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The two words that are of interest in this poem would be “clangor” and “athwart”.

Clangor can be defined as “a resounding clang or medley of clangs” (

Athwart can be defined as “in opposition to” or “across especially in an oblique direction” (

Knowing the two definitions, it is apparent that Whitman is expressing two periods of the day – the first is when the sun is out and lighting up the world for him to see things (perhaps much more clear or even the way that he prefers to see things). The other period is at night when the sounds of the different musical instruments come together to create a sound that maybe he would not have particularly enjoyed, had it not been for the sounds “athwarting” his soul. The sounds seem to touch him in an opposite direction that he, or anyone else, was not expecting.


Nature metaphors are common in Whitman’s later work. Here, Whitman uses the passage of day to symbolize the journey through life. The “clangor” and “chorus” is apt to describe the exciting politicized nature of Whitman’s early years, and the drum-beat rhythm of the war years.

But the later years demonstrate a change in Whitman’s verse. Instead of the band and the chorus, silence is the background for the poetic “symphony.” The “dazzle” of the day fades to darkness, where Whitman can see the stars, the subtler notes of nature, ones that are equally as important as the energetic, political verse of Whitman’s youth.

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After the dazzle of day is gone,
Only the dark, dark night shows to my eyes the stars;
After the clangor of organ majestic, or chorus, or perfect band,
Silent, athwart my soul, moves the symphony true.