Excerpt from Specimen Days

- By Walt Whitman
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Walter Whitman (/ˈhwɪtmən/; May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse.[1] His work was controversial in its time, particularly his poetry collection Leaves of Grass, which was described as obscene for its overt sensuality. Whitman's own life came under scrutiny for his presumed homosexuality. Born in Huntington on Long Island, as a child and through much of his career he resided in Brooklyn. At age 11, he left formal schooling to go to work. Later, Whitman worked as a journalist, a teacher, and a government clerk. Whitman's major poetry collection, Leaves of Grass, was first published in 1855 with his own money and became well known. The work was an attempt at reaching out to the common person with an American epic. He continued expanding and revising it until his death in 1892. During the American Civil War, he went to Washington, D.C. and worked in hospitals caring for the wounded. His poetry often focused on both loss and healing. On the death of Abraham Lincoln, whom Whitman greatly admired, he wrote his well known poems, "O Captain! My Captain!" and "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd", and gave a series of lectures. After a stroke towards the end of his life, Whitman moved to Camden, New Jersey, where his health further declined. When he died at age 72, his funeral was a public event.[2][3]
110. Summer Sights and Indolences
1) June 10th.—AS I write, 5 1/2 P. M., here by the creek, nothing can exceed the quiet splendor and freshness around me. We had a heavy shower, with brief thunder and lightning, in the middle of the day; and since, overhead, one of those not uncommon yet indescribable skies (in quality, not details or forms) of limpid blue, with rolling silver-fringed clouds, and a pure-dazzling sun. For underlay, trees in fullness of tender foliageliquid, ready, long-drawn notes of birds—based by the fretful mewing of a querulous cat-bird, and the pleasant chippering-shriek of two kingfishers. I have been watching the latter the last half hour, on their regular evening frolic over and in the stream; evidently a spree of the liveliest kind. They pursue each other, whirling and wheeling around, with many a jocund downward dip, splashing the spray in jets of diamonds—and then off they swoop, with slanting wings and graceful flight, sometimes so near me I can plainly see their dark-gray feather-bodies and milk-white necks.
111. Sundown Perfume – Quail-Notes – The Hermit Thrush
2) June 19th, 4 to 6 1/2, P. M.—SITTING alone by the creeksolitude here, but the scene bright and vivid enough—the sun shining, and quite a fresh wind blowing (some heavy showers last night,) the grass and trees looking their best—the clareobscure of different greens, shadows, half-shadows, and the dappling glimpses of the water, through recesses—the wild flageolet-note of a quail near by—the justheard fretting of some hylas down there in the pond—crows cawing in the distance—a drove of young hogs rooting in soft ground near the oak under which I sit—some come sniffing near me, and then scamper away, with grunts. And still the clear notes of the quail—the quiver of leaf-shadows over the paper as I write— the sky aloft, with white clouds, and the sun well declining to the west—the swift darting of many sand-swallows coming and going, their holes in a neighboring marl-bank—the odor of the cedar oak, so palpable, as evening approaches— perfume, color, the bronze-and-gold of nearly ripen’d wheat—clover-fields, with honey-scent—the well-up maize, with long and rustling leaves—the great patches of thriving potatoes, dusky green, fleck’d all over with white blossoms—the old, warty, venerable oak above me—and ever, mix’d with the dual notes of the quail, the soughing of the wind through some near-by pines.
As I rise for return, I linger long to a delicious song-epilogue (is it the hermitthrush?) from some bushy recess off there in the swamp, repeated leisurely and pensively over and over again. This, to the circle-gambols of the swallows flying by dozens in concentric rings in the last rays of sunset, like flashes of some airy wheel.

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Word Lists:

Underlay : place something under (something else), especially to support or raise it

Jocund : cheerful and lighthearted

Quail : a small, short-tailed Old World game bird resembling a small partridge, typically having brown camouflaged plumage.

Concentric : of or denoting circles, arcs, or other shapes which share the same center, the larger often completely surrounding the smaller

Caw : the harsh cry of a crow or similar bird.

Limpid : (of a liquid) free of anything that darkens; completely clear

Querulous : complaining in a petulant or whining manner

Spree : a spell or sustained period of unrestrained activity of a particular kind

Fretful : feeling or expressing distress or irritation

Maize : a Central American cereal plant that yields large grains set in rows on a cob; corn.


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