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About this Item

Title: The House of Friends

Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as Walter Whitman]

Date: June 14, 1850

Whitman Archive ID: per.00442

Source: New York Daily Tribune 10 (14 June 1850): 3. 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: Said Fallaha and Kevin McMullen

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"And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thy hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends."—Zechariah, xiii. 6.


IF thou art balked, O Freedom,
The victory is not to thy manlier foes;
From the house of thy friends comes the death stab.2
Vaunters of the Free,
Why do you strain your lungs off southward?
Why be going to Alabama?
Sweep first before your own door;
Stop this squalling and this scorn
Over the mote there in the distance;
Look well to your own eye, Massachusetts—
Yours, New-York and Pennsylvania;
—I would say yours too, Michigan,
But all the salve, all the surgery
Of the great wide world were powerless there.
Virginia, mother of greatness,
Blush not for being also the mother of slaves.
You might have borne deeper slaves—
Doughfaces, Crawlers, Lice of Humanity—
Terrific screamers of Freedom,
Who roar and bawl, and get hot i' the face,
But, were they not incapable of august crime,
Would quench the hopes of ages for a drink—
Muck-worms, creeping flat to the ground,
A dollar dearer to them than Christ's blessing;
All loves, all hopes, less than the thought of gain;
In life walking in that as in a shroud[:?]
Men whom the throes of heroes,
Great deeds at which the gods might stand appalled
The shriek of a drowned world, the appeal of women,
The exulting laugh of untied empires,
Would touch them never in the heart,
But only in the pocket.
Hot-headed Carolina,
Well may you curl your lip;
With all your bondsmen, bless the destiny
Which brings you no such breed as this.
Arise, young North!
Our elder blood flows in the veins of cowards—
The gray-haired sneak, the blanched poltroon,
The feigned or real shiverer at tongues
That nursing babes need hardly cry the less for—
Are they to be our tokens always?
Fight on, band braver than warriors,
Faithful and few as Spartans;
But fear not most the angriest, loudest malice—
Fear most the still and forked fang
That starts from the grass at your feet.


1. Revised as "Wounded in the House of Friends" in Specimen Days (1882–83), with the first two stanzas removed. [back]

2. This poem was written in response to debates taking place in the United States Congress during the spring, summer, and fall of 1850, debates which eventually led to the passage, in September, of the Compromise of 1850. As in his earlier poems "Song for Certain Congressmen" and "Blood-Money," Whitman here takes issue with what he saw as Northern politicians' betrayal of the nation's republican values for political and monetary gain. [back]


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