In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Of a summer evening

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Before 1850

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00097

Source: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. Transcribed from digital images of the original. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the manuscripts, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: Some of the language in this short piece of fiction also appears in the draft poem "I am that half-grown angry boy." It is not possible to know with certainty whether Whitman wrote the prose or the poetic lines first. However, Whitman's usual practice of composition suggests that the prose preceded the verse. Based on the handwriting, Edward Grier dates this manuscript to the late 1840s (Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 1:46). Whitman's last known piece of published fiction appeared in 1852.

Contributors to digital file: Ashley Price, Andrew Jewell, Kenneth M. Price, Kirsten Clawson, Janel Cayer, Nicole Gray, Kevin McMullen, and Brett Barney

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Of a summer evening a boy fell asleep with the tears of foolish passion yet undried upon his cheeks.—And there he dreamed a dream.—Years, with all their chequered events of pain and joy, rolled away. Many were spent in travel—some in the pursuit of ^power and wealth—which pursuit was successful.—At an advanced age, and sobered down from the hot-brained fever of his youth, a message came that his mother was nigh to death, and desired his presence.—Swift wheels rattled then—and the patter of horses' hoofs sounded rapidly on the road—but the beatings of the traveller's heart were more rapid still.—When he arrived at his early home, he found his mother dead.—He stood and looked upon her face, and ^then went aside.—And many

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a time again approached he to the coffin, and held up the white linen, and gazed and gazed.—He came in the day, when crowds were in the rooms—though all to him was a vacant blank—all but the corpse of his mother.—And at last he came in the silence of the midnight before the burial, when the tired watchers were asleep.—Long—long—long—were his eyes rivetted on the features of the dead one, that dead corpse, with an expecting look, as if he waited something.—He bent down his ear to the cold blue lips and listened—but the cold blue lips were hushed for ever.—Now for two little words, I pardon, that proud rich man would ^almost have

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been willing to live in disgrace and poverty for ever: but the words came not.—From the moment when he first saw her ^his mother's face, and whenever he looked at her, a wondrous faculty had awoke within him.—All that was present—every thing, connected with his business,his schemes of ambition,his worldly gains, his friendships, and his plans of life, seemed entirely melted from his thought.—A doubly refined memory called up before him and around him, all he had ever done in his life that seemed directly or indirectly unfilial toward his mother.—Each word, each look, each action, swarmed there; returned; not the minutest trifle connected with them but stood in bold brilliant

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light before him.—He remembered how on such a day ^in boyhood, he ran from home—how once ^in vicious spite, he terrified her by arranging a plot to make her believe he was drowned—how at such a time he had mocked her words—and again how he had openly many times denied her authority. over him.—And it was strangely how distinct was the remotest, the tiniest, of all circumstances involved in these memories.—O, Crucified! who meekly at the command of thy parents went down from the temple at Jerusalem, and wast ever gentle to her that gave thee birth—thy dreary death-agonies alone^—so it seemed to him— were sharper outdid the pangs of that dream‑gazer on the dead!

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And this was the boy's vision. Ah, happy that boy to wake and find it indeed but a dream!—Covered with huge drops of sweat, and trembling in every limb, the youth raised himself from his horrid slumber, and blessed God that the path of the future years was yet yet lay before him, and that he had yet there was still time to avoid the fearful consummation which had come to him in fancy!—

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