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Rare Walt Whitman Working Poetical Manuscript from Drum-Taps and Leaves of Grass WITH a Manuscript on Equality and the Nature of American Government

WHITMAN, WALT. Two autograph manuscripts: “Give me the splendid silent sun,” autograph manuscript [recto]; and autograph manuscript on equality and American government [verso]

Prob. Washington, c.1865

Two pages, on a composite sheet assembled in his characteristic way by Whitman from a single sheet of lined paper and a smaller unlined slip pasted on verso. Some chipping, cross-through by Whitman, upper corner cut away with loss of several letters on verso, minor staining.

This leaf contains two fine Whitman manuscripts.

The first is a Whitman poem from Drum-Taps and Leaves of Grass, a working draft of the opening of his much-quoted poem “Give me the splendid silent sun.” This poem first appeared in Drum-Taps (1865) and then was incorporated in Leaves of Grass beginning with the 1871 edition. The manuscript exhibits several small differences from the printed form.

Writing immediately following the upheaval of the Civil War, Whitman longingly calls for the beauty, quiet, and calm of nature and life on the land. Nonetheless, in the second stanza the poet comes to acknowledge that he is irresistibly drawn to the city, celebrating the activity and teeming humanity of Manhattan. The present manuscript comprises the first seven lines of the first of the poem’s two stanzas.

This is the only recorded manuscript of “Give me the splendid silent sun,” according to Walt Whitman Archive.

The second manuscript contains Whitman’s unpublished discussion of equality and government in America: “And again, and eternally the idea of the perfect equality & average rights and privileges of These States, each toward any [crossed out: the and each] other, & towards the whole. And again the idea that the contracts and compacts of American government are strictly with each individual, with you me, the man who stands next to you, behind you – with every one – And that it is not permitted for the government to shirk its duty to any person [crossed out: individual] or class of persons [crossed out: individuals].”

This manuscript is related in its subject matter to Whitman’s “Poem of Many in One” (1856, revised in 1867 to become “As I Sat Alone by Blue Ontario’s Shore”) in which the poet writes, “The American compact is with individuals, / The only government is that which makes minute of individuals.”

This is an outstanding pair of manuscripts combining, in a single object, Whitman’s poetical reaction to the Civil War and his prose reflections on the nature of equality and the relation between the individual and government.