Life-Affirming Words of Wisdom from Walt Whitman


Brooklyn bard Walt Whitman, born in Long Island on this day, is the subject of a new opera by composer Matthew Aucoin called Crossing. “Whitman is a figure that I have been fascinated by for a long time, and his personal journey, his decision to drop everything and volunteer in the hospitals for three or four years [post Leaves of Grass], and the mystery of that,” said the artist. “What was he really doing beforehand? Was he in some sort of middle-life crisis? What were his motives?” Whitman’s life and words continue to provoke questions and inspire readers. The poet’s humanist, transcendentalist approach to relationships, nature, beauty, and the soul is life-affirming — as evidenced in these quotes and fragments of his poetry.

“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”

“Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”

“I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.”

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.”

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

���The future is no more uncertain than the present.”

“Have you heard that it was good to gain the day? I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.”

“I exist as I am, that is enough, If no other in the world be aware I sit content, And if each and all be aware I sit content. One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself, And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years, I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.”

“I have learned that to be with those I like is enough.”

“When I give, I give myself.”

“Oh while I live, to be the ruler of life, not a slave, to meet life as a powerful conqueror, and nothing exterior to me will ever take command of me.”

“The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.”

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose. Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune. Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

“The soul or spirit transmutes itself into all matter — into rocks, and cand live the life of a rock—into the sea, and can feel itself the sea—into the oak, or other tree — into an animal, and feel itself a horse, a fish, or a bird—into the earth — into the motions of the suns and stars.”

“The beauty of independence, departure, actions that rely on themselves.”

“We convince by our presence.”

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”

“If you see a good deal remarkable in me, I see just as much remarkable in you.”