Nonfiction > Walt Whitman > Prose Works > IV. Pieces in Early Youth > 14. Sailing the Mississippi at Midnight
Walt Whitman (1819–1892).  Prose Works. 1892.
IV. Pieces in Early Youth
14. Sailing the Mississippi at Midnight
        VAST and starless, the pall of heaven
  Laps on the trailing pall below;
And forward, forward, in solemn darkness,
  As if to the sea of the lost we go.
Now drawn nigh the edge of the river,
  Weird-like creatures suddenly rise;
Shapes that fade, dissolving outlines
  Baffle the gazer’s straining eyes.
Towering upward and bending forward,
  Wild and wide their arms are thrown,
Ready to pierce with forked fingers
  Him who touches their realm upon.
Tide of youth, thus thickly planted,
  While in the eddies onward you swim,
Thus on the shore stands a phantom army,
  Lining forever the channel’s rim.
Steady, helmsman! you guide the immortal;
  Many a wreck is beneath you piled,
Many a brave yet unwary sailor
  Over these waters has been beguiled.
Nor is it the storm or the scowling midnight,
  Cold, or sickness, or fire’s dismay—
Nor is it the reef, or treacherous quicksand,
  Will peril you most on your twisted way.
But when there comes a voluptuous languor,
  Soft the sunshine, silent the air,
Bewitching your craft with safety and sweetness,
  Then, young pilot of life, beware.



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