To A Stranger: Poem by Walt Whitman - Summary & Analysis

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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 manured
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.


      Introduction. To A Stranger, is a short poem of ten lines taken from the 1860 collection called Calamus poems. The poet sees a stranger and is afflicted by a mysterious longing for him. In the stranger he sees a one-time loving comrade of his though he is unable to say whether that one-time comrade was a boy or a girl. But he is sure

I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you.

      Summary. Opening lines of the poem To A Stranger are arresting in as much as they give expression to a loving recollection of a pleasant experience of the past. After a vague recognition, the poet says that at some time in the past he has eaten with him and slept with him and has exchanged the pleasures of body, the eyes, face, flesh as well as beard and hands. He then concludes that they are bound to meet again because the poet does not want to lose him again.

      Critical Analysis. Kalidasa describes in a poem that if a fairly comfortable easy-going gentleman becomes uneasy on seeing some beautiful scenes or hearing a sweet voice it means that he recollects, though very vaguely, the loving attachments of a former birth emotionally embedded in his subconscious mind. It appears Whitman too had some sort of an experience as the king Dushyanta of Kalidasa had. This explanation does not obviate the vagueness of the poem To a Stranger. The stranger is no stranger; if the poet recollects everything as he puts it.

      The poet recollects all the previous pleasures that they had exchanged with each other and wants the same to be repeated. In the renewal of their former relationship, there is no necessity for the poet to speak to him. Thinking about him can satisfy him even as he sits alone or keeps awake at night. But that does not mean that he need not wait for a reunion. The poet has no doubt that he would meet him. The closing line speaks for itself:

I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

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