To A Stranger
Analysis of the Love Poem by Walt Whitman
Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
(It comes to me as a dream)
I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
face, flesh as we pass,
You take of my beard, breast, hands,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you
when I sit alone or wake at night, alone
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
The concept of brief encounters, even romantic encounters, with a stranger recurs often in the verses of Walt Whitman.
Take, for example, these lines from one of the inscriptions that Whitman wrote to his 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass.
Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me,
why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?
Clearly, Walt Whitman sees brief, chance encounters with strangers as an appropriate opportunity for the strangers to interact. Perhaps the communication will allow the strangers to become friends.
In the lines of “To A Stranger,” Whitman indicates that the strangers might become intimate and affectionate friends. The narrator in the poem is comfortably able to imagine himself creating a past history with the passing stranger and to foresee the opportunities for them to enjoy each other in physically affectionate ways.
Here’s a line from “Song of the Open Road,” written in 1860.
Do you know what it is, as you pass, to be loved by strangers? Do you know the talk of those turning eye-balls?
And from Whitman’s “Carol of Occupations.”
If you meet some stranger in the streets, and love him or her—why I often meet strangers in the street, and love them.
Also consider this excerpt from “Who Is Now Reading This?”
Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly loved me,
Walt Whitman’s verses create a sense of comfort with the idea that strangers can longingly look at each other and act upon their impulses. Perhaps the next encounter will be with one’s soulmate, as in the line, “You must be he I was seeking,” from “To A Stranger.”
It seems reasonable to presume that Walt Whitman met many strangers in his lifetime and enjoyed the encounters. It’s been said that Whitman was one of America’s first self-identified homosexuals and his lifestyle may have reflected his ease with and attraction to strangers.
“To A Stranger” is also known as “Calamus 22.” “Calamus” is a series or cluster of 45 poems that were included in the editions of Leaves Of Grass.
The “Calamus” series is about “manly attachment,” and it's a series in which Whitman will “tell the secret of my nights and days.” Both quotes are from the first poem in the “Calamus” series.
Among the concluding lines in “To A Stranger,” Walt Whitman says, “I am not to speak to you.” a phrase typical of a man following orders, as in society’s judgment against forbidden love. Yet undaunted and un-discouraged Whitman says, “I am to see to it that I do not lose you.”
It seems that love, even with a stranger, will find a way.
If you would like to see some of Walt Whitman's poems in his own handwriting click here to go to www.WhitmanArchive.org.
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