The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 10 no. 2


Baron Wormser

For His Part: Walt Whitman (1863)


The soldiers in the hospital asked Walt Whitman
    to tell them the story that would
    make the hurt go away, the story about trust and reward.

They knew he knew the story, he was, after all,
    a poet and, perforce (as poets put it), a member of
    the tribe of the undeniable Ulysses,
    a voyager in the realms of the soul.

For all his love, he winced because he knew
    the words they wanted and he had tried to avoid
    those words. He'd been another singer, one from the earth.

The sky was empty and distant. There was no human home there.
    It pained him to have to tell that story. He touched
    a forehead, placed a quiet kiss on a pale cheek
    and murmured simple words that caressed the honor of
    their pain, the sweetness of the most mangled flesh.

Perhaps they believed the poet. Perhaps for a time the sky
    bowed to the earth, wings became legs, words became
    more than earnest sounds. The poet, for his part, never
    turned away. He saw his poems in the saddest eyes
    and the briefest, most hopeless smiles. The poet voyaged
    to the edge of human warmth and held the hand
    as it turned cold. That was the poem the poet had always known
    and from which he never turned away.