In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: in Poem of Existence

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1850 and 1860

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00060

Source: The Trent Collection of Walt Whitman Manuscripts, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library. 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: Edward Grier notes that the handwriting of this manuscript "suggests an early date, possibly before 1860" (Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts [New York: New York University Press, 1984], 4:1339). Resemblances to passages in the preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass are perhaps evidence that these notes constitute draft material for that edition. Another possibility is that these notes represent an attempt to recast ideas from the preface into poetry—a process that Whitman used successfully to create several new poems for the second edition of 1856. The note at the top of the manuscript lends credence to the second theory, as it follows the characteristic title structure unique to the second edition, although Whitman never published a poem under the title "Poem of Existence."

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

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(in Poem of Existence

We call it one the past, and we call another the future

But both are alike the present


It is not the past, though we call it so,—nor

IAnd it is not the future, though we call it so,

It is [Ready?] to [at?], All the while it is the present only—that both
pa future and past are the present only.—


The curious realities now everywhere—on the surface
of the earth,
—in the interior of the earth—
Are there living creatures in that What is it? Is it liquid fire? Is it fire?
solid?—Is it some Is there not
toward the core, some vast
strange stifling vacuum?—Is there
any thing in that vacuum? any ^kind of curious, flying living things,
or floating life with its natures fitted?—

[paper glued]

The existences on the innumerable stars, with their
varied degrees of perfection, climate, swiftness

—Some probably are but forming,—others not so
advanced as the earth—Some are no doubt more
advanced— (I should not wonder if the

The Then tThere is intercommunion,
Nothing can One sphere [ch?] cannot know another sphere,
cCommunion of ^ what we call life is with life only,
and of what iswe call is after
Each I think
Each sphere knows itself only, and h cannot
commune beyond itself,
Wh Life communes only with life,
Whatever it is that follows death,

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