February 17, 2006 at 4:17 pm 2 comments

Walt Whitman


Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white faced and still in the coffin – I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.

For a change, Minstrels doesn't actually have this one. But here's some commentary on it that a dear friend sent me:

"It's almost impossible to have a favourite Whitman poem, but if I had to pick one this would be it. If there's one complaint I have against Whitman it's that he tends to ramble sometimes – so that reading his poems I often find myself wishing he'd edited them down a little.

Not so here – every line, every word is perfection. A poem that rises and falls in quiet, thoughtful cadences, the measured voice of a tired old man who discovers, at the end of all his struggle, a frail truth. Just the sound of this poem read aloud would be reason enough to love it; just the way in which that exquisite, aching first line tears all the world open only to have the slow diminuendo of the last line put it back together again, reconciling the poem with the silence.

But Whitman does more – in just six lines he manages to pack in such a wealth of emotion: consolation, defeat, regret, forgiveness, awe. And leaves us, using nothing more than a single phrase ("a man divine as myself"), with the tragic and dreamlike image of a man leaning over his own coffin, reconciled to his own death.

This is a poem that combines the richness of a haiku with the tone of a soliloquy, and still manages to achieve, overall, a sense of peace."


Entry filed under: English, Walt Whitman.

If I could tell you Poetry

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Karthik  |  February 22, 2006 at 3:35 am

    This is a very cool idea for a blog. I’m glad I stumbled on it – all by myself – today.

  • 2. The Black Mamba  |  February 23, 2006 at 11:56 pm


    thank you. glad you enjoy it.


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