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Featured Poem: To A Stranger by Walt Whitman

Written by Rachael Norris, 23rd November 2020

People and Projects Manager at The Reader, Shaun Lawrence reads us this week's Featured Poem, To A Stranger by Walt Whitman. The theme for our daily readings in November is 'Light in the Dark' download the calendar here.

I remember first reading this poem, and feeling the thrill of encountering a stranger who isn’t exactly a stranger captured so beautifully in these few deceptively brief lines. Since we re-entered lockdown in the last week I’ve been thinking about how such encounters are fewer and farther between than they have been recently, though since March it does feel as if we’re all seeing familiar faces instead of new ones most of the time. However, re-reading this poem has brought back the sense of these much missed social interactions; the dance-like quality so elegantly captured in the phrase “we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured” as well as the hopeful – even wistful – ending where “I am to see to it that I do not lose you”. The remembrance of the features of people we know and love, features which upon seeing suffuse us with pleasure, is something which fills this poem and overflows into me as I read and re-read it, as does the pleasure of making new relationships and growing from stranger to friend.  

While we’re all uncertain as to what tomorrow, next week, next month and next year might bring our way, I can’t help but feel that Walt’s advice that “I am to wait – I do not doubt I am to meet you again” is something worth taking to heart. We do have to wait, but reassuringly no doubt we will meet one another again. 

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.

Walt Whitman

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