[44] It is time to explain myself -- let us stand up (from Song of Myself)

by Walt Whitman


Original Language English

It is time to explain myself -- let us stand up.
What is known I strip away,
I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown.
The clock indicates the moment -- but what does eternity indicate?
We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.
Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Were mankind murderous or jealous upon you, my brother, my sister?
I am sorry for you, they are not murderous or jealous upon me,
All has been gentle with me, I keep no account with lamentation,
(What have I to do with lamentation?)

I am an acme of things accomplished, and I am encloser of things to be.
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly traveled, and still I mount and mount.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.

Long was I hugged close -- long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.

For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care.
All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

-- from Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Several of the lines from this selection just ring through the decades. I know this is a bit longer than most of the poems I send out, but don't rush through it. Take a restful few moments to read this slowly. Enjoy the flavor of the words on your tongue, let them sweeten your thoughts.

Find the lines that sing to you.

Like so much of Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself,' this chapter has a wonderful sense of the sacred tumult of life. He is especially meditating upon how all of life and the ages of the past "trillions of winters and summers" has led up to this moment, to this scintillating instant.

And it is in the present moment that he discovers himself resting upon the crest of the wave of eternity:

Long was I hugged close -- long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me...


Whitman isn't interested in some sort of religious idea of perfection. For him, what is important is to inhabit the present ("That which fills its period and place is equal to any.") and to recognize in the present (and in yourself) the fulfillment of eons ("I am an acme of things accomplished...").

Yet, in the messy and sometimes "murderous" fullness of the present, nothing is static. The present continuously flows into the future: "...I am the encloser of things to be," "...and still I mount and mount."

Whitman comes to a profound realization when he sees back to "the huge first Nothing," and proclaims, "I know I was even there." He is not talking about some ancient event that he was present for in an historical sense. He is recognizing a fundamental truth of reality, that all of life and form is given birth from a living Void or Womb... and his awareness was there, and is still there now. In other words, he has discovered and is shouting out the realization that awareness precedes the world of physicality and form and time. That line, "I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there," sounds startlingly like the Buddhist koan or instruction to 'discover your original face before you were born,' guidance that can lead the practitioner to discover Nirvana or the Nothingness that is the true foundation of reality.

In this mighty vision of reality, Whitman continuously asserts that everything has led up to the immensity of the present moment, and to the vastness of the one who inhabits it -- his very own Self. "All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me."

Whitman invites us to call out with him:

Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.



Recommended Books: Walt Whitman

The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse Song of Myself Leaves of Grass Dead Poets Society (DVD)





44] It is time to