Walt Whitman was one of America’s greatest and most influential poets. He wrote all kinds of poems, journals, and essays during his life, but it was his poetry collection Leaves of Grass that really set him apart and solidified his status as the “father of free verse.”
When it was first published in 1855, Leaves of Grass caused a sensation in the literary world. Each of the poems in the collection is loosely connected and explores ideas of humanism and human sensuality. While many people hailed it as a masterpiece, it was also seen as controversial and even scandalous at the time since it touched on sexual themes that shocked more prudish readers.
Whitman published the Leaves of Grass with his own money and continued to expand and revise it throughout his life until he died in 1892. His work is still hugely influential today, and his legacy lives on as the “poet of America.”
To celebrate the life and career of the incredible Walt Whitman, I’ve gathered 50 of his best-loved quotes. Enjoy!
1. “Be curious, not judgmental.“
2. “Resist much, obey little.“
3. “Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
4. “What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.”
5. “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”
6. “I have learned that to be with those I like is enough”
7. “Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
8. “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.”
9. “Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”
10. “Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
11. “Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
12. “We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.”
13. “I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”
14. “Peace is always beautiful.”
15. “Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged. Missing me one place, search another. I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
16. “These are the days that must happen to you.”
17. “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.”
18. “Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.”
19. “And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
20. “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person.”
21. “The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.”
22. “I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d, I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition, They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.”
23. “Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us; shedding light over this world can alone help us.”
24. “God is a mean-spirited, pugnacious bully bent on revenge against His children for failing to live up to his impossible standards.”
25. “O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”
26. “I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake.”
27. “Re-examine all you have been told. Dismiss what insults your soul.”
28. “If you done it, it ain’t bragging.”
29. “Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me.”
30. “Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.”
31. “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
32. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
33. “And as to me, I know nothing else but miracles”
34. “I am satisfied … I see, dance, laugh, sing.”
35. “In the faces of men and women, I see God.”
36. “I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.”
37. “O captain! My Captain!
Our fearful trip is done.
The ship has weather’d every wrack
The prize we sought is won
The port is near, the bells I hear
The people all exulting
While follow eyes, the steady keel
The vessel grim and daring
But Heart! Heart! Heart!
O the bleeding drops of red
Where on the deck my captain lies
Fallen cold and dead.”
― Walt Whitman
38. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
39. “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.”
40. “Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning – I am surely far different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover?
Do you think the friendship of me would be unalloy’d satisfaction?
Do you think I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade—this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it may be all maya, illusion?”
41. “Give me the splendid, silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling.”
42. “Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”
43. “The real war will never get in the books.”
44. “If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good help to you nevertheless
And filter and fiber your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you”
45. “I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.”
46. “I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or
wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.”
47. “I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best. ”
48. “Long enough have you dream’d contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light
and of every moment of your life”
49. “All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”
50. “A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.”
I hope you enjoyed reading these poignant quotes from one of America’s best loved poets, Walt Whitman. Which is your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.
Check out these other great posts!
50 Inspiring Octavia E Butler Quotes
50 Fascinating Edgar Allan Poe Quotes
40 Wise and Inspiring Joan Didion Quotes
50 TS Eliot Quotes (Author of The Waste Land)