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Found in “Penny Papers” from the 1800s, A Lost Walt Whitman Poem

A professor at the University of Nebraska stumbled upon an ode to Whitman’s contemporary William Cullen Bryant

A steel engraving of Walt Whitman in his 30s from the first edition of Leaves of Grass, published in 1855. (CORBIS)
smithsonian.com

A newly discovered Walt Whitman poem has been rescued from obscurity. Wendy Katz, a profesor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor, was flipping through so-called "penny papers" kept at the Library of Congress. Her intention was to research the politics of art criticism during the mid-1800s, according to a press release. She ended up finding a 15-line work by one of America's most famous poets. 

"The first mass-printed newspapers, which sold on the streets for a penny or two, often carried journalistic articles by artists of the day," writes Deborah Hastings for the New York Daily News. Katz (whose research is funded by a Smithsonian fellowship) told the Lincoln Journal Star that, since she was looking through these newspapers so systematically, she "fully expected to find some of Whitman’s journalism."

But, she said, “I didn’t expect to find a poem.”

The short poem was signed with a set of initials: W.W.  It was published on June 23, 1842, in the New Era, and the date, the style and the title led her to Whitman. The poem is called "To Bryant, the Poet of Nature," and Katz interpreted that to mean William Cullen Bryant, a romantic poet, editor of the New York Evening Post at the time and Whitman’s friend.

The poem is an early example of Whitman’s poetry: Leaves of Grass was published 13 years later, in 1855. Here’s the complete poem (via Crew): 

Let Glory diadem the mighty dead
Let monuments of brass and marble rise
To those who have upon our being shed
A golden halo, borrowed from the skies,
And given to time its most enduring prize;
For they but little less than angels were:
But not to thee, oh! nature’s OWN, we should
(When from this clod the minstrel-soul aspires
And joins the glorious band of purer lyres)
Tall columns build: thy monument is here
For ever fixed in its eternity
A monument God-built! ‘Tis seen around
In mountains huge and many gliding streams
Where’er the torrent lifts a melancholy sound,
Or modest flower in broad savannah gleams.

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