These I, singing in spring, collect for lovers:
For who but I should understand lovers, and all their sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?
Collecting, I traverse the garden, the world--but soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side--now wading in a little, fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences, where the old stones thrown there, picked
from the fields, have accumulated,
Wild flowers and vines and weeds come up through the stones, and partly
cover them--Beyond these I pass,
Far, far in the forest, before I think where I go,
Solitary, smelling the earthy smell, stopping now and then in the silence;
Alone, I had thought--yet soon a silent troop gathers around me;
Some walk by my side, and some behind, and some embrace my arms or neck,
They, the spirits of friends, dead or alive--thicker they come, a great
crowd, and I in the middle,
Collecting, dispensing, singing in spring, there I wander with them,
Plucking something for tokens--tossing toward whoever is near me.
Here lilac, with a branch of pine,
Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pulled off a live-oak in Florida,
as it hung trailing down,
Here some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage,
And here what I now draw from the water, wading in the pond-side,
(O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me--and returns again, never to
separate from me,
And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades--this Calamus-
Interchange it, youths, with each other! Let none render it back!)
And twigs of maple, and a bunch of wild orange, and chestnut,
And stems of currants, and plum-blows, and the aromatic cedar,
These I, compassed around by a thick cloud of spirits,
Wandering, point to, or touch as I pass, or throw them loosely from me,
Indicating to each one what he shall have--giving something to each.
But what I drew from the water by the pond-side, that I reserve;
I will give of it--but only to them that love as I myself am capable of
[Footnote 1: I am favoured with the following indication, from Mr Whitman]
himself, of the relation in which this word Calamus is to be
understood:--"Calamus is the very large and aromatic grass or rush growing
about water-ponds in the valleys--spears about three feet high; often
called Sweet Flag; grows all over the Northern and Middle States. The
_recherche_ or ethereal sense of the term, as used in my book, arises
probably from the actual Calamus presenting the biggest and hardiest kind
of spears of grass, and their fresh, aquatic, pungent _bouquet_."