Home  »  Prose Works  »  44. Home-Made Music

Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days

44. Home-Made Music

August 8th.—TO-NIGHT, as I was trying to keep cool, sitting by a wounded soldier in Armory-square, I was attracted by some pleasant singing in an adjoining ward. As my soldier was asleep, I left him, and entering the ward where the music was, I walk’d half-way down and took a seat by the cot of a young Brooklyn friend, S. R., badly wounded in the hand at Chancellorsville, and who has suffer’d much, but at that moment in the evening was wide awake and comparatively easy. He had turn’d over on his left side to get a better view of the singers, but the mosquito-curtains of the adjoining cots obstructed the sight. I stept round and loop’d them all up, so that he had a clear show, and then sat down again by him, and look’d and listen’d. The principal singer was a young lady-nurse of one of the wards, accompanying on a melodeon, and join’d by the lady-nurses of other wards. They sat there, making a charming group, with their handsome, healthy faces, and standing up a little behind them were some ten or fifteen of the convalescent soldiers, young men, nurses, &c., with books in their hands, singing. Of course it was not such a performance as the great soloists at the New York opera house take a hand in, yet I am not sure but I receiv’d as much pleasure under the circumstances, sitting there, as I have had from the best Italian compositions, express’d by world-famous performers. The men lying up and down the hospital, in their cots, (some badly wounded—some never to rise thence,) the cots themselves, with their drapery of white curtains, and the shadows down the lower and upper parts of the ward; then the silence of the men, and the attitudes they took—the whole was a sight to look around upon again and again. And there sweetly rose those voices up to the high, whitewash’d wooden roof, and pleasantly the roof sent it all back again. They sang very well, mostly quaint old songs and declamatory hymns, to fitting tunes. Here, for instance:

  • My days are swiftly gliding by, and I a pilgrim stranger,
  • Would not detain them as they fly, those hours of toil and danger;
  • For O we stand on Jordan’s strand, our friends are passing over,
  • And just before, the shining shore we may almost discover.
  • We’ll gird our loins my brethren dear, our distant home discerning,
  • Our absent Lord has left us word, let every lamp be burning,
  • For O we stand on Jordan’s strand, our friends are passing over,
  • And just before, the shining shore we may almost discover.