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About this Item

Title: The Mississippi at Midnight

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: March 6, 1848

Whitman Archive ID: per.00063

Source: New Orleans Daily Crescent 6 March 1848: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of an original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the periodical poems, see our statement of editorial policy.

Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, April Lambert, Susan Belasco, and Brett Barney

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cropped image 1

For the Crescent.


How solemn! sweeping this dense black tide!
No friendly lights i' the heaven o'er us;
A murky darkness on either side,
And kindred darkness all before us!
Now, drawn nearer, the shelving rim,
Weird-like shadows suddenly rise;
Shapes of mist and phantoms dim
Baffle the gazer's straining eyes.
River fiends, with malignant faces!
Wild and wide their arms are thrown,
As if to clutch in fatal embraces
Him who sails their realms upon.
Then, by the trick of our swift motion,
Straight, tall giants, an army vast,
Rank by rank, like the waves of ocean,
On the shore march stiffly past,
How solemn! the river a trailing pall,
Which takes, but never again gives back;
And moonless and starless the heaven's arch'd wall,
Responding an equal black!
Oh, tireless waters! like Life's quick dream,
Onward and onward ever hurrying—
Like Death in this midnight hour you seem,
Life in your chill drops greedily burying!
W. W.


1. Revised as "Sailing the Mississippi at Midnight," Specimen Days & Collect (1882–83). [back]


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