‘A Clear Midnight’ by Walt Whitman is a simple, yet impactful poem that depicts a speaker’s desire to free his soul from the confines of day to day life.
In the first lines of ‘A Clear Midnight,’ the speaker addresses his soul, telling it that now is the time to shake off the mundanity of books, art, and all earth-bound pursuits. It can now rise into a different transcendent plane where it can ponder that which it is most interested in. His soul desires to leave the world behind and now thinking about “themes” of life, death, and the stars.
Explore A Clear Midnight
Themes and Meaning of A Clear Midnight
The poem is centered around the idea that the speaker’s soul, which is representative of all human souls, is most interested in topics like “night,” “the stars,” and “death”. These are unifying themes or topics for all of the human race, all souls spend time thinking about these things, considering the implications of the largest questions that humankind has to answer.
Structure of A Clear Midnight
‘A Clear Midnight’ by Walt Whitman is a five-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. These lines, as was the case with all of Whitman’s poetry, do not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They are written in what is known as free verse. They range in length, with the shortest only three words long and the longest stretching to twelve.
Literary Devices in A Clear Midnight
Whitman makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘A Clear Midnight’. These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, accumulation, and apostrophe. The first of these, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “fully forth” and “free flight” in lines one and three.
Accumulation is a literary device that relates to a list of words or phrases that have similar, if not the same, meanings. In a poem, story, or novel, these words are grouped together or appear scattered throughout a work. They collect or pile up, and a theme, image, sensation, or deeper meaning is revealed. In this case, Whitman accumulates images of freedom, peace, and the “themes” his soul is interested in to create a larger sensory image for the reader.
An apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone, something, or creature, that does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. In the case of ‘A Clear Midnight,’ the lines are addressed to the speaker’s soul.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines three and four.
Analysis of A Clear Midnight
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
In the first lines of ‘A Clear Midnight,’ the speaker begins by talking directly to his “soul”. This is a technique known as apostrophe. It occurs when the intended listener is not a real person, is deceased, or is a creature/force that can’t (in reality) understand the speaker’s words. He is talking to his soul, telling it that this is its “hour,” the time where it’s going to be able to get away from the world and all that might seek to tie it down.
He is in reality speaking to himself. The speaker is encouraging himself to let go of the lessons of the day. As well as the memories, “the art” and “books”. While these things are for a time the way he wants to spend his life there is a moment, the “clear midnight” when he wants to release these pressures. He can ponder “themes” that his soul loves best.
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes
thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.
In the final three lines of ‘A Clear Midnight’ the speaker tells his soul that now that it has released these pressures that control it, it can now “ponder…the themes / thou lovest best”. These are listed out at the end of the poem, “Night, sleep, death and the stars”. These are themes that have no boundaries, answers, requirements, or restrictions. They apply to all souls, no matter their origin. They are universal and transcendent, elements of all human experiences.
This poem is quite short at only five lines but its brevity makes it even more impactful. These lines read like a mantra of sorts. They are statements to free the soul, and then allow it the space to thinking on and live in every “clear” moment of existence.