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Featured Poem: To a Stranger by Walt Whitman

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 11th February 2019

The Reader's Head of Publications, Amanda Brown, shares her thoughts on this week's Featured Poem, To a Stranger by Walt Whitman.

I’m drawn to the opening two words and that exclamation mark – what a way to start a poem!  What do you make of the first three lines?  Some of the words that pop out for me are longingly, seeking and life of joy.  Which words stand out for you?

Why this stranger?  Could it be anyone?  Do you think perhaps something has triggered this recognition? If so, what is it that has caused this line of thinking? How can the person speaking say All is recall’d as a reaction to seeing a total stranger?

What do you think about the details of the life together which are recall’d? And what about that moment as we pass?  Have you ever had similar thoughts as you pass someone on a crowded street and fleetingly make eye contact?  What do you make of the last three lines?

To a Stranger

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 of 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,
In return,

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.

by Walt Whitman

Want more of the same?

This poem is one amongst many others featured in our A Little, Aloud with Love anthology, designed to read aloud with someone you love. Why not let the spirit of Valentine's Day last all year through?

Copies of A Little, Aloud with Love, and all of our anthologies, are available to buy here.

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