Walt Whitman Poems: To One Shortly to Die

In memory of my father, born January 15, 1918.

English: Walt Whitman. Library of Congress des...

Walt Whitman. Library of Congress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He died February 12, 1991, four days after a massive hemorrhagic stroke.

My mother, my two brothers and I were there when he died.

Though he’d slipped into a coma the night before, it seemed as if he couldn’t let go.

Then, we finally started talking about other things in our lives, instead of our silent mourning for him.

His spirit flew up to the corner of the ceiling, watching us, perhaps comforted by the knowledge that we would be ok, and, with one last breath, he let go.


To One Shortly to Die


From all the rest I single out you, having a message for you,

You are to die – let others tell you what they please, I cannot


I am exact and merciless, but I love you – there is no escape for you.


Softly I lay my right hand upon you, you just feel it,

I do not argue, I bend my head close and half envelop it,

I sit quietly by, I remain faithful,

I am more than nurse, more than parent or neighbor,

I absolve you from all except yourself spiritual bodily, that is eternal,

you yourself will surely escape,

The corpse you will leave will be but excrementitious.


The sun bursts through in unlooked-for directions,

Strong thoughts fill you and confidence, you smile,

You forgot you are sick, as I forget you are sick,

You do not see the medicines, you do not mind the weeping friends,

I am with you,

I exclude others from you, there is nothing to be commiserated,

I do not commiserate, I congratulate you.


1860 1871

Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

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