While digging through old newspapers at the Library of Congress, Wendy Katz, an associate professor of art history at the University of Nebraska, found a poem she didn’t recognise. The author was listed as W.W. — as in Walt Whitman.
“I was literally going through these newspapers page by page and fully expected to find some of Whitman’s journalism,’ she told to the Lincoln Journal Star. “I didn’t expect to find a poem.”
The 15-line work, never seen before, is titled “To Bryant, The Poet Of Nature” and was published on June 23, 1842 in the New Era. Considering Whitman’s friendship with New York Evening Post editor and poet William Cullen Bryant, the new poem likely pays homage to him.
Because newspapers at the time rarely published full author names, though, Katz has to make a case that the poem is truly by Whitman. She published an article in the summer/fall issue of the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, which argues for three main points: the initials, the style of the poem compared to “Leaves Of Grass,” and Whitman’s relationship to political editors at the time.
“That’s what the article I wrote for the journal was about,” Katz explained to the UNL Today, “trying to persuade people that it is him.”
Here’s the full version:
To Bryant, the Poet Of Nature
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.
— W.W., “New Era,” June 23, 1842
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