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Song of the Open Road


AFOOT and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me
     wherever I go,

I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill'd with them; and I will fill them in return.)


You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are
     not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.

Here the profound lesson of reception, nor preference nor
The black with his woolly head, the felon, the diseas'd, the
     illiterate person, are not denied;
The birth, the hasting after the physician, the beggar's tramp,
     the drunkard's stagger, the laughing party of mechanics,
The escaped youth, the rich person's carriage, the fop, the
     eloping couple,
The early market-man, the hearse, the moving of furniture
     into the town, the return back from the town,
They pass, I also pass, any thing passes, none can be
None but are accepted, none but shall be dear to me.


You air that serves me with breath to speak!
You objects that call from diffusion my meanings and give
     them shape!
You light that wraps me and all things in delicate equable
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are so
     dear to me.

You flagg'd walks of the cities! you strong curbs at the edges!
You ferries! you planks and posts of wharves! you timberlined
     sides! you distant ships!
You rows of houses! you window-pierc'd façades! you roofs!
You porches and entrances! you copings and iron guards!
You windows whose transparent shells might expose so much!

You doors and ascending steps! you arches!
You gray stones of interminable pavements! you trodden
From all that has touch'd you I believe you have imparted to
     yourselves, and now would impart the same secretly to me,
From the living and the dead you have peopled your impassive
     surfaces, and the spirits thereof would be evident and
     amicable with me.


The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where
     it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road, the gay fresh sentiment
     of the road.

O highway I travel, do you say to me Do not leave me?
Do you say Venture not&emdash;if you leave me you are lost?
Do you say I am already prepared, I am well-beaten and
     undenied, adhere to me?

O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I
     love you,
You express me better than I can express myself,
You shall be more to me than my poem.

I think heroic deeds were all conceiv'd in the open air, and all
     free poems also,
I think I could stop here myself and do miracles,
I think whatever I shall meet on the road I shall like, and
     whoever beholds me shall like me,
I think whoever I see must be happy.


From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and
     imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,

Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the
     holds that would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south
     are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such
     good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless


Now if a thousand perfect men were to appear it would not
     amaze me,
Now if a thousand beautiful forms of women appear'd it
     would not astonish me.

Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the

Here a great personal deed has room,
(Such a deed seizes upon the hearts of the whole race of men,
Its effusion of strength and will overwhelms law and mocks
     all authority and all argument against it.)

Here is the test of wisdom,
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it to another not
     having it,

Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities and is content,
Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and
     the excellence of things;
Something there is in the float of the sight of things that
     provokes it out of the soul.

Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all
     under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and
     flowing currents.

Here is realization,
Here is a man tallied&emdash;he realizes here what he has in him,
The past, the future, majesty, love&emdash;if they are vacant of you,
    you are vacant of them.

Only the kernel of every object nourishes;
Where is he who tears off the husks for you and me?
Where is he that undoes stratagems and envelopes for you
     and me?

Here is adhesiveness, it is not previously fashion'd, it is
Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by strangers?
Do you know the talk of those turning eye-balls?


Here is the efflux of the soul,
The efflux of the soul comes from within through embower'd
     gates, ever provoking questions,
These yearnings why are they? these thoughts in the darkness
     why are they?
Why are there men and women that while they are nigh me
     the sunlight expands my blood?
Why when they leave me do my pennants of joy sink flat and
Why are there trees I never walk under but large and
     melodious thoughts descend upon me?

(I think they hang there winter and summer on those trees
     and always drop fruit as I pass;)
What is it I interchange so suddenly with strangers?
What with some driver as I ride on the seat by his side?
What with some fisherman drawing his seine by the shore as
     I walk by and pause?
What gives me to be free to a woman's and man's good-will?
     what gives them to be free to mine?


The efflux of the soul is happiness, here is happiness,
I think it pervades the open air, waiting at all times,
Now it flows unto us, we are rightly charged.

Here rises the fluid and attaching character,
The fluid and attaching character is the freshness and
     sweetness of man and woman,
(The herbs of the morning sprout no fresher and sweeter
     every day out of the roots of themselves, than it sprouts
     fresh and sweet continually out of itself.)
Toward the fluid and attaching character exudes the sweat of
     the love of young and old,
From it falls distill'd the charm that mocks beauty and
Toward it heaves the shuddering longing ache of contact.


Allons! whoever you are come travel with me!
Travelling with me you find what never tires.

The earth never tires,
The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is
     rude and incomprehensible at first,
Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well
I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than
    words can tell.

Allons! we must not stop here,
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this
     dwelling we cannot remain here,
However shelter'd this port and however calm these waters
     we must not anchor here,
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are
     permitted to receive it but a little while.


Allons! the inducements shall be greater,
We will sail pathless and wild seas,
We will go where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee
     clipper speeds by under full sail.

Allons! with power, liberty, the earth, the elements,
Health, defiance, gayety, self-esteem, curiosity;
Allons! from all formules!
From your formules, O bat-eyed and materialistic priests.

The stale cadaver blocks up the passage&emdash;the burial waits no

Allons! yet take warning!
He traveling with me needs the best blood, thews, endurance,
None may come to the trial till he or she bring courage and
Come not here if you have already spent the best of yourself,
Only those may come who come in sweet and determin'd bodies,
No diseas'd person, no rum-drinker or venereal taint is
     permitted here.

(I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes, rhymes,
We convince by our presence.)


Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:

You shall not heap up what is call'd riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin'd, you
     hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are
     call'd by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of
     those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer
     with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their
     reach'd hands toward you.


Allons! after the great Companions, and to belong to them!
They too are on the road&emdash;they are the swift and majestic
     men&emdash;they are the greatest women,
Enjoyers of calms of seas and storms of seas,
Sailors of many a ship, walkers of many a mile of land,
Habituès of many distant countries, habituès of
     far-distant dwellings,
Trusters of men and women, observers of cities, solitary
Pausers and contemplators of tufts, blossoms, shells of the
Dancers at wedding-dances, kissers of brides, tender helpers of
     children, bearers of children,
Soldiers of revolts, standers by gaping graves, lowerers-down
     of coffins,
Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years, the
     curious years each emerging from that which proceded it,
Journeyers as with companions, namely their own diverse
Forth-steppers from the latent unrealized baby-days,
Journeyers gayly with their own youth, journeyers with their
     bearded and well-grain'd manhood,
Journeyers with their womanhood, ample, unsurpass'd,
Journeyers with their own sublime old age of manhood or

Old age, calm, expanded, broad with the haughty breadth of
     the universe,
Old age, flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of


Allons! to that which is endless as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and
     nights they tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys,
To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass
To conceive no time, however distant, but what you may
     reach it and pass it,
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for
     you, however long but it stretches and waits for you,
To see no being, not God's or any, but you also go thither,
To see no possession but you may possess it, enjoying all
     without labor or purchase, abstracting the feast yet not
     abstracting one particle of it,
To take the best of the farmer's farm and the rich man's
     elegant villa, and the chaste blessings of the well-married
     couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens,
To take to your use out of the compact cities as you pass
To carry buildings and streets with you afterward wherever you go,
To gather the minds of men out of their brains as you
     encounter them, to gather the love out of their hearts,
To take your lovers on the road with you, for all that you
     leave them behind you,
To know the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads
     for traveling souls.

All parts away for the progress of souls,
All religion, all solid things, arts, governments&emdash;all that was
     or is apparent upon this globe or any globe, falls into
     niches and corners before the procession of souls along
     the grand roads of the universe.

Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the
     grand roads of the universe, all other progress is the
     needed emblem and sustenance.

Forever alive, forever forward,
Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent,
     feeble, dissatisfied,
Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where
     they go,
But I know that they go toward the best&emdash;toward
     something great.

Whoever you are, come forth! or man or woman come forth!
You must not stay sleeping and dallying there in the house,
     though you built it, or though it has been built for you.

Out of the dark confinement! out from behind the screen!
It is useless to protest, I know all and expose it.

Behold through you as bad as the rest,
Through the laughter, dancing, dining, supping, of people,
Inside of dresses and ornaments, inside of those wash'd and
     trimm'd faces,
Behold a secret silent loathing and despair.

No husband, no wife, no friend, trusted to hear the confession,
Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,
Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities, polite
     and bland in the parlors,
In the cars of railroads, in steamboats, in the public assembly,
Home to the houses of men and women, at the table, in the
     bedroom, everywhere,
Smartly attired, countenance smiling, form upright, death
     under the breast-bones, hell under the skull-bones,
Under the broadcloth and gloves, under the ribbons and
     artificial flowers,

Keeping fair with the customs, speaking not a syllable of
Speaking of any thing else but never of itself.


Allons! through struggles and wars!
The goal that was named cannot be countermanded.

Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? Nature?
Now understand me well&emdash;it is provided in the essence of
     things that from any fruition of success, no matter what,
     shall come forth something to make a greater struggle

My call is the call of battle, I nourish active rebellion,
He going with me must go well arm'd,
He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry
     enemies, desertions.


Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe&emdash;I have tried it&emdash;my own feet have tried it well&emdash;be
     not detain'd!
Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on
     the shelf unopen'd!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in
     the court, and the judge expound the law.

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precise than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

1856                                                                  1881

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