This is what you shall do…

Literary Tattoos: Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

This is Benjamin’s tattoo:

My tattoo is from Walt Whitman.  The first printing of Leaves of Grass (and none of the subsequent printings) had a preface with the following quote:

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

I got this tattoo because the quote sums up my ethics very well, and I wanted to make those ethics a part of my body, plus the hope that it helps make my flesh a great poem.


  1. cait says

    that's a great intro to a book and a great tattoo. i love how just those first few words can be a reminder to everything expressed in that preface.

  2. whit fan says

    What made you decide to use an ellipsis instead of the colon?

    I think it would look pretty cool with the colon. But truly badass either way.

  3. Amanda says

    I have been debating for a few years whether or not to submit a photo of my Whitman tattoo. After seeing yours I have to post mine because it is a different portion of the same quote! Good taste.

  4. Kris says

    Very nice! I've known for a while that my next tattoo would be this quote. I wamt the entire quote on my back but I'm a little worried. I want it to be legible without turning me into a giant newspaper!

    Anyhow, good choice. It's an amazing quote from a brilliant writer and words to live by The same is true for much of his work. To me, Whitman is gospel.

    I suppose that make me a

    Whitman-ennite! ;P

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