In Whitman's Hand

Poetry Manuscripts

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[Leaf 1 recto]
To printers & proof reader follow copy, please, punctuation &c. & read carefully by copy
No 1

A voice from Death

A voice from Death, solemn and
        strange, in all his sweep and
        power,
With sudden, indescribable blow—towns
        drown'd—humanity by thousands
        slain
The vaunted work of thrift, goods,
        dwellings, forge, street, iron bridge,
Dash'd pell-mell by the blow—yet
        usher'd life continuing on.
(Amid the rest, amid the rushing, whirling,
        wild debris,
An enceinte suff'ring woman saved—a baby safely
        born!)
Although I come and unannounced, in
        horror and in pang,
In pouring flood and fire, and wholesale
        elemental crash, (this voice so solemn, strange,)
I too a minister of Deity.
 
[Leaf 1 verso]  
2
 
two leads
 
Yea, Death, we bow our faces, veil
        our eyes to thee,
We mourn the old, the young untimely
        drawn to thee,
The fair, the strong, the good, the capable,
The household wreck'd, the husband and
        the wife, the engulf'd forger
        in his forge,
The corpses in the whelming waters and
        the mud,
The gather'd thousands in their funeral
        mounds and thousands never found
        or gather'd.
 
two leads
 
Then after burying, mourning the dead,
(Faithful to them, found or unfound, forgetting
        not, bearing the past, here now musing,)
A day—a passing moment or an hour—we
        bow ourselves—America itself bends low,
Silent, resign'd submmissive.
 
two leads
 
[Leaf 1 verso]  
3
 
War, Death, cataclysm like this, America,
Take Deep to thy proud, prosperous heart.
 
two leads
 
E'en as I chant, lo! out of death, and
        out of ooze and slime,
The blossoms rapidly blooming, sympathy,
        help, love,
From west and east, from south and north
         and over sea,
Its hot spurr'd hearts and hands humanity
        to human ad aid moves on;
And from within a thought and lesson yet.
 
two leads
 
Thou ever-darting globe! thou earth and air!
Thou waters that encompass us!
Thou that in all the life and death of us,
        in action or in sleep!
Thou laws invisible that permeate them
        and all!
Thou that in all and over all, and through
        and under all, incessant!
Thou! thou! the vital, universal, giant force
        resistless, sleepless, calm,
 
[Leaf 1 verso]  
4 4
 
Holding humanity as in thy open hand,
        as some ephemeral toy.
How ill to e'er forget thee!
 
two leads
 
For I too have forgotten,
(wrapt in these little potensies of progress,
        politics, culture, wealth, inventions,
        civilization.)
Have lost my recognition of your silent
        ever-swaying power, ye mighty,
        elemental throes,
In which and upon which we float,
        and every one of us us is buoyed.
                                                Walt Whitman
[Leaf 1 verso]  

Date
Whitman's poem about the Johnstown, Pennsylvania flood appeared in the New York World on June 7, 1889, only a week after the disaster.
Editorial note
This signed manuscript of "A Voice from Death" was written in response to the Johnstown flood. More than 2,000 people died after a dam collapsed following torrential rains.
The pages are mounted and thus the contents of the versos are unknown.
Location
A Voice from Death Item 27  |  Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Whitman Archive ID
yal.00060

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