Walt Whitman:
To the Soul

Song Settings of Poetry by Walt Whitman

The American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) inspired hundreds of composers to set his verse.

For the Bard of Democracy, as America came to call our great poet, music was a central metaphor in his life and work, both as a metaphysical mindset and as a practical reality. Whitman was blessed with an extraordinary ear for inner rhythms which he then articulated in the radically free, rolling, thrusting verses which revitalized the entire world of poetic language. That same ear led him to the appreciation of classical music. For the poet this was a largely self-taught quest in which he relied on both his innate musicality and his experience as a music journalist to formulate aesthetic principles that would carry over into his poetry. Walt Whitman caroled throughout his verse, song was the language of the soul, and the act of writing poetry was to carol his nation’s soul.

This project includes song texts from Thomas Hampson’s album To the Soul, two essays about Walt Whitman, a Whitman biography and timeline, and more!


I sing...the body electric, a song of myself, a song of joys, a song of occupations, a song of prudence, a song of the answerer, a song of the broad-axe, a song of the rolling earth, a song of the universal...

Walt Whitman

More Information

Song of America: Walt Whitman

Learn more information about Walt Whitman, his life and musical settings of his poetry here!

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Song of America Radio Program:
"Song of Walt Whitman"

With music built deep into his poetry, it’s no surprise that Whitman has been a beacon for American composers.

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Resources included in or related to this project:


Walt Whitman & Song


To the Soul
Song Texts & Select Translations


Walt Whitman Biography


Walt Whitman Timeline


A Study of the Text and Music for Whitman’s
“To What You Said”


Selected List of Resources Related to Walt Whitman


Links Related to Walt Whitman


Annual Erich Leinsdorf Lecture (January 2010)


Recital of American Songs & Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman (Spring 1994)


Grieg, Mahler, Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman, & American Songs (Feb. 1994)


Grieg, Songs to Poems by Walt Whitman, & Schumann (Nov. 7, 1993)


Schumann & Songs for the Centennial of Walt Whitman
(Nov. 1992)

“Joy, Shipmate, Joy!”

Thomas Hampson sings Ralph Vaughn Williams's Walt Whitman setting “Joy, Shipmate, Joy!” as part of the special concert “Water: A Musical Celebration of America’s Heartland and Heart” with pianist Vlad Iftinca

Composers! Mighty maestros!

And you, sweet singers of old lands,

soprani, tenori, bassi!

To you a new bard is caroling in the West,

obeisant sends his love.

Walt Whitman, "Proud Music of the Storm" from Leaves of Grass