When I was in junior high, an admired teacher gave me a beautiful book of friendship quotes. One that particularly struck me began, “What is a friend? I will tell you….Your soul can be naked with him.” The entire poem is insightful, but that sentence was especially compelling. A friend requires no pretenses, expects nothing more than what you are. He understands the flaws and contradictions in your character and accepts you notwithstanding.
I have since searched extensively for the source of the poem, which seems to be shrouded in mystery. Many have claimed authorship1 over the years, but the earliest source I can find cites Dr. Frank Crane in the 1910s. Here is the transcription from that publication:2
DEFINITION OF A FRIEND
By Dr. Frank Crane
What is a friend?
I will tell you.
It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself.
Your soul can go naked with him.
He seems to ask of you to put on nothing, only to be what you are.
He does not want you to be better or worse.
When you are with him you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent.
You do not have to be on your guard.
You can say what you think, express what you feel.
He is shocked at nothing, offended at nothing, so long as it is genuinely you.
He understands those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you.
With him you breathe freely.
You can take off your coat and loosen your collar.
You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meanness and absurdities, and in opening them up to him they are lost, dissolved in the white ocean of his loyalty.
You do not have to be careful.
You can abuse him, neglect him, berate him.
Best of all, you can keep still with him.
It makes no matter.
He likes you.
He is like fire, that purifies all you do.
He is like water, that cleanses all you say.
He is like wine, that warms you to the bone.
He understands, he understands, he understands.
You can weep with him, laugh with him, sin with him, pray with him.
Through and underneath it all he sees, knows and loves—you.
A friend, I repeat, is one with whom you dare to be yourself.
1: Some who have claimed authorship include Kristina Bruce in the 70s and C. Raymond Beran in the 90s. Their claims are tenuous. Frank Crane seems to be most often cited as the original author, and the Shoe Workers’ Journal from 1916 (linked in the text) is the earliest source I can find with either the poem or the Crane byline.
2: I corrected two typographical errors and added line breaks to increase readability.