Walt Whitman's "Miracles"

Updated on April 17, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Walt Whitman

Source

Introduction and Text of "Miracles"

Walt Whitman's "Miracles" consists of three versagraphs. (Please note: "Versagraph" is a term I coined; it is the conflation of "verse paragraph," the primary unit of free verse poetry.) The first versagraph features a long catalogue for which Whitman is noted. The second reinforces his notion that everything in creation is a miracle, and the third takes special note of the miracle of the ocean.

The poem begins and ends with a question that rhetorically, as usual, answers itself. The speaker wishes to assert and defend the idea that all aspects of creation are, in fact, miracles, not just the so-called supernatural events that are often touted as miraculous. The speaker intuits that anything that seems supernatural is merely not yet understood. By claiming that everything from a fish to a man is a miracle, he transcends the mundane notion that divides humanity as it strives to discern what is holy and what is not.

Miracles

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring—yet each distinct, and in its place.

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships, with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

Reading of "Miracles"

Commentary

Whitman's speaker in "Miracle" is cataloguing all the miracles he finds as he goes through life, concluding that he has encountered nothing but miracles.

First Versagraph: The Supernatural

Why! who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love—or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with my mother,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive, of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds—or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sun-down—or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite, delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring;
Or whether I go among those I like best, and that like me best—mechanics, boatmen, farmers,
Or among the savans—or to the soiree—or to the opera,
Or stand a long while looking at the movements of machinery,
Or behold children at their sports,
Or the admirable sight of the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman,
Or the sick in hospitals, or the dead carried to burial,
Or my own eyes and figure in the glass;
These, with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring—yet each distinct, and in its place.

The speaker begins with an exclamation, "Why!," that implies that he has just heard someone remark about some possible supernatural event that is being touted as a miracle. He then asks the question, "who makes much of a miracle?" The question is merely rhetorical because the speaker continues to answer his own question. The speaker avers that he is not aware that there is anything in existence that is not a miracle, and he then begins a long catalogue of things he claims are miracles. It does not matter, he asserts, "whether he is walk[ing] the streets of Manhattan or merely looking toward the sky," all he sees are miracles.

When he wades "with bare feet along the beach and stand[s] under trees in the woods," he perceives these acts as part of the great miracle. "Sit[ting] at table at dinner with [his] mother, seeing strangers opposite [him] riding the car, watching bees and animals feeding in the fields, or birds and insects"— all these events portend the miraculous for this speaker. This speaker also finds miracles in the sun-down and the stars shining so quiet and bright, as well as the delicate, thin curve of the new moon in spring. Whether he associates with mechanics, boatmen, farmers or the fancy people who attend the opera, he still perceives all these people to be part of the great dramatic miracle of life.

He also finds miracles in the movements of machinery and children at their sports. He admires the perfect old man, or the perfect old woman. Even sick people in hospitals, and the deceased headed for burial, he finds miraculous. When he views his own reflection in the mirror, he finds his own eyes and figure to be miracles. The speaker finalizes his long catalogue by asserting that these things and even all those things he has not named are "one and all to me miracles." Each miracle reflects the whole as it occupies its own space.

Second Versagraph: A Pantheistic View

To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same;
Every spear of grass—the frames, limbs, organs, of men and women, and all that concerns them,
All these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles.

The speaker then claims that both day and night are miracles, along with every inch of space. He emphasizes, "[e]very square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same." From the soil, to the grass, to bodies of all men and women, he finds "[a]ll these to me are unspeakably perfect miracles."

Third Versagraph: The Miracle of the Ocean

To me the sea is a continual miracle;
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships, with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?

Almost as an afterthought the speaker asserts that to him the sea is a continual miracle with swimming fish, its rocks, the waves, and the ships that have men in them. The speaker concludes with his final question: "What stranger miracles are there?" Of course, the answer is, none.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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