Reflection of the Psalms–Whitman’s Invitation

By Janice Klein '91

Whitman Seminar

Writing Objective: Develop an approach that illuminates Leaves of Gress and sustains a discussion about your reading.

I can still hear my mother’s defense of a dedicated but very average and traditional organist in our church: “She so often plays the old, familiar hymns—they mean so much to me. I can think of all the words of the hymns as she’s playing.” I have discovered that there is truth behind my mother’s statement, not just as it applies to music but to literature as well. As exciting and stimulating as something “new” might be, the familiar and recognizable is often more comfortable and appealing. But I have found that, even when I am unfamiliar with a particular work, I am especially drawn in when, as I read, I am reminded of other works with which I am more intimate. This has been true in my encounter with Whitman. I have often found myself making connections with the Bible: “This sounds like Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler,” or “That sounds like a verse from Proverbs.” When I make these connections, I begin to look more closely at the passage to make comparisons. I am compelled to interact with Whitman’s words. I can’t ignore the text—he has drawn me in just as he engages other readers with this invitation:

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,

I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face,

Leaving it to you to prove and define it,

Expecting the main things from you. (“Poets to Come” 1881, 14)

As I fling the “gossamer thread” and hope it catches somewhere (“Noiseless Patient Spider” 1881, 450, In. 10), I realize I am not the first to discover the connections between Whitman and the Bible. In writing about Whitman’s extensive works, several critics have dealt with the influence of the Bible on the style and ideas expressed by this poet of body and soul. Many images and references can be traced to the New Testament and the “Christ-drama” (Allen, Biblical Echoes 302). In addition, structural patterns of Hebraic poetry provide a form for Whitman’s expression of pantheism (Allen, Handbook 388). Much of that structure is found in the Psalms of the Old Testament. But structure is not the only element of the Psalms utilized by Whitman. He presents similar themes and imagery as well. One work in particular stands out to me as it demonstrates Whitman’s use of the conventions of the Psalms—”Prayer of Columbus.” For the experienced reader of the Psalms, a careful (or even hasty) reading of “Prayer of Columbus” (Leaves 1881, 421) immediately suggests or, perhaps more accurately, heralds the influence of the Psalms in theme, structure, and imagery.

Whitman’s conformity to the conventions of this form of Hebraic poetry enables him to represent his reality with greater depth of meaning for the reader. Use of religious literary conventions, especially those found in the Bible, would serve to strike a chord in the American people who were grounded in and committed to the Biblical tradition. His awareness of the religious roots of his audience allowed him to involve the reader of his day to the extent that he or she could not remain detached or indifferent (Crawley 47). And the technique is still working—I am proof of that.

In most instances, Whitman’s use of the Bible is subtle. Except for obvious references to Christ and related images, Whitman’s hints of Biblical structure, theme, and imagery go unnoticed by the reader who is unfamiliar with the Bible. In fact, Whitman may not have been intentional in all his references to Biblical style. In “Prayer of Columbus,” however, the similarities are so striking that it would seem he was very intentional in drawing his style from the Psalms. Whatever his intentions, his technique invited me to engage with the text.

“Prayer of Columbus” resembles most closely a Psalm of Lament. It shares many features with Psalms 42 and 43, actually a single psalm, according to most scholars. (Psalms 42 and 43 can be found in Appendix A.) In both the Psalm, described as an individual lament, and Whitman’s poem, there is a distinction between lament and prayer. Lament is described by Craigie in his study of the Psalms as an internal dialogue which expresses sorrow and mourning (328). Its differentiation from prayer may be a key to the divison of what was originally one psalm into Psalms 42 and 43 (Craigie 325). Prayer moves from the internal dialogue of lament to an external dialogue with God. In Psalm 42, the psalmist laments his circumstances; in Psalm 43, he turns to God in prayer. This same progression is seen in “Prayer of Columbus.” The first seven stanzas bewail the persona’s condition and describe his circumstances, past and present. Then, in the eighth stanza, he turns to God and includes him in the dialogue. Like the psalmist, Whitman’s persona thanks God for sending light. That light can bring him into God’s presence (Craigie 328). As prayer enables praise (Craigie 329), the depair begins to disappear and deliverance is possible.

The progression from lament to prayer relates closely to the themes of both the Psalms of Lament and “Prayer of Columbus.” The lament itself provides a description of the physical and psychological woes of the persona. Psalms 42 and 43 provide examples of these woes: “My tears have been my meat day and night…” (42:3); “O my God, my soul is cast down within me” (42:6); “As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me” (42:10). Lines 1-9 of “Prayer of Columbus” also portray the persona in both his physical and mental state. He is “Sore, stiff with many toils, sicken’d and nigh to death / …venting a heavy heart.” His days are filled with woe, and he hopes he “may not live another day.” In such a state, there is no rest, and he “cannot eat or drink or sleep.”

The Psalmist moves on to express dismay or confusion that he is being tested by God: “Why hast thou forgotten me?” (42:9); “Why dost thou cast me off?” (43:2). The Psalmist pours out his despair and his lack of confidence, often questioning God’s actions and motives. The persona of “Prayer of Columbus” also elaborates on his dismay and confusion. All he has accomplished in his lifetime has been done for God, yet his end is disastrous. He can only guess at the results of his work (In. 59), and he is perplexed (In. 60). The once-confident persona is now apprehensive and doubtful.

This loss of confidence leads Columbus to ask questions as he again reflects the technique of the psalmist. “Is it the prophet’s thought I speak, or am I raving? / What do I know of life? what of myself?” (lines 56-57). This brings to mind verse 9 of Psalm 42 as the psalmist asks, “Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” or the familiar refrain, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11; Ps. 43:5). But then the psalmist calls on God and surrenders to Him: “Then will I go unto the altar of God…” (43:4). Columbus also gives up control of his life as he says, “I yield my ships to thee…I will cling fast to Thee, O God…” (lines 50 and 54). Once surrender and acceptance take place, confidence is restored. The psalmist declares, “Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me…” (42:8). “Prayer of Columbus” ends on that same note of confidence:

And these things I see suddenly, what mean they?

As if some miracle, some hand divine unseal’d my eyes,

Shadowy vast shapes smile through the air and sky,

And on the distant wave sail countelss ships,

And anthems in new tongues I hear saluting me. (lines 62-66)

The gradual progression from dismay to confidence through the stanzas is related not only to theme but also to structure, another area of similarity Whitman’s poem shares with the Psalms. With each succeeding stanza in “Prayer of Columbus,” the persona moves on to a slightly different topic. The pause implied by the division between stanzas serves to distinguish the theme of one from another. For example, the first stanza describes Columbus’s physical and emotional condition; stanza two states that he cannot go on without God; stanza three affirms the persona’s belief that God knows all that he has done, that he has been faithful and has accepted everything as coming from God. Each stanza develops the theme of the poem a little further. While the use of stanzas is not a form “Prayer of Columbus” shares only with the Psalms, the progression of themes through those divisions is simliar in both texts.

One of the basic structures within the Psalms, which Whitman reflects in his work, is parallelism: the same idea is expressed more than once in two or more parallel clauses. The words are different but the ideas are the same. Psalm 42:4 provides an example of parallelism: …for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.

The first line states an idea; each succeeding line expresses the same thought in different words. This “rhythm of sense” (Gunn 32) found in many of the Psalms is also present in Whitman’s poem of lament. Like the Hebrew poet, Whitman uses the parallel structure to give emphasis to his emotions. He repeats ideas in different words to provide more detail, deeper meaning. Lines 22-25 provide an example of his parallelism. The first line expresses the idea he wishes to convey (#) and is followed by three parallel lines (=) which elaborate on that original thought, providing detail and meaning for the reader:

# All my emprises have been fill’d with Thee,

= My speculations, plans, begun and carried on in thoughts of Thee,

= Sailing the deep or journeying the land for Thee;

= Intentions, purports, aspirations mine, leaving results to Thee.

Within the system of parallel structure Pasquale Jannacone explains Whitman’s method of elaboration. The first line of a group provides a proposition or thesis (#). The following lines then become a “parallelistic unfolding” (=) of that proposition (80). There are examples of this method in “Prayer of Columbus,” lines 9-12:

# I cannot rest O God… Til I put forth myself, my prayer, once more to Thee,

= Breathe, bathe myself once more in Thee, commune with Thee,

= Report myself once more to thee.

Whitman’s proposition or thesis is that the persona cannot rest until he makes contact with God. The following lines provide details about that contact. Another example is found in lines 31-33:

# By me and these the work so far accomplish’d,

= By me earth’s elder cloy’d and stifled lands uncloy’d, unloos’d,

= By me the hemispheres rounded and tied, the unknown to the known.

The first line speaks of the work completed by the persona. The next two lines describe that work. As with many of the Psalms, the poetry of Whitman could be reduced to prose by removing the parallel lines (Moulton 47). The resulting prose from stanzas 2-7 of “Prayer of Columbus” might look like this:

I am too full of woe!…Thou knowest my years entire, my life…All my emprises have been filled with thee…O I am sure they really came from Thee…By me and these the work so far accomplish’d…The end I know not, it is all in thee.

But Whitman, like the Psalmist, is seeking to express very deep emotions. He uses repetition to bring those feelings to the foreground. With each line of parallelism, particularly in lines 9-12, Whitman intensifies the emotion of the poem by providing descriptive details.

Another minor aspect of Whitman’s structure of “Prayer of Columbus” is his use of the pronoun “Thee” when he refers to God. The King James English automatically brings to my mind the attitude of reverence since I first read and heard the Psalms in the King James Version of the Bible. That, of course, was the version familiar to the readers Whitman sought to influence. If he were to succeed at all in hinting at the Scriptures in his “New Bible,” the formal language was a must. Even with all the other parallels to the Psalms in “Prayer of Columbus,” if Whitman had not used “Thee” to refer to God, I might, at least in the beginning, have missed the connection.

Another element of the Psalms reflected in “Prayer of Columbus” is the imagery. The images in the Psalms serve to heighten the feelings expressed by the psalmist and to aid the reader or hearer in feeling the same emotion. Nature is an important source which provides numerous pictures to convey sickness or health, joy or woe, peace or unrest, despair or confidence. Psalms 42 and 43, for example, speak of the thirsty “hart” (42:1), “waves” and “billows” (42:7), a “rock” (42:9), and “light” (43:3). The purity of nature provides a vehicle for the psalmist to vent his unbridled emotions. Many of Whitman’s images come from nature as well—they add depth to the emotions he is trying to convey. He is “Pent by the sea and dark rebellious brows” (In. 3); “…the waves buffet me” (In. 54). Those lines, along with line 24 where he refers to the “deep” which the persona has sailed, correspond to Psalm 42:7: “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of the waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.” The sea has brought each persona, in the psalm and “Prayer of Columbus,” to a state of helplessness. The clouds of grief are “already closing in upon me” (In. 48).

Like the psalmist, Whitman uses images that relate to traditional Old Testament worship—the altar and anthems. Such imagery is appropriate because Whitman’s message is a spiritual one. But, on another level, his use of familiar elements of worship, like all his imagery, serves to set the stage for reader engagement. Once again, it worked for me.

With the shadow of the Psalms—their imagery, structure, and theme—in the background, or rather, because of that shadow in the background, I became involved with the text of “Prayer of Columbus.” I could have stopped with meditating on the Psalms, but Whitman’s invitation carried me further. His poem was imbued with new meaning from its religious and historical antecedents. It was like digging into his compost heap and discovering the living organisms—the rich, fertile meaning—in the layers underneath.

The layers of meaning awaiting discovery by the reader can be uncovered by looking at the different personae represented in “Prayer of Columbus.” But the reader of the Psalms can uncover various personae, too. In many cases, the poet who composed a psalm did so to provide a vehicle for someone else to use in expressing emotions. There is a difference between the poet and the “I” who prays in the psalm (Mowinckel 11.133). The psalmist possessed the essential ability to empathize with another human being. He entered into the situation, the feelings, and the needs of the person for whom he composed the psalm. That, however, does not detract from the personal element of the Psalms. They were created for use in situations common to everyone. The psalmist had experienced despair and apparent isolation from God. His hopes had been dashed and his confidence destroyed. But he, too, had found a ray of hope after pouring out his heart to God. He was able to express his own personal piety and, at the same time, give voice to the thoughts and feelings of everyone else. The universal emotions spoke for the nation of Israel as well, the “corporate personality” (Mowinckel II. 134-136). These attributes of the psalmist parallel those characteristics Whitman applies to himself. In his introduction to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass Cowley states that Whitman “…had originally been writing about a not-myself, a representative figure…” (xxxii). In that first edition, Whitman presents himself as “an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos” (48, In. 499). He speaks “for all Americans and indeed for all humanity” (Cowley xxxiii). “Song of Myself” contains numerous examples of his understanding and empathy in life’s circumstances, but they are summed up in line 833: “All these I feel or am” (1855, 62). Whitman represents Americans, speaks for them as individuals and as a nation; but he also speaks for himself.

These various personae surface in “Prayer of Columbus.” At one level of interpretation, the prayer has been written for Columbus. Though far removed from the explorer in time and location, Whitman has put himself in Columbus’ situation and has tried to feel what he must have felt. Whitman was aided by Washington Irving’s Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus in empathizing with the explorer (Blodgett and Bradley, 422-23n). Columbus’s “season of darkness” descended on him with his imprisonment after his third voyage, Queen Isabella’s death, King Ferdinand’s neglect, his own poverty, and physical afflictions (Blodgett and Bradley, 422n). Whitman included this preface to the poem:

It was near the close of his indomitable and pious life—on his last voyage, when nearly 70 years of age—that Columbus, to save his two remaining ships from foundering in the Carribean Sea in a terrible storm, had to run them ashore on the island of Jamaica—where, laid up for a long and miserable year—1503—he was taken very sick, had several relapses, his men revolted, and death seemed daily imminent; though he was eventually rescued, and sent home to Spain to die, unrecognized, neglected and in want… (qtd in Allen, Solitary Singer 458)

Although Whitman is listing facts about Columbus, his ability to empathize, like the psalmist, comes through in “Prayer of Columbus.” He takes the suffering Columbus whom he describes as “very sick,” and whose “death…[was] imminent” and portrays him as a “batter’d, wreck’d old man…venting a heavy heart…full of woe” (lines 1, 5, 7).

As the reader, I can peel back, or dig through, another layer of meaning when I consider Whitman the poet as the persona. His circumstances provide a deeper insight into the feelings he expresses. Like Columbus, he was in poor physical condition, having suffered a paralytic stroke the year before the poem was written. Four months after his stroke, his mother, perhaps the most important person in his life, died. Those dismaying circumstances were further complicated by the fact that, having set out with the lofty goal of becoming the American poet, Whitman was sadly disappointed with the lack of positive response to his work—he felt neglected just as Columbus had (Blodgett and Bradley, 42In). By Whitman’s own admission, he put a “sort of autobiographical dash” in the poem (Miller, Corr. II, 272). Mrs. Anne Gilchrist, a Whitman admirer, was more explicit in her identification of Whitman with Columbus: “You too have sailed over stormy seas to your goal—surrounded with mocking disbelievers—you too have paid the great price of health—our Columbus” (qtd. in Allen, Whitman 149).

At a third level of interpretation, the persona is American after the Civil War. Whitman’s beloved nation had attempted to follow a proper course in preserving the Union and abolishing slavery. The nation struggled to reach those goals. America could be compared to Israel, the nation of the Psalms. The people of Israel, as a corporate personality, felt that God had abandoned them, particularly in the exile from their homeland. They found it difficult to understand that God had removed himself so completely from his chosen people. Even after the return to Israel from exile, circumstances were difficult for the people. The nation was not what it had been. Whitman felt that the states of his beloved America, after the terrible ordeal of the Civil War, should have come together as one and accomplished great things. Instead, the country was torn apart, “batter’d, wreck’d” (In. 1), producing nothing of value. Allen quotes Whitman as saying:

….Society, in these States, is canker’d, crude, superstitious and rotten…Never was there, perhaps, more hollowness at heart than at present…our New World democracy…[despite its] materialistic development…is, so far, an almost complete failure in its social aspects… (Solitary Singer 389-390)

The “canker’d, crude” society was suffering from the confusion of reconstruction. Scalawags were still getting into office (Allen, Solitary Singer 390). Whitman’s dream of equality had not been realized. His “Prayer of Columbus,” placed after the Civil War poems, reflects a test of the American idealism Whitman portrays in “Song of Myself” and other earlier poems. This poem embodies the spirit of the Psalms that lament the woes of the nation.

When I read a psalm considering only the persona of the individual whose feelings the psalmist was expressing, I find meaning there. When I add the persona of the author himself, the meaning is broadened. When I read the psalm in the context of its application to the nation, there is still another layer of meaning. The same is true of Whitman’s “Prayer of Columbus.” If Columbus is speaking, I take very literally lines 1 and 2, for example, which portray him as “A batter’d, wreck’d old man, / Thrown on this savage shore, far, far from home.” In his efforts toward discovery, Columbus was nearly defeated by the sea which earlier offered such great promise. Then the Whitman persona leads me to a slightly different interpretation which adds meaning to the text. He was not involved in an actual shipwreck far from home, but his body has been “batter’d” and “wrecked” by the stroke, and he feels an isolation from his readers that is similar to the isolation that comes from being far from home in a hostile place. Add to that the meaning conveyed by those same lines when the persona becomes America. America has been bruised and beaten by the horrors of the Civil War and has “landed” in unfamiliar territory with brutal consequences. I can read nearly every line of the poem within those broadening contexts. It has become a familiar way of reading because I have used the same method with the Psalms.

In the process of uncovering layers of meaning in “Prayer of Columbus,” I might have determined that Whitman’s reflection of the Psalms indicates that, in a time of trouble, Whitman reverted to the traditional concept of religion. This would be a comfortable interpretation for me to adopt. Whitman and I would share a common belief—we could be comrades in that sense. But that interpretation is unlikely. Based on my readings of other poems in Leaves of Grass, I recognize that the “newer better worlds” he speaks of in line 60 are, for Whitman, made up of the best of the traditional Judeo-Christian religion and all religions of the world. In “Song of Myself” Whitman refers to the gods who help make up his new religion:

Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah and laying them away,

Lithographing Kronos and Zeus his son, and Hercules his grandson,

Buying drafts of Osiris and Isis and Belus and Brahma and Adonai,

In my portfolio placing Manito loose, and Allah on a leaf, and the crucifix engraved,

With Odin, and the hideous-faced Mexitli, and all idols and images,

Honestly taking them all for what they are worth, and not a cent more… (lines 1023-1028)

This combination will create a new religion, a “new world.” There will be equality because divinity lies within every person:

Counseling every man and woman to become the fortress, the lord and sovereign, of himself or herself,

To grow through infinite time finally to be a supreme God himself or herself,

Acknowledging none greater, now or after death, than himself or herself. (“While the Schools” 1881, 669, lines 6-8)

And the “anthems” of line 66 of “Prayer of Columbus” are going to be “in new tongues”—no traditional language to proclaim the new religion. And then, too, those anthems will be saluting Whitman (line 66); perhaps they will pay tribute to the divinity in Whitman, but they will not salute the Biblical God: “And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s-self is” (“Song of Myself” 1855, 82, In. 1264).

But I am not disappointed. Whitmans’ effective reflection of the Psalms drew me in, and I made meaning of his “Prayer of Columbus.” His allusions to the familiar and comfortable poetry of the Bible captured my attention. As Whitman compelled me to engage with the text, he lured me out of my comfort to discover a new interpretation. In my case, he accomplished his goal as stated in “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads”:

But I set out with the intention also of indicating or hinting some point-characteristics which I since see…were bases and object-urgings toward those “Leaves” from the first. The word I myself put primarily for the description of them as they stand at last, is the word Suggestiveness. I round and finish little, if anything; and could not, consistently with my scheme. The reader will always have his or her part to do, just as much as 1 have had mine. I seek less to state or display any theme or thought, and more to bring you, reader, into the atmosphere of the theme or thought—there to pursue your own flight. (1881, 570, lines 314-322)

His “Suggestiveness” of the Psalms is like the suggestion made to my mother by the organist as she played familiar hymn tunes. My mother got no further than the comfort and meaning of the words which accompanied the music. I, on the other hand, have discovered new meaning in Whitman’s “Prayer.” I have just landed from pursuing my own flight. Soon I will take off again.


The Psalms have been labelled as the “Bible in Miniature.” They contain a distillation of the thought and religion found in the Old Testament and they are quoted extensively in the New Testament (Gunn 23-24). The collection developed over a long period of time, beginning as single poems. Barth, in Introduction to the Psalms, suggests that the development of this Old Testament book was like that of a river: small springs and streams feed the brooks and many brooks and small rivers merge with the wide river that finally flows into the sea. This analogy suggests that the composition of the Psalms involved all of Israel (2-3). Whitman’s Leaves of Grass can also be termed a “Bible in Miniature.” He was, in fact, attempting to author a new bible, a distillation of the essence of his new religion. His final edition, like the Psalms, developed over many years. Whitman himself modified Leaves of Grass many times, adding and subtracting and moving individual poems within the work. He referred often to the merging of brooks and streams. His work, like the Psalms, “involves” all of America—the people of America provided the foundation for his poems, and, of course, he wants all his readers to be engaged with his poems.

The Psalms are primarily a human creation produced within a religious context. Composed in poetical form, they consist of reflections upon and response to God’s manifestations of himself. They also express the knowledge of God based on Israel’s covenant relationship with Him. These poems reflect a popular theology which results from that relationship, offering a theology for all to use (Craigie 39-40). Many of these qualities parallel those of Leaves of Grass. Whitman’s poems are a human creation created in a religious context, the context of a new religion. Whitman reflects upon and responds to the divinity that is in all people, a belief that he declares in his 1855 Preface (15) and “Song of Myself” (83, In. 1274). The theology he espouses is certainly a popular theology. He was creating a new religion for all people which would include the equality and divinity of all.

An alluring characteristic of the Psalms is that they are made up of a “profusion of literary categories” (Barth 15). Three main categories comprise those Psalms within the Psalter: the Royal Psalms, Psalms of the Community, and Psalms for Individuals. The variety of mood, subject, and occasion is surprising, but it gives the collection a universal or catholic nature and appeal (Driver 368). Leaves of Grass reflects primarily the Psalms of the Community and Psalms for Individuals. The Royal Psalms do not coincide quite as closely with Whitman’s democratic ideal. His work does, however, share with the Psalms a variety of subject and mood as well as a universal nature. These Psalms, perhaps with a greater depth than any others, express the emotions of the soul in relation to God—gratitude, resistance, trust, penitence, obedience, and seasons of darkness (Gunn 53-65). The laments reflecting the psalmist’s season of darkness, in particular, represent the real and natural reactions of the Psalmist to the experience of evil and pain (Craigie 41). These lamentations demonstrate the fact that people of fatih are not exempt from depression; in fact, the depression experienced by those with little faith is insignificant when compared to the darkness encountered by men of deep faith (Gunn 65). Deep depression was often a result of the changes of life and “no quick and easy remedy” existed (Gunn 66). The depression expressed by Whitman in “Prayer of Columbus” parallels that of the psalmist who is experiencing a “season of darkness.” Whitman shows this same progression from sadness and uncertainty to renewed confidence and optimism in other works such as “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life” (1881, 254). While he expresses humility and uncertainty in section 2, his optimism returns in section 4: “Ebb, ocean of life, (the flow will return)” (255, In. 51). *T”here are four kinds of parallelism according to most scholars of Hebrew poetic structure: 1) synonymous, in which the second ine enforces the thought of the first by repeating it in a different form; 2) antithetic, in which the thought of the first line is emphasized or confirmed by a contrasting thought in the second line; 3) synthetic, which is merely a parallelism of form, often used to state comparison, reason, consequence, or motive; and 4) climactic, in which the first line is complete in itself and the second line takes words from the first and completes them (Driver 362-363). The parallel structure found in the Psalms is more prevalent in other poems by Whitman, such as “Song of Myself,” than it is in “Prayer of Columbus.”

APPENDIX A: Psalms 42 and 43 42:

  1. As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O god.
  2. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?
  3. My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God?
  4. When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday.
  5. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.
  6. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.
  7. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all they waves and thy billows are gone over me.
  8. Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.
  9. i will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
  10. As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me; while they say daily unto me, Where is thy God?
  11. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.


  1. Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man.
  2. For thou art the God of my strength: why dost thou cast me off? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
  3. O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them ring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.
  4. Then will I go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy: yea, upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God. —from The Bible, King James Version

Works Cited

Allen, Gay Wilson. “Biblical Echoes in Whitman’s Works.” American Literature VI (1934): 302-315.

—. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1985.

—. Walt Whitman. Detroit: Wayne State University. 1969.

—. Walt Whitman Handbook. Illinois: Packard, 1946.

Barth, Christoph F. Introduction to the Psalms. Trans. R.A. Wilson. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1966.

The Bible. King James Version.

Blodgett, Harold W. and Sculley Bradley, eds. Leaves of Grass: A Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1973.

Cowley, Malcolm, ed. Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition. By Walt Whitman. New York: Penguin Classics, 1986.

Craigie, Peter C. Psalms 1-50. Vol. 19 of World Biblical Commentary. Ed. David A. Hubbard et al. Texas: Word Books, 1983.

Crawley, Thomas Edward. The Structure of Leaves of Grass. Austin: University of Texas, 1970.

Driver, S.R. Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910.

Gunn, George S. Singers of Israel. Vol. 10 of Bible Guides. Eds. William Barclay and F.F. Bruce. New York: Abingdon Press, 1963.

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