Poem of the Week
Founded August 1996
<   PotW #376   >
This Week's Poem

Past Poems...
...by Poet
...by Title and First Line
...by Occasion

Contact about...
...Free Subscription
...Submitting a Poem
...other Questions

The Fine Print...
...Copyright Information
...Page Mission
...Privacy Policy

Links to...
...other Poetry Sites



                            Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

                                  from Song of Myself


    Stretch'd and still lies the midnight,
    Two great hulls motionless on the breast of the darkness,
    Our vessel riddled and slowly sinking, preparations to pass to the one we had
    The captain on the quarter-deck coldly giving his orders through a counte-
              nance white as a sheet,
    Near by the corpse of the child that serv'd in the cabin,
    The dead face of an old salt with long white hair and carefully curl'd whiskers,
    The flames spite of all that can be done flickering aloft and below,
    The husky voices of the two or three officers yet fit for duty,
    Formless stacks of bodies and bodies by themselves, dabs of flesh upon the
              masts and spars,
    Cut of cordage, dangle of rigging, slight shock of the soothe of waves,
    Black and impassive guns, litter of powder-parcels, strong scent,
    A few large stars overhead, silent and mournful shining,
    Delicate sniffs of sea-breeze, smells of sedgy grass and fields by the shore,
              death-messages given in charge to survivors,
    The hiss of the surgeon's knife, the gnawing teeth of his saw,
    Wheeze, cluck, swash of falling blood, short wild scream, and long, dull,
              tapering groan,
    These so, these irretrievable.


As first released in 1855, Leaves of Grass was mostly in the form of a rambling,
poetic, philosophical exhortation, and many of the poems it is best known for did not
appear until the later editions of 1856, 1860, 1867, 1871, and 1881. The above excerpt
is in stark contrast to much of the volume, and immediately follows the description of
the "old-time sea-fight" that led to this aftermath.

The above lines are as they occurred in the 1881 edition, presented in:

  • Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems,
    Volume I: Poems 1855-1856.
    Sculley Bradley, Harold W. Blodgett, Arthur
    Golden, and William White, eds. New York: New York University Press, 1980.