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Walt Whitman's "Miracles"

Updated on May 19, 2016
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Walt Whitman



In Whitman's "Miracles," the speaker catalogues all the miracles he finds as he goes through life, concluding that he has encountered nothing but miracles.

Walt Whitman's "Miracles" consists of three versagraphs. 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.

First Versagraph: "Why! who makes much of a miracle?"
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: "To me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle"
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: "To me the sea is a continual miracle"
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.

Reading of Whitman's "Miracles" by Tom O'Bedlam

The Complete Poems

The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)
The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)

This collection includes "Miracles"


© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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