Clef Poem: Leaves of Grass (1856)


THIS night I am happy,

As I watch the stars shining, I think a

     thought of the clef of the universes, and

     of the future.

What can the future bring me more than I have?

Do you suppose I wish to enjoy life in other

I say distinctly I comprehend no better sphere
     than this earth,

I comprehend no better life than the life of my

I do not know what follows the death of my body,

But I know well that whatever it is, it is best for

And I know well that what is really Me shall live
     just as much as before.

I am not uneasy but I shall have good housing to

But this is my first—how can I like the rest any

Here I grew up—the studs and rafters are grown
     parts of me.

I am not uneasy but I am to be beloved by young
    and old men, and to love them the same,

I suppose the pink nipples of the breasts of women
    with whom I shall sleep will taste the same
    to my lips,

But this is the nipple of a breast of my mother,
     always near and always divine to me, her
     true child and son.

I suppose I am to be eligible to visit the stars, in
     my time,

I suppose I shall have myriads of new experiences
     —and that the experience of this earth will
     prove only one out of myriads;

But I believe my body and my soul already
     indicate those experiences,

And I believe I shall find nothing in the stars
     more majestic and beautiful than I have
     already found on the earth,

And I believe I have this night a clue through
     the universes,

And I believe I have this night thought a thought
    of the clef of eternity.

A vast similitude interlocks all,

All spheres, grown, ungrown, small, large, suns,
     moons, planets, comets, asteroids,

All the substances of the same, and all that is
     spiritual upon the same,

All distances of place, however wide,

All distances of time—all inanimate forms,

All souls—all living bodies, though they be in
     different worlds,

All gaseous, watery, vegetable, mineral processes,
     the fishes, the brutes,

All men and women—me also,

All nations, colors, barbarisms, civilizations, lan-

All identities that have existed or may exist on
     this globe or any globe,

All lives and deaths—all of past, present, future,

This vast similitude spans them, and always has
     spanned, and shall forever span them.

Note to Readers:

Authors' Note:    

     For this English project, we decided to publish Walt Whitman’s “Clef Poem” by creating a blog on During the selection process, we settled on “Clef” (1856) due to its metaphysical meaning and its representation of American romanticism as a whole. “Clef Poem” was later edited by Whitman, reappearing as “On the Beach at Night Alone” (1867). We chose “Clef Poem” rather than “On the Beach at Night Alone” (1867) because we feel that the original version represents a more raw, pure example of Whitman’s writing style and personality. Not only do we feel that “Clef Poem” has more substance but we also think that the original is simply more interesting, as it provides a fervent emotional outlook into Walt Whitman as a person. His views are not “diluted” by editing and revision, and instead reflect a stream of consciousness narrative. What surprised us when we chose the poem was how severely it changed overtime. When looking at the original poem and comparing it to the final version, the contrast was striking; the final version not only seemed more definite and firm in its opinions, but it also iss dramatically stripped down and more concise, probably as a byproduct of publishing multiple copies of Leaves of Grass in the interim. However, we feel as if the rambling style of the original was more akin to a first draft, a kind of uncut, pure version of what the author intended to write.

     We decided to publish Whitman’s “Clef Poem” through the creation of a public blog on First, we feel that the blog reflects Whitman’s own personal desires for his poems to be seen by the people, a desire which we feel is satisfied through a blog that can be viewed by anyone who happened to come across it. The website also reflects Whitman’s beliefs in an audience of all kinds; since most people in the world have access to the Internet, Whitman’s poems and our annotations can be viewed and commented on by people from all walks of life, rather than being restricted to a single group. Whitman’s desire to be inclusive in terms of his audience impacted our publication process much more than his gender, race, and class. The annotated poems present in the blog represent our attempt to infuse our own views in the publishing without compromising the actual content of Whitman’s work. However time consuming the publishing experience was for us, it was nowhere near as long or as tedious a process as it must have been for Whitman, especially since he published Leaves of Grass in book form. Without access to any kind of guaranteed method of exposure, getting any meaningful public reception was much more of a laborious task for Whitman.

     If Whitman were a poet in present day America, he would most likely take issue with the restrictions on gay marriage and the racism that permeates parts of American culture. Whitman’s open sexuality is an irremovable aspect of his character and personality, and it is logical to imagine that he would be a pro-gay rights advocate. We extend Whitman’s openness and ideas on the Oversoul to racism and believe that Whitman would oppose any racism. Whitman often writes that all peoples who have been or will be are connected and share a oneness, thus negating any racial or ethnic boundaries. In our interpretation of Walt Whitman, we believe that he would protest prejudice and stereotypes in the modern world.

Annotation of "On the Beach at Night Alone" (1867)


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