of the Mediterranean voyages home,
To every port of England, France, Spain, enter well-fill'd ships,
The Swiss foots it toward his hills, the Prussian goes his way, the
Hungarian his way, and the Pole his way,
The Swede returns, and the Dane and Norwegian return.
The homeward bound and the outward bound,
The beautiful lost swimmer, the ennuye, the onanist, the female that
loves unrequited, the money-maker,
The actor and actress, those through with their parts and those
waiting to commence,
The affectionate boy, the husband and wife, the voter, the nominee
that is chosen and the nominee that has fail'd,
The great already known and the great any time after to-day,
The stammerer, the sick, the perfect-form'd, the homely,
The criminal that stood in the box, the judge that sat and sentenced
him, the fluent lawyers, the jury, the audience,
The laugher and weeper, the dancer, the midnight widow, the red squaw,
The consumptive, the erysipalite, the idiot, he that is wrong'd,
The antipodes, and every one between this and them in the dark,
I swear they are averaged now--one is no better than the other,
The night and sleep have liken'd them and restored them.
I swear they are all beautiful,
Every one that sleeps is beautiful, every thing in the dim light is
beautiful,
The wildest and bloodiest is over, and all is peace.
Peace is always beautiful,
The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.
The myth of heaven indicates the soul,
The soul is always beautiful, it appears more or it appears less, it
comes or it lags behind,
It comes from its embower'd garden and looks pleasantly on itself
and encloses the world,
Perfect and clean the genitals previously jetting,and perfect and
clean the womb cohering,
The head well-grown proportion'd and plumb, and the bowels and
joints proportion'd and plumb.
The soul is always beautiful,
The universe is duly in order, every thing is in its place,
What has arrived is in its place and what waits shall be in its place,
The twisted skull waits, the watery or rotten blood waits,
The child of the glutton or venerealee waits long, and the child of
the drunkard waits long, and the drunkard himself waits long,
The sleepers that lived and died wait, the far advanced are to go on
in their turns, and the far behind are to come on in their turns,
The diverse shall be no less diverse, but they shall flow and unite--
they unite now.
8
The sleepers are very beautiful as they lie unclothed,
They flow hand in hand over the whole earth from east to west as
they lie unclothed,
The Asiatic and African are hand in hand, the European and American
are hand in hand,
Learn'd and unlearn'd are hand in hand, and male and female are hand
in hand,
The bare arm of the girl crosses the bare breast of her lover, they
press close without lust, his lips press her neck,
The father holds his grown or ungrown son in his arms with
measureless love, and the son holds the father in his arms with
measureless love,
The white hair of the mother shines on the white wrist of the daughter,
The breath of the boy goes with the breath of the man, friend is
inarm'd by friend,
The scholar kisses the teacher and the teacher kisses the scholar,
the wrong 'd made right,
The call of the slave is one with the master's call, and the master
salutes the slave,
The felon steps forth from the prison, the insane becomes sane, the
suffering of sick persons is reliev'd,
The sweatings and fevers stop, the throat that was unsound is sound,
the lungs of the consumptive are resumed, the poor distress'd
head is free,
The joints of the rheumatic move as smoothly as ever, and smoother
than ever,
Stiflings and passages open, the paralyzed become supple,
The swell'd and convuls'd and congested awake to themselves in condition,
They pass the invigoration of the night and the chemistry of the
night, and awake.
I too pass from the night,
I stay a while away O night, but I return to you again and love you.
Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you?
I am not afraid, I have been well brought forward by you,
I love the rich running day, but I do not desert her in whom I lay so long,
I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you, but
I know I came well and shall go well.
I will stop only a time with the night, and rise betimes,
I will duly pass the day O my mother, and duly return to you.
 

Poems by This Author

A child said, What is the grass? by Walt Whitman
A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
A Clear Midnight by Walt Whitman
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
A noiseless patient spider
A Woman Waits for Me by Walt Whitman
A woman waits for me, she contains all, nothing is lacking,
America by Walt Whitman
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
Among the Multitude by Walt Whitman
Among the men and women, the multitude
As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days by Walt Whitman
As I walk these broad majestic days of peace
Calamus [In Paths Untrodden] by Walt Whitman
In paths untrodden
Come Up From the Fields Father by Walt Whitman
Come up from the fields father, here's a letter from our Pete,
Come, said my Soul by Walt Whitman
Come, said my Soul
Continuities by Walt Whitman
Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry by Walt Whitman
Flood-tide below me! I watch you face to face
Delicate Cluster by Walt Whitman
Delicate cluster! flag of teeming life
Election Day, November, 1884 by Walt Whitman
If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show
Excelsior by Walt Whitman
Who has gone farthest? for I would go farther,
I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
I Sing the Body Electric by Walt Whitman
I sing the body electric,
Mannahatta by Walt Whitman
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city
Miracles by Walt Whitman
Why, who makes much of a miracle
O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The
O Me! O Life! by Walt Whitman
On the Beach at Night Alone by Walt Whitman
On the beach at night alone
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking by Walt Whitman
Out of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd by Walt Whitman
Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop gently to me
Passage to India by Walt Whitman
Singing my days
So Long by Walt Whitman
To conclude—I announce what comes after me
Sometimes with One I Love by Walt Whitman
Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I
Song of Myself, I, II, VI & LII by Walt Whitman
I celebrate myself,
Song of Myself, III by Walt Whitman
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end
Song of Myself, X by Walt Whitman
Alone far in the wilds and mountains I hunt,
Song of Myself, XI by Walt Whitman
Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore
Spirit that Form'd this Scene by Walt Whitman
Spirit that form'd this scene,
Spontaneous Me by Walt Whitman
Spontaneous me, Nature
The Indications [excerpt] by Walt Whitman
The words of the true poems give you more than poems
The Untold Want by Walt Whitman
The untold want, by life and land ne’er granted
The Wound-Dresser by Walt Whitman
An old man bending I come among new faces
This Compost by Walt Whitman
Something startles me where I thought I was safest
Thoughts by Walt Whitman
OF the visages of things—And of piercing through
To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman
Thee for my recitative!
To Think of Time by Walt Whitman
To think of time—of all that retrospection
To You by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
Unfolded Out of the Folds by Walt Whitman
Unfolded out of the folds of the woman, man comes unfolded, and is always to come unfolded
Washington's Monument, February, 1885 by Walt Whitman
Ah, not this marble, dead and cold
When I Heard at the Close of Day by Walt Whitman
When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv'd
When I Heard the Learned Astronomer by Walt Whitman
When I heard the learn'd astronomer,
When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand by Walt Whitman
Whoever you are, holding me now in hand
World Below the Brine by Walt Whitman
The world below the brine


Further Reading

Dreams
Monna Innominata [I dream of you, to wake]
by Christina Rossetti
The Book of a Thousand Eyes [A dream, still clinging like light to the dark, rounding]
by Lyn Hejinian
A Bedtime Story For Mr. Lamb
by Arthur Nevis
A Book Said Dream and I Do
by Barbara Ras
A Dream Within a Dream
by Edgar Allan Poe
Bedside
by William Olsen
Counting
by Douglas Goetsch
Cradle Song
by William Blake
Darkness
by George Gordon Byron
Dear Tiara
by Sean Thomas Dougherty
Dream In Which I Meet Myself
by Lynn Emanuel
Dream of the Evil Servant
by Reetika Vazirani
Dream Song 1
by John Berryman
Dream Variations
by Langston Hughes
Dreaming About My Father
by Ed Ochester
Flying
by Sarah Arvio
Grasshopper
by Ron Padgett
He Dreams of Falling
by Ruth Ellen Kocher
His Heart
by Caroline Knox
I am Like a Desert Owl, an Owl Among the Ruins
by Noelle Kocot
I Might Have Dreamed This
by Kirsten Dierking
it was a dream
by Lucille Clifton
Japanese Lullaby
by Eugene Field
Joyride
by Ana Božičević
Kristin's Dream In November
by Bernadette Mayer
Last
by Maxine Scates
Lullaby of an Infant Chief
by Sir Walter Scott
Making the Bed
by Burt Kimmelman
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
by Michael Ryan
Nocturne
by Wayne Miller
O Little Root of a Dream
by Paul Celan
Our eunuch dreams
by Dylan Thomas
Prologue of the Earthly Paradise
by William Morris
Raven's Last Dream
by Red Hawk
Scarecrow on Fire
by Dean Young
Separation is the necessary condition for light.
by Brian Teare
The Dream of the Just
by Dana Gelinas
The Dreamer
by Djuna Barnes
The Good-Morrow
by John Donne
The House
by Richard Wilbur
The Land of Nod
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Republic of Dreams
by Michael Palmer
The Sandman
by Margaret Thomson Janvier
The Song in the Dream
by Saskia Hamilton
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
Variation on the Word Sleep
by Margaret Atwood
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
by Eugene Field
Poems about Anonymity and Loneliness
"My True Love Hath My Heart and I Have His"
by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge
79
by Joachim du Bellay
Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]
by Claudia Rankine
Acts of Mind
by Catherine Barnett
Alone
by Maya Angelou
Alone for a Week
by Jane Kenyon
Angel of Duluth [excerpt]
by Madelon Sprengnether
At a Window
by Carl Sandburg
Beyond the Pane
by Greg Hewett
Boston
by Aaron Smith
Danse Russe
by William Carlos Williams
Dear Lonely Animal,
by Oni Buchanan
Demeter in Paris
by Meghan O'Rourke
Donal Óg
by Isabella Augusta, Lady Gregory
Drawing from Life
by Reginald Shepherd
Eating Alone
by Li-Young Lee
Found Poem
by Howard Nemerov
Gospel
by Philip Levine
How I Am
by Jason Shinder
How the mind works still to be sure
by Jennifer Denrow
How to See Deer
by Philip Booth
I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone
by Rainer Maria Rilke
I Am!
by John Clare
I'm Nobody! Who are you? (260)
by Emily Dickinson
Isolation: To Marguerite
by Matthew Arnold
Loneliness
by Trumbull Stickney
Mnemosyne
by Trumbull Stickney
Montparnasse
by Ernest Hemingway
Mountain Pines
by Robinson Jeffers
Museum
by Glyn Maxwell
Ode to Solitude
by Alexander Pope
On the Terrace
by Landis Everson
R.I.P., My Love
by Tory Dent
Sex
by Michael Ryan
Skunk Hour
by Robert Lowell
Song of Myself
by John Canaday
Song of Quietness
by Robinson Jeffers
Sonnet V
by Mahmoud Darwish
Sympathy
by Edith Franklin Wyatt
The Creation
by James Weldon Johnson
The Daffodils
by William Wordsworth
The Hermit Goes Up Attic
by Maxine Kumin
The Living Beauty
by W. B. Yeats
The Long Deployment
by Jehanne Dubrow
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
by T. S. Eliot
The Suicide
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
the suicide kid
by Charles Bukowski
The Whole World Is Gone
by Jennifer Grotz
This Is a Photograph of Me
by Margaret Atwood
Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden
Toro
by Sarah Gambito
WHERE?
by Kenneth Patchen
White Days
by Priscilla Becker
Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand
by Walt Whitman
Why Is the Color of Snow?
by Brenda Shaughnessy
Your Catfish Friend
by Richard Brautigan