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Featured Poem: After the Sea-Ship by Walt Whitman

Written by Chris Routledge, 13th July 2009

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) held many professions throughout his life; working as printer, teacher, journalist and editor of various newspapers, before a visit to Washington D.C. in 1862 changed the course of his life. Whitman had travelled there to care for his brother, who had been injured in the American Civil War, and was so affected by the suffering of the wounded soldiers he came into contact with that he stayed in Washington for eleven years, working in hospitals and as a clerk.

After the initial publication of Leaves of Grass, which Whitman paid for himself in 1855, a later edition of the volume provided him with enough money to buy a house in New Jersey. It was here that Whitman spent the rest of his days, revising his collections of poetry and preparing Good-bye, My Fancy (1891), his final volume.

After the Sea-Ship is taken from Whitman's Leaves of Grass collection, and is deeply in tune with the politics of the time of its composition. Whitman explores the nature of people's individuality when united within a new and ideal democracy, towards which it seemed America was progressing.


After the Sea-Ship

After the sea-ship, after the whistling winds,

After the white-gray sails taut to their spars and ropes,

Below, a myriad myriad waves hastening, lifting up their necks,

Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship,

Waves of the ocean bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,

Waves, undulating waves, liquid, uneven, emulous waves,

Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,

Where the great vessel sailing and tacking displaced the surface,

Larger and smaller waves in the spread of the ocean yearnfully


The wake of the sea-ship after she passes, flashing and frolicsome

under the sun,

A motley procession with many a fleck of foam and many fragments,

Following the stately and rapid ship, in the wake following.


Walt Whitman, 1874


Leaves of Grass is available from our online bookshop

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