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This Compost by Walt Whitman | Poets.org

This Compost

1

 

Something startles me where I thought I was safest,

I withdraw from the still woods I loved,

I will not go now on the pastures to walk,

I will not strip the clothes from my body to meet my

lover the sea,

I will not touch my flesh to the earth as to other

flesh to renew me.

 

O how can it be that the ground itself does not

sicken?

How can you be alive you growths of spring?

How can you furnish health you blood of herbs,

roots, orchards, grain?

Are they not continually putting distemper'd corpses

within you?

Is not every continent work'd over and over with

sour dead?

 

Where have you disposed of their carcasses?

Those drunkards and gluttons of so many

generations?

Where have you drawn off all the foul liquid and

meat?

I do not see any of it upon you to-day, or perhaps

I am deceiv'd,

I will run a furrow with my plough, I will press my

spade through the sod and turn it up underneath,

I am sure I shall expose some of the foul meat.

 

2

 

Behold this compost! behold it well!

Perhaps every mite has once form'd part of a sick

person--yet behold!

The grass of spring covers the prairies,

The bean bursts noiselessly through the mould in

the garden,

The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,

The apple-buds cluster together on the

apple-branches,

The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale

visage out of its graves,

The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the

mulberry-tree,

The he-birds carol mornings and evenings while

the she-birds sit on their nests,

The young of poultry break through the

hatch'd eggs,

The new-born of animals appear, the calf is dropt

from the cow, the colt from the mare,

Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato's dark

green leaves,

Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk, the lilacs

bloom in the dooryards,

The summer growth is innocent and disdainful

above all those strata of sour dead.

 

What chemistry!

That the winds are really not infectious,

That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash

of the sea which is so amorous after me,

That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all

over with its tongues,

That it will not endanger me with the fevers that

have deposited themselves in it,

That all is clean forever and forever,

That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,

That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,

That the fruits of the apple-orchard and the orange-

orchard, that melons, grapes, peaches, plums,

will none of them poison me,

That when I recline on the grass I do not catch

any disease,

Though probably every spear of grass rises out of

what was once a catching disease.

 

Now I am terrified at the Earth, it is that calm

and patient,

It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,

It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with

such endless successions of diseas'd corpses,

It distills such exquisite winds out of such

infused fetor,

It renews with such unwitting looks its prodigal,

annual, sumptuous crops,

It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts

 

such leavings from them at last.

 

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