Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Clear Midnight, A" (1881)
Author:
Schwiebert, John E.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The last manuscript draft of "A Clear Midnight" appears on the back of a letter dated 2 December 1880. The poem was published in Leaves of Grass 1881 as the final piece in the cluster "From Noon to Starry Night."

Stylistically and thematically, "Clear Midnight" is characteristic of much of Whitman's later poetry. First, like most of the verse Whitman wrote after the Civil War, the poem is short. Second, it employs traditional poetic diction (e.g., archaisms such as "thy", "Thee," and "thou") and a quasi-traditional rhythm (note especially the second line, which scans iambically). Third, the poem reflects the aging poet's growing preoccupation with themes of death, spirituality, and the soul. As in "Passage to India," the major long poem of Whitman's later years, the soul is seen as symbolically voyaging. The poet invokes his soul to forgo transient preoccupations in favor of a daring and symbolic voyage into night and the unknown—"the wordless."

Bibliography

Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman: The Creation of a Book. Trans. Roger Asselineau and Burton L. Cooper. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1962.

Schwiebert, John E. The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem. New York: Lang, 1992.

Whitman, Walt. Walt Whitman's Workshop: A Collection of Unpublished Manuscripts. 1928. Ed. Clifton Joseph Furness. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964.


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