In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: Do you know what music

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: Between 1850 and 1855

Whitman Archive ID: tex.00088

Source: The Walt Whitman Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin. 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 manuscript was probably written between 1850 and 1855, when Whitman was preparing material for his first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass. A portion of the first paragraph of the manuscript, dealing with music and its relationship to the soul, is similar to a passage in the poem eventually titled "A Song for Occupations." Other language in the manuscript is similar to the prose preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass and to lines from the poems that would eventually be titled "Song of Myself" and "I Sing the Body Electric."

Notes written on manuscript: On leaf 1 recto, in unknown hand: "1"; on leaf 2 recto, in unknown hand: "2"; on leaf 2 recto, in unknown hand: "2"; on leaf 3 recto, in unknown hand: "3"

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

[begin leaf 1 recto] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Do you know why what m[usic?] does to the soul?—Do you suppose that the melody ^mere melody of those instruments—. . . . .the violencello, sad and sobbing like as some human creature. . . .the cornet, that puts the call theof day ^[break?]light and the laugh of hope into voice, and spreads its utterance around like a shower—the organ, president over the rest, embodying representing and embodying all, with them, serious and calm, large, from respect of whom all all keep still and know in that presence their best [ache?] d[illegible] feats would be an impertinence—the brass band whose drums ^cry shout All-alive! and wake up the sleepers in the brain brain of where they from their bedrooms in the brain and put red coals the fire of spunk in the nerves of ^flimsiest tinder rags of a cowardss. . . . .Do you suppose that ^in these, touched by the greatest fine players inof the world, give forth are the the sounds primary and of the feelings that move you?—No; there is something else. which music ten thousand fathoms— This something is in the Soul which ^and eludes description.—No substantive or noun, no ^figure of writing ^or phonograph or image, stands for this the beautiful mystery.—which ^ tells far off as the [as the?] stars hint to us from their orbits of millions of leagues afar, tell man that there is a region O dDo not ask me to I can only tell tell you of it, except as one ^you might ask tell who stands reaches his neck at night and ^ far at sea looks ^far over sea after the headland of the morning.— up at the stars.—

The sSoul of Man has within itself the vitality of all that is harmonious or pleasant. To that return From it come all every one of ^ and back again address themselves ^ [of?] the [perception?] of tThose secondary ^physical or moral emanations that whose attributes we call Beauty and Virtue, ^and Pride, and such like ^possess little or [illegible] nothing except inherently; [illegible] physical life, all forms of existence are but unspeakably great as the feet and fingers of the soul, [goads?] and witnesses and alarm clocks of the soul[prokers?]

[begin leaf 1 verso] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin leaf 2 recto] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

The reason that any thing pleases the Soul, is that it finds its relation there, and awakes it—and the twain kiss each other ^yet ^only the soul burns; the other is impotent.—As As personality man can either suffer or enjoy any further when except in the limits of his individual being; and nothing really enjoys or suffers except the Soul.—The rest are as Apples and rice and honey ^fish, which soothe and gratify the appetite; yet what are they in themselves?

How gladly does the soul welcome ^all that seeks it.—How it runs to the windows like a beautiful woman whose lover comes to sleep with her that night.—Music, the most spiritual of sensuous delights, ^ [enjoyments?] touches ^enjoyments gives it some f[or?]aint sign of its own the harmony and measure that are part of its essence; as a good part of the soul is its craving for that which we incompletely describe as by

The only test of what we call the ^the virtue [success?] ^or excellence of any thing is that it pleases the Soul.—Whatever thoroughly satisfies the soul is Truth.—

O, theologian, come not to argue with me about God; I can yet ^ just begin to comprehend nothing more wonderful than so tremendous as my own soul. I am awed ^even by its works—by at the art and mystery cunning of some fine instrument used in the discoveries of astronomy.—At the huge facts ^ of countless systems of worlds, whose of suns and their planets of worlds revolving round their suns—

[begin leaf 2 verso] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

[begin leaf 3 recto] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]

Cipher it by any rule we will, and then rub all out and work the problem over again, and again, till our eyes blur, we [each?] get but one ^unvarying product, that the ^Human Soul, you yourself by its innate tests, is the must be the judge and standard of all things, even of the knowledge of God.—Heave the lead for soundings over the whole sea, this is the place you touch bottom the lead hits hard bottom here, if no where else.—Whatever the litigation, whatever the cause to be argued, or the knot untied, here this is the bar of appeals, the supreme court, beyond which stands black Nyx Nyx and labyrinthine chaos.—

[begin leaf 3 verso] -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Page image:]


Published Works | In Whitman's Hand | Life & Letters | Commentary | Resources | Pictures & Sound

Support the Archive | About the Archive

Distributed under a Creative Commons License. Matt Cohen, Ed Folsom, & Kenneth M. Price, editors.