In Whitman's Hand


About this Item

Title: A Voice from Death

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: June 1889

Whitman Archive ID: yal.00060

Source: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. 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 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. Whitman's poem about the flood appeared in the New York World on June 7, 1889, only a week after the disaster. At the repository, this manuscript has been bound in a volume with a title page and portrait of Whitman. The pages are mounted, so verso images are unavailable.

Contributors to digital file: Nicole Gray, Kenneth Price, Brett Barney, Elizabeth Lorang, Lisa Renfro, Stacey Berry, Matt Miller, and Megan Maher

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[Page image:]

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

With sudden, indescribable blow—towns
drown'd—humanity by thousands

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

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.

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[Page image:]



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

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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,

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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 potencies of progress,
politics, culture, wealth, inventions,

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


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