Though Walt Whitman, whose poem we have selected for this Sunday, invokes "Paumanok ... you fish-shaped island," the location "stands for all the water and all the land of the globe". The question still remains - where are we in the greater scheme of things? Whitman's humility is great - he mocks his own work, "I perceive I have not understood anything". All he asks is that the elements are kind to him and vice versa "I mean tenderly by you". Rather inspiring.
O I wish I could impress others as you and the waves
have just been impressing me.
As I ebbed with an ebb of the ocean of life,
As I wended the shores I know,
As I walked 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 the eternal self of me that threatens
to get the better of me, and stifle me,
Was seized by the spirit that trails in the lines
In the rim, the sediment, that stands for all the water
and all the land of the globe.
Fascinated, my eyes, reverting from the south,
dropped, 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 walked with that eternal self of me, seeking
As I wend the shores I know not,
As I listen to the dirge, the voices of men and women
As I inhale the impalpable breezes that set in
As the ocean so mysterious rolls toward me closer
At once I find, the least thing that belongs to me, or
that I see or touch, I know not;
I, too, but signify, at the utmost, a little washed-up
A few sands and dead leaves to gather,
Gather, and merge myself as part of the sands and
O baffled, balked,
Bent to the very earth, here preceding what follows,
Oppressed with myself that I have dared to open my
Aware now, that, amid all the blab whose echoes
recoil 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
still stands untouched, untold, altogether un-
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congrat-
ulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word
I have written or shall write,
Striking me with insults till I fall helpless upon the
O I perceive I have not understood anything—not a
single object—and that no man ever can.
I perceive Nature here, in sight of the sea, is taking
advantage of me, to dart upon me, and sting me,
Because I was assuming so much,
And because I have dared to open my mouth to sing
You oceans both! You tangible land! Nature!
Be not too rough with me—I submit—I close with
These little shreds shall, indeed, stand for all.
You friable shore, with trails of debris!
You fish-shaped island! I take what is underfoot;
What is yours is mine, my father.
I too Paumanok,
I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float,
and been washed on your shores;
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped
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.
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,
For I fear I shall become crazed, if I cannot emulate
it, and utter myself as well as it.
Sea-raff! Crook-tongued waves!
O, I will yet sing, some day, what you have said
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.
I mean tenderly by you,
I gather for myself, and for this phantom, looking
down where we lead, and following me and
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,
Buoyed 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, up there, walking or
Whoever you are—we too lie in drifts at your feet.
"ELEMENTAL drifts" by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass.
Reprinted after The Walt Whitman Archive. In public domain.