In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: I do not compose

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: About 1855

Whitman Archive ID: duk.00879

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 manuscripts, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: This is a prose manuscript with no known connection to Whitman's published work. In the repository, the manuscript is bound, seemingly by a collector, with a printer's copy of the 1881–82 edition of Leaves of Grass that includes numerous handwritten corrections by Whitman. This manuscript is almost certainly from much earlier, however, based on the lines on the back of the leaf that were used in the 1855 edition of Leaves. Although the clipping of the leaf suggests this prose manuscript was written later than the poetry on the reverse, the similar handwriting seems to indicate that it still probably dates to about 1855.

Related item: Written on the back of this manuscript are lines that eventually found their way into the poem later titled "Song of Myself," including the poem's famous opening line, "I celebrate myself." See duk.00787.

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

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—I do not pretend to compose an ^a grand opera, with choice good instrumentation, and harmonious good parts that which you shall sing as I ^have written them, and the dilletanti will then have take fits—they will and the whose performance shall cannot fail will of being so something to give fits to the dilletanti, for its elegance and measure.—The To compose sing well your part of an opera is very well excellent enough;; but that it is not enough.—I would have You shall the should be master of the composers of ^all operas—and first tenor of and of all tenors—and [first?] of all violins and first violins,—for they were all men like yourself, and less perhaps most likely less developed than yourself.

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