Whispers of Heavenly Death: Poem - Summary & Analysis

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Whispers of heavenly death murmur’d, I hear,
Labia gossip of night, sibilant choral,
Footsteps gently ascending, mystical breezes wafted soft and low,
Ripples of unseen rivers, tides of a current flowing, forever flowing,
(Or is it the plashing of tears? the measureless waters of human tears?)
I see, just see skyward, great cloud-masses,
Mournfully slowly they roll, silently swelling and mixing,
With at times a half-dimm’d sadden’d far-off star,
Appearing and disappearing.
(Some parturition rather, some solemn immortal birth;
On the frontiers to eyes impenetrable, Some soul is passing over.)


      Summary. As the title hints Whispers of Heavenly Death is a short poem of twelve short lines speaking of death which in the eyes of the poet indicates that “some soul is passing over” as mentioned in the last line. In fact, the poet wants to call it “some parturition”. It is an immortal birth.

      The poet hears the Whispers of Heavenly Death. He metaphorically refers to it as labial gossip of night and sibilant chorals. Sounds of ph and sh are associated with death. The poet further fancies that he hears gently ascending footsteps and mystical breezes wafted soft and low. He likens the sounds to the ripples of invisible rivers and flowing tides of a current. Suddenly the poet’s imagination wanders to something nearer and he asks whether it is the “plashing” of tears.

      Critical Analysis. Whitman has written many poems openly admitting his faith in the existence of an immortal soul. Hence he does not think that the fact of death is confined to the cessation of the biological and physiological function. The poet speaks of great cloud-masses rolling mournfully and slowly up towards the sky and a half-dimmed saddened far-off star appears and disappears. This has a symbolic reference to the mystery associated with what we call death. After death what happens? This is an eternal question tackled by great metaphysical thinkers. The poet poses that question and wants the reader to tackle it further. The optimistic attitude of the poet that death is not something final but it is the passing over of the soul on to the frontiers which cannot be penetrated by mortal eyes is clearly indicated in the last three lines.

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