I SING the body electric; The armies of those I love engirth me, and I engirth them; They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them, And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the Soul.

Was it doubted that those who corrupt their own bodies conceal themselves; And if those who defile the living are as bad as they who defile the dead? And if the body does not do as much as the Soul? And if the body were not the Soul, what is the Soul?

The love of the body of man or woman balks account--the body itself balks account; That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.

The expression of the face balks account; But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face; It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists; It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees--dress does not hide him; The strong, sweet, supple quality he has, strikes through the cotton and flannel; To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more; You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder- side.

The sprawl and fulness of babes, the bosoms and heads of women, the folds of their dress, their style as we pass in the street, the contour of their shape downwards, The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up, and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water, The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats--the horseman in his saddle, Girls, mothers, house-keepers, in all their performances, The group of laborers seated at noon-time with their open dinner- kettles, and their wives waiting, The female soothing a child--the farmer's daughter in the garden or cow-yard, The young fellow hoeing corn--the sleigh-driver guiding his six horses through the crowd, The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sundown, after work, The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance, The upper-hold and the under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes; The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps, The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert, The natural, perfect, varied attitudes--the bent head, the curv'd neck, and the counting; 30 Such-like I love--I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother's breast with the little child, Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, and count.

I know a man, a common farmer--the father of five sons; And in them were the fathers of sons--and in them were the fathers of sons.

This man was of wonderful vigor, calmness, beauty of person; The shape of his head, the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, and the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes--the richness and breadth of his manners, These I used to go and visit him to see--he was wise also; He was six feet tall, he was over eighty years old--his sons were massive, clean, bearded, tan-faced, handsome; They and his daughters loved him--all who saw him loved him; They did not love him by allowance--they loved him with personal love; He drank water only--the blood show'd like scarlet through the clear- brown skin of his face; He was a frequent gunner and fisher--he sail'd his boat himself--he had a fine one presented to him by a ship-joiner--he had fowling-pieces, presented to him by men that loved him; When he went with his five sons and many grand-sons to hunt or fish, you would pick him out as the most beautiful and vigorous of the gang.

You would wish long and long to be with him--you would wish to sit by him in the boat, that you and he might touch each other.

I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough, To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough, To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough, To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment--what is this, then? I do not ask any more delight--I swim in it, as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well; All things please the soul--but these please the soul well.

This is the female form; A divine nimbus exhales from it from head to foot; It attracts with fierce undeniable attraction! I am drawn by its breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor-- all falls aside but myself and it; Books, art, religion, time, the visible and solid earth, the atmosphere and the clouds, and what was expected of heaven or fear'd of hell, are now consumed; Mad filaments, ungovernable shoots play out of it--the response likewise ungovernable; Hair, bosom, hips, bend of legs, negligent falling hands, all diffused--mine too diffused; Ebb stung by the flow, and flow stung by the ebb--love-flesh swelling and deliciously aching; Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous, quivering jelly of love, white-blow and delirious juice; Bridegroom night of love, working surely and softly into the prostrate dawn; Undulating into the willing and yielding day, Lost in the cleave of the clasping and sweet-flesh'd day.

This is the nucleus--after the child is born of woman, the man is born of woman; This is the bath of birth--this is the merge of small and large, and the outlet again.

Be not ashamed, women--your privilege encloses the rest, and is the exit of the rest; You are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.

The female contains all qualities, and tempers them--she is in her place, and moves with perfect balance; She is all things duly veil'd--she is both passive and active; She is to conceive daughters as well as sons, and sons as well as daughters.

As I see my soul reflected in nature; As I see through a mist, one with inexpressible completeness and beauty, See the bent head, and arms folded over the breast--the female I see.

The male is not less the soul, nor more--he too is in his place; He too is all qualities--he is action and power; The flush of the known universe is in him; Scorn becomes him well, and appetite and defiance become him well; The wildest largest passions, bliss that is utmost, sorrow that is utmost, become him well--pride is for him; The full-spread pride of man is calming and excellent to the soul; Knowledge becomes him--he likes it always--he brings everything to the test of himself; Whatever the survey, whatever the sea and the sail, he strikes soundings at last only here; (Where else does he strike soundings, except here?)

The man's body is sacred, and the woman's body is sacred; No matter who it is, it is sacred; Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf? Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as the well-off--just as much as you; Each has his or her place in the procession.

(All is a procession; The universe is a procession, with measured and beautiful motion.)

Do you know so much yourself, that you call the slave or the dull- face ignorant? Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight? Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float--and the soil is on the surface, and water runs, and vegetation sprouts, For you only, and not for him and her?

A man's body at auction; I help the auctioneer--the sloven does not half know his business.

Gentlemen, look on this wonder! Whatever the bids of the bidders, they cannot be high enough for it; For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years, without one animal or plant; For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll'd.

In this head the all-baffling brain; In it and below it, the makings of heroes.

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white--they are so cunning in tendon and nerve; They shall be stript, that you may see them.

Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition, Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant back-bone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs, And wonders within there yet.

Within there runs blood, The same old blood! The same red-running blood! There swells and jets a heart--there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations; Do you think they are not there because they are not express'd in parlors and lecture-rooms?

This is not only one man--this is the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns; In him the start of populous states and rich republics; Of him countless immortal lives, with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries? Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?

A woman's body at auction! She too is not only herself--she is the teeming mother of mothers; She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.

Have you ever loved the body of a woman? Have you ever loved the body of a man? Your father--where is your father? Your mother--is she living? have you been much with her? and has she been much with you? --Do you not see that these are exactly the same to all, in all nations and times, all over the earth?

If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred, And the glory and sweet of a man, is the token of manhood untainted; And in man or woman, a clean, strong, firm-fibred body, is beautiful as the most beautiful face.

Have you seen the fool that corrupted his own live body? or the fool that corrupted her own live body? For they do not conceal themselves, and cannot conceal themselves.

O my body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you; I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the Soul, (and that they are the Soul;) I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems--and that they are poems, Man's, woman's, child's, youth's, wife's, husband's, mother's, father's, young man's, young woman's poems; Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears, Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids, Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw- hinges, Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition, Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue, Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest.

Upper-arm, arm-pit, elbow-socket, lower-arm, arm-sinews, arm-bones, Wrist and wrist-joints, hand, palm, knuckles, thumb, fore-finger, finger-balls, finger-joints, finger-nails, Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast- side, Ribs, belly, back-bone, joints of the back-bone, Hips, hip-sockets, hip-strength, inward and outward round, man-balls, man-root, Strong set of thighs, well carrying the trunk above, Leg-fibres, knee, knee-pan, upper-leg, under leg, Ankles, instep, foot-ball, toes, toe-joints, the heel; All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body, or of any one's body, male or female, The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean, The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame, Sympathies, heart-valves, palate-valves, sexuality, maternity, womanhood, and all that is a woman--and the man that comes from woman, The womb, the teats, nipples, breast-milk, tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love-perturbations and risings, The voice, articulation, language, whispering, shouting aloud, Food, drink, pulse, digestion, sweat, sleep, walking, swimming, Poise on the hips, leaping, reclining, embracing, arm-curving and tightening, The continual changes of the flex of the mouth, and around the eyes, The skin, the sun-burnt shade, freckles, hair, The curious sympathy one feels, when feeling with the hand the naked meat of the body, The circling rivers, the breath, and breathing it in and out, The beauty of the waist, and thence of the hips, and thence downward toward the knees, The thin red jellies within you, or within me--the bones, and the marrow in the bones, The exquisite realization of health; O I say, these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the Soul, O I say now these are the Soul!

-- Walt Whitman, 1855

Walt Whitman's description of the body being the same as the soul in "I Sing the Body Electric" is important in understanding his equal desire and passion for all human beings. Because of this comparison of the body and the soul, Whitman's description of the minute details of the body becomes an important insight into his description of the quality of the soul. In this myriad of human beings, he describes his passion for both men and women, for people of other races, and for the elderly. In doing this, he creates a fabric that composes society, a transcendental concept, the Oversoul, a great collective unconscious that connects Whitman to his fellow men and women.

Whitman is fairly blunt when he compares the body to the soul. He makes direct comparisons with little figurative language when he says, "And if the body were not the soul, what is the soul?" (Whitman 8), and "O my body! ... / I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the soul, (and that they are the soul,)" (Whitman 129-130). He describes mothers as the "gates of the body" and the "gates of the soul" (Whitman 67). But these blunt descriptions aren't anything special and they don't amaze the reader in quite the same way as the last section of this poem. Between lines 131 and 162, Whitman describes the fine details of the human body. He delves into the internal as with "The lung-sponges, the stomach-sac, the bowels sweet and clean, / The brain in its folds inside the skull-frame" (Whitman 148-149) and even into the physical aspects of emotion such as "tears, laughter, weeping, love-looks, love perturbations and risings," (Whitman 152). He collects the pieces of the body, he describes the way it moves, the way it stands still, the individual beauty of each part of the whole, and he derives a sweeping conclusion, "O I say now these are the soul!" (Whitman 164)

His description of these details of the human body is worth inspection because he relates them to the soul. By analyzing each tiny portion of the human body, Whitman creates a complex and writhing entity, filled with mystery and freshness. But at the same time, he reminds the reader that this body is the soul. It suggests that the complexity of the soul is as deep and as beautiful as that of the body. This is apparent in lines 18-30, where Whitman describes the beauty of people going about their every day activities, stretching and bending their bodies in the way they were intended, and, stretching and bending their souls in the way they were intended as well. Furthermore, the qualities of the body that he describes reflect the qualities of the soul. His description of the "flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs" (Whitman 107) suggests a great strength and hardiness within the soul of those who Whitman describes.

Most peculiar of these descriptions, though, is Whitman's description of men and women. Though he describes men and women in two very different ways, he sees them as essentially the same and he describes both with passion, and he loves both as he loves everyone. He writes, "There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well," (Whitman 50), but this is where his description of men and women as similar ends. He describes first the body and the soul of the woman as having a "fierce undeniable attraction," (Whitman 53), "moving with perfect balance," (Whitman 69), and having "inexpressible completeness, sanity, beauty" (Whitman 73). He then gives man a different place in society, describing him as "action and power," (Whitman 76), "defiant" (Whitman 78), "blissful..., sorrowful..., prideful" (Whitman 79) and full of "knowledge" (Whitman 81). He describes men and women as having two unique places in society, the man as the one who must act, and the woman as the one who must be a mother and who must regulate the men. While this view may seem a little outdated, Whitman still finds both women and men beautiful as they fulfill their role in society.

In much the same way, Whitman is describing the Blacks who were being sold in slave auctions. He compares the "red, black, or white cunning in tendon and nerve" (Whitman 104), and explains that "Within there runs blood, / The same old blood! the same red-running blood! / There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations," (Whitman 109-111). In describing these similar body parts that the Black men share with the White men and with the Indians, Whitman is actually comparing the quality and the worth of their soul. He clearly feels passion for these people, and even says, "Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for the man's body," (Whitman 99) and continues to describe the incredible worth of any man's body in the following lines.

As his desires and passions are ignorant of gender or race, they are ignorant of age as well. This is apparent in Whitman's description of the farmer in the third set of lines. His "vigor, calmness, beauty of person," (Whitman 35) and "wisdom" (Whitman 37) were the reasons that "all who saw him loved him," (Whitman 39) and "you would wish to sit by him in the boat that you and he might touch each other" (Whitman 44). Clearly Whitman had great admiration for this man, and while, as with men and women, his love and passion for the man was different than it would be for a younger man, it was strong and true nonetheless.

Whitman's broad sense of passion and respect for everyone despite their age, race, or gender is incorporated into his belief in the Oversoul. In lines 18-30, he describes a thriving society that he loves, and he is incorporated into this society as he says, "Such-like I love - I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother's breast with the little child, / Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with the wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count." (Whitman 31-32). He later describes the similarity of all humans when he says, "Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts, / For you only, and not for him and her?" (Whitman 93-94). As with the difference between men and women, he puts the responsibilities of everyone in their place in society (his as being a poet preaching the American ideals), as he says, "Each has his or her place in the procession." (Whitman 88). The Oversoul, though, is particularly striking, because the way he describes the individual organs as the components of the body (and the soul) seems to be the same way that he describes the individual members of society as the components of this powerful, differentiated Oversoul.

Whitman's "I Sing the Body Electric" is a very moving description of the body, and of the soul, and most definitely of passion and love. Whitman clearly exhibits some ideas of what I would expect an ideal American to exhibit, and his appreciation for people for their simple humanity is breathtaking. His passion seems indiscriminate of gender, race, age, and even physical attractiveness. He loves the soul, and he loves people, and he loves the wriggling mass of individuals called the Oversoul. I can imagine no greater victory than the ability to see human beauty in the same way that Walt Whitman did so many years ago.

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