Walt Whitman: Poems

Leaves of Grass: This Compost


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 the ground 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 distempered corpses in you?

Is not every continent worked 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 deceived;

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.


Behold this compost! behold it well!

Perhaps every mite has once formed part of a sick person--Yet behold!

The grass 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


The young of poultry break through the hatched eggs,

The new-born of animals appear--the calf is dropped 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 summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour


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


That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves

in it,

That all is clean for ever and for ever,

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 of 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 sphere of grass rises out of what was once a catching



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 diseased corpses,

It distils 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.