16 September 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/38

by Walt Whitman, from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, the song of the hermit thrush:

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv'd me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv'd us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais'd be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love – but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,
When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

From me to thee glad serenade,
Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night in silence under many a star,
The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil'd death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-pack'd cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

This is for AMV, 8 February 1926 - 12 September 2013: "rest, rest, perturbed spirit!"


Lisa Hirsch said...

I was wondering what your poem would be this week. That's a particularly lovely section of a favorite poem of mine, and so appropriate. There is a beautiful William Shuman choral setting of the verse "Come lovely and soothing death."

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Thanks; I don't know the Shuman and will give it a listen. Somewhere I have a couple of other settings of this poem -- one by Roger Sessions and the other by maybe Hindemith?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes - there is also a Hindemith.

Michael Strickland said...

That's my new favorite death poem, sort of an "up" Stabat Mater, and I love how death is a kind female figure rather than a desiccated male wraith. I'd never read it or heard it before, so thanks.

And good luck dealing with the death of a parent, something I'm still coming to terms with four years after the fact. It's a changing moment.

Michael Strickland said...

And is William Shuman a distant cousin of William Schuman?

Lisa Hirsch said...

They are one and the same. I just can't spell.