The 1860 Version of "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
Two major earlier versions of "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" preceded the final 1881 version. The poem first appeared as "A Child's Reminiscence" in the New York Saturday Press in December 1859. The second version, below, appeared in the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. Further changes were included in the 1867 version of Leaves of Grass, but the final title did not appear until 1871. A few further alterations occurred in the final 1881 version.
A WORD OUT OF THE SEA
(Leaves of Grass, Boston, 1860, pp. 269-77)
Out of the rocked cradle,
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the boy's mother's womb, and from the nipples of her breasts,
Out of the Ninth Month midnight,
Over the sterile sands, and the fields beyond, where the child, leaving his
bed, wandered alone, bare-headed, barefoot,
Down from the showered halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows, twining and twisting as if they were
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories, sad brother--from the fitful risings and failings
From under that yellow half-moon, late-risen, and swollen as if with tears,
From those beginning notes of sickness and love, there in the transparent
From the thousand responses of my heart, never to cease,
From the myriad thence-aroused words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such, as now they start, the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overheard passing,
Borne hither--ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man--yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them--but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.
When the snows had melted, and the Fifth Month grass was growing,
Up this sea-shore, in some briers,
Two guests from Alabama--two together,
And their nest, and four light-green eggs, spotted with brown,
And every day the he-bird, to and fro, near at hand,
And every day the she-bird, crouched on her nest, silent, with bright
And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing them,
Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.
Pour down your warmth, great Sun!
While we bask--we two together.
Winds blow South, or winds blow North,
Day come white, or night come black,
Home, or rivers and mountains from home,
Singing all time, minding no time,
If we two but keep together.
Till of a sudden,
May-be killed, unknown to her mate,
One forenoon the she-bird crouched not on the nest;
Nor returned that afternoon, nor the next,
Nor ever appeared again.
And thenceforward, all summer, in the sound of the sea,
And at night, under the full of the moon, in calmer weather,
Over the hoarse surging of the sea,
Or flitting from brier to brier by day,
I saw, I heard at intervals, the remaining one, the he-bird,
The solitary guest from Alabama.
Blow up sea-winds along Paumanok's shore,
I wait and I wait, till you blow my mate to me.
Yes, when the stars glistened,
All night long, on the prong of a moss-scallop'd stake,
Down, almost amid the slapping waves,
Sat the lone singer, wonderful, causing tears.
He called on his mate,
He poured forth the meanings which I, of all men, know.
Yes, my brother, I know,
The rest might not--but I have treasured every note,
For once, and more than once, dimly, down to the beach gliding,
Silent, avoiding the moonbeams, blending myself with the shadows,
Recalling now the obscure shapes, the echoes, the sounds and sights
after their sorts,
The white arms out in the breakers tirelessly tossing,
I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
Listened long and long.
Listened, to keep, to sing--now translating the notes,
Following you, my brother.
Close on its wave soothes the wave behind,
And again another behind, embracing and lapping, every one close,
But my love soothes not me.
Low hangs the moon--it rose late,
O it is lagging--O I think it is heavy with love.
O madly the sea pushes upon the land,
With love--with love.
O do I not see my love fluttering out there among the breakers?
What is that little black thing I see there in the white?
Loud I call to you my love!
High and clear I shoot my voice over the waves,
Surely you must know who is here,
You must know who I am, my love.
What is that dusky spot in your brown yellow?
O it is the shape of my mate!
O moon, do not keep her from me any longer.
Land! O land!
Whichever way I turn, O I think you could give me my mate back
again, if you would,
For I am almost sure I see her dimly whichever way I look.
O rising stars!
Perhaps the one I want so much will rise with some of you.
Sound clearer through the atmosphere!
Pierce the woods, the earth,
Somewhere listening to catch you must be the one I want.
Shake out, carols!
Solitary here--the night's carols!
Carols of lonesome love! Death's carols!
Carols under that lagging, yellow, waning moon!
O, under that moon, where she droops almost down into the sea!
O reckless, despairing carols.
Soft! Let me just murmur,
And do you wait a moment, you husky-noised sea,
For somewhere I believe I heard my mate responding to me,
So faint--I must be still to listen,
But not altogether still, for then she might not come immediately to
Hither, my love!
Here I am! Here!
With this just-sustained note I announce myself to you,
This gentle call is for you, my love.
Do not be decoyed elsewhere!
That is the whistle of the wind--it is not my voice,
That is the fluttering of the spray,
Those are the shadows of leaves.
O darkness! O in vain!
O I am very sick and sorrowful.
O brown halo in the sky, near the moon, dropping upon the sea!
O troubled reflection in the sea!
O throat! O throbbing heart!
O all--and I singing uselessly all the night.
Murmur! Murmur on!
O murmurs--you yourselves make me continue to sing, I know not
O past! O joy!
In the air--in the woods--over fields,
Loved! Loved! Loved! Loved! Loved!
Loved--but no more with me,
We two together no more.
The aria sinking,
All else continuing--the stars shining,
The winds blowing--the notes of the wondrous bird echoing,
With angry moans the fierce old mother yet, as ever, incessantly
On the sands of Paumanoks shore gray and rustling,
The yellow half-moon, enlarged, sagging down, drooping, the face of
the sea almost touching,
The boy extatic--with his bare feet the waves, with his hair the
The love in the heart pent, now loose, now at last tumultuously bursting,
The aria's meaning, the ears, the Soul, swiftly depositing,
The strange tears down the checks coursing,
The colloquy there--the trio--each uttering,
The undertone--the savage old mother, incessantly crying,
To the boy's Soul's questions sullenly timing--some drowned secret
To the outsetting bard of love.
Bird! (then said the boy's Soul),
Is it indeed toward your mate you sing? or is it mostly to me?
For I that was a child, my tongues use sleeping,
Now that I have heard you,
Now in a moment I know what I am for--I awake,
And already a thousand singers--a thousand songs, clearer, louder,
more sorrowful than yours,
A thousand warbling echoes have started to life within me,
Never to die.
O you demon, singing by yourself--projecting me,
O solitary me, listening--never more shall I cease imitating,
Never more shall I escape,
Never more shall the reverberations,
Never more the cries of unsatisfied love be absent from me,
Never again leave me to be the peaceful child I was before what
there, in the night,
By the sea, under the yellow and sagging moon,
The dusky demon aroused--the fire, the sweet hell within,
The unknown want, the destiny of me.
O give me some clew!
O if I am to have so much, let me have more!
O a word! O what is my destination?
O I fear it is henceforth chaos!
O how joys, dreads, convolutions, human shapes, and all shapes,
spring as from graves around me!
O phantoms you cover all the land, and all the sea!
O I cannot see in the dimness whether you smile or frown upon me;
O vapor, a look, a word! O well-beloved!
O you dear women's and men's phantoms!
A word then, (for I will conquer it,)
The word final, superior to all,
Subtle, sent up--what is it? I listen;
Are you whispering it, and have been all the time, you sea-waves?
Is that it from your liquid rims and wet sands?
Answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whispered me through the night, and very plainly before daybreak,
Lisped to me constantly the low and delicious word Death,
And again Death--ever Death, Death, Death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird, nor like my aroused child's
But edging near, as privately for me, rustling at my feet,
And creeping thence steadily up to my ears,
Death, Death, Death, Death, Death.
Which I do not forget,
But fuse the song of two together,
That was sung to me in the moonlight on Paumanok's gray beach,
With the thousand responsive songs, at random,
My own songs, awaked from that hour,
And with them the key, the word up from the waves,
The word of the sweetest song, and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
The sea whispered me.
Return to Walt Whitman