THAT which eludes this verse and any verse,
Unheard by sharpest ear, unform’d in clearest eye or cunningest mind,
Nor lore nor fame, nor happiness nor wealth,
And yet the pulse of every heart and life throughout the world incessantly,
Which you and I and all pursuing ever ever miss,
Open but still a secret, the real of the real, an illusion,
Costless, vouchsafed to each, yet never man the owner,
Which poets vainly seek to put in rhyme, historians in prose,
Which sculptor never chisel’d yet, nor painter painted,
Which vocalist never sung, nor orator nor actor ever utter’d,
Invoking here and now I challenge for my song.

Indifferently, ’mid public, private haunts, in solitude,
Behind the mountain and the wood,
Companion of the city’s busiest streets, through the assemblage,
It and its radiations constantly glide.

In looks of fair unconscious babes,
Or strangely in the coffin’d dead,
Or show of breaking dawn or stars by night,
As some dissolving delicate film of dreams,
Hiding yet lingering.

Two little breaths of words comprising it.
Two words, yet all from first to last comprised in it.

How ardently for it!
How many ships have sail’d and sunk for it!
How many travelers started from their homes and ne’er return’d!
How much of genius boldly staked and lost for it!
What countless stores of beauty, love, ventur’d for it!
How all superbest deeds since Time began are traceable to it—and shall be to the end!

How all heroic martyrdoms to it!
How, justified by it, the horrors, evils, battles of the earth!
How the bright fascinating lambent flames of it, in every age and land, have drawn
Rich as a sunset on the Norway coast, the sky, the islands, and the cliffs,
Or midnight’s silent glowing northern lights unreachable.

Haply God’s riddle it, so vague and yet so certain,
The soul for it, and all the visible universe for it,
And heaven at last for it.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Walt Whitman's poem A Riddle Song.


  1. Subrata Ray says:

    A Riddle Song ,displays Whitman’s confession to his greater -self .His vision catches the the glimpse of the vastly conscious identity of this world and universe .
    The riddle is as old as life .The solution has ever been sought .The probable answer in particular finds focus in Dickinson’s poems .Tagore in India , Blake in England ,Arobindio in India , and many poets and philosophers of this world ,attempted , and few of them have succeeded .
    My own view in the present riddle is ,-nothing but the eradication of our primitive mind and , add discovery of the super mind in every one of us .

    Subrata Ray .Mousumipara .Uluberia .West Bengal .India.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I absolutely love this poem! A first I had no idea what Whitman was refering to but then it struck me. Could he possibly be talking of our innate gift of free will? It is the very being that moves us but no on can seem to put it into verse. It moves us just as it moved the martyrs willingly in the past. It was freely given to us and we can pasionately use it for the greatest achievment:heaven!

  3. Helen H says:

    This poem poped out to me because of its mystery Qalt Whitman was a true poet.

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