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"Tomb Blossoms, The" (1842)

This short story appeared first in United States Magazine and Democratic Review, January 1842. For further publication history, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

In this well-balanced story, the frets of city life are opposed to the peacefulness of country living and death itself. The reminiscent narrator recalls something that happened when he lived in a country village. Tired and sullen, he returned home from a short visit to New York City. Next morning, refreshed, he sauntered off for a walk and came upon an old woman tending two graves, old Mrs. Delaree, a widow and inmate of the almshouse. She and her husband were miserably poor and, as foreigners from the West Indies, unwelcome. He died of poverty while she was ill. She tended two graves because no one knew in which one her husband lay. The narrator recognized the grave as a kind of friend. He admits that lately he does not dread dying.

The title is syntactically ambiguous. The blossoms, of course, are the flowers that the woman sets upon the graves; the tomb, as a symbol of death, blossoms into a friend. Kaplan sees the title as one of the central tropes of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, while Callow sees in the story Whitman's compulsive interest in doubles and in death.

Critics consign this tale to Whitman's early "dark" works.


Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night: A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.

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