“Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice” appeared for the first time in the 1865 Drum-Taps collection, but many of the poem’s lines had been published in “Calamus” #5 in the 1860 Leaves of Grass. It initially was an upbeat celebration of America. It promised to hold the states together “as firmly as the earth itself is held together.”
Then the war came.
In a revised version of the poem, young dead men litter the formerly bucolic landscape. Still, Whitman remains hopeful—hence the “prophetic voice.” When I read this poem again, I thought immediately of the new photos that are being published—okay, Frassanito’s Antietam was the first—using digital, color photography to show then-and-now images of battlefields. Try to hear that voice over the carnage.
Over the Carnage Rose Prophetic a Voice
Over the carnage rose prophetic a voice,
Be not dishearten’d—Affection shall solve the problems
of Freedom yet;
Those who love each other shall become invincible—
they shall yet make Columbia victorious.
Sons of the Mother of All! you shall yet be victo-
You shall yet laugh to scorn the attacks of all the re-
mainder of the earth.
No danger shall balk Columbia’s lovers;
If need be, a thousand shall sternly immolate them-
selves for one.
One from Massachusetts shall be a Missourian’s com-
From Maine and from hot Carolina, and another, an
Oregonese, shall be friends triune,
More precious to each other than all the riches of the
To Michigan, Florida, perfumes shall tenderly come;
Not the perfumes of flowers, but sweeter, and wafted
It shall be customary in the houses and streets to see
The most dauntless and rude shall touch face to face
The dependence of Liberty shall be lovers,
The continuance of Equality shall be comrades.
These shall tie you and band you stronger than hoops
I, extatic, O partners! O lands! with the love of lovers
(Were you looking to be held together by the lawyers?
Or by an agreement on a paper? or by arms?
—Nay—nor the world, nor any living thing, will so