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Title: A Day with Walt Whitman
Author: Clare, Maurice
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Day with Walt Whitman" ***

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    [Illustration: THE OPEN ROAD.

      Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
      Healthy, free, the world before me,
      The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

                                     (_Song of the Open Road_).]

    A · DAY · WITH




_In the same Series._

  _E. B. Browning._


About six o'clock on a midsummer morning in 1877, a tall old man awoke,
and was out of bed next moment,--but he moved with a certain slow
leisureliness, as one who will not be hurried. The reason of this
deliberate movement was obvious,--he had to drag a paralysed leg, which
was only gradually recovering its ability and would always be slightly
lame. Seen more closely, he was not by any means so old as at first
sight one might imagine. His snow-white hair and almost-white grey beard
indicated some eighty years: but he was vigorous, erect and rosy: his
clear grey-blue eyes were bright with a "wild-hawk look,"--his face was
firm and without a line. An air of splendid vital force, despite his
infirmity, was diffused from his whole person, and defied the fact of
his actual age, which was two years short of sixty.

Dressing with the same large, leisurely gestures as characterized him in
everything, Walt Whitman was presently attired in his invariable suit of
grey: and by the time the clock touched half-past seven, he was seated
in the verandah, comfortably inhaling the sweet, fresh morning air, and
quite ready for his simple breakfast.

In this old farmhouse, in the New Jersey hamlet of White Horse, Walt
Whitman had been long an inmate. He was recovering by almost
imperceptible degrees from the breakdown induced by over-strain, mental
and physical, which had culminated in intermittent paralytic seizures
for the last eight years, and had left his robust physique a mere wreck
of its former magnificence. Here, in the absolute peace and seclusion of
the little wooden house, with its few fields and fruit-trees, he lived
in lovable companionship with the farmer-folk, man, wife and sons: and
here, the level, faintly undulated country, "neither attractive nor
unattractive," supplied all the needs of his strenuous nature and healed
him with its calm, curative influences. He steeped himself, month by
month, season after season, in "primitive solitudes, winding stream,
recluse and woody banks, sweet-feeding springs and all the charms that
birds, grass, wild-flowers, rabbits and squirrels, old oaks,
walnut-trees, etc., can bring." Simple fare, these charms might seem to
a townsman: to the "good grey poet" they were not only sufficient but
inexhaustible. Dearly as he loved the "swarming and tumultuous" life of
cities, the tops of Broadway omnibuses, the Brooklyn ferry-boats, the
eternal panorama of the multitude, his true delight was in the vast
expanses, the illimitable spaces, the very earth from which,
Antæus-like, he drew his vital strength. Out here, in the country
solitudes, alone could he observe how--in a way undreamed of by the

  Ever upon this stage
  Is acted God's calm annual drama,
  Gorgeous processions, songs of birds,
  Sunrise that fullest feeds and freshens most the soul,
  The heaving sea, the waves upon the shore, the musical, strong waves,
  The woods, the stalwart trees, the slender, tapering trees,
  The lilliput countless armies of the grass.

                                   (_The Return of the Heroes._)

It may be doubted whether any other poet who has been inspired by
outdoor Nature, has approximated so closely as Whitman to the "shows of
all variety," which nature presents,--from the infinite gradations of
microscopic detail, to the enormous range and sweep of dim vastitudes.
His poetry has a huge elemental quality, akin to that of winds and
clouds and seas. "To speak with the perfect rectitude and insouciance of
the movements of animals, and the unimpeachableness of the sentiment of
trees in the woods and grass by the roadside,"--this was the standard he
had set himself: and, in pursuance of this ideal, he had given his first
and most typically unconventional volume the title "_Leaves of Grass_."
No name could better convey and sum up his meaning in art,--a commixture
of the minute and the universal, the simple and the inexplicable, the
particular and the all-pervading,--the commonplace which is also the
miracle: for to Whitman leaves of grass were this and more. "To me," he
declared, "as I lean and loaf at my ease, observing a spear of summer

  Every hour of the light and dark is a miracle--
  Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,

the grass-blades no less so than the "gentle soft-born measureless
light." And, avowedly, from these external expressions of nature he
derived all power of song--

  I hear you whispering there, O stars of heaven--
  O suns--O grass of graves--O perpetual transfers and promotions,--
  If you do not say anything, how can I say anything?

Thus he had arrived at declaring, with august arrogance: "Let others
finish specimens--I never finish specimens: I shower them by exhaustless
laws as Nature does, fresh and modern continually."

Nor are you to suppose that this was a late development of
nature-worship in a man suddenly confronted with teeming glories and
wonderments. All through his life he had been soaking himself in the
mysterious loveliness of the world around. "Even as a boy," he wrote, "I
had the fancy, the wish, to write a poem about the seashore--that
suggesting dividing line, contact, junction, the solid marrying the
liquid--that curious, lurking something (as doubtless every objective
form finally becomes to the subjective spirit) which means far more than
its mere first sight, grand as that is.... I felt that I must one day
write a book expressing this liquid, mystic theme. Afterward ... it came
to me that instead of any special lyrical or epical or literary attempt,
the seashore should be an invisible _influence_, a pervading gauge and
tally for me in my composition." Even as a child, upon the desolate
beaches of Long Island, he had, "leaving his bed, wandered alone,
bare-headed, barefoot," over the sterile sands and the fields beyond,
and explored the secret sources of tragedy that are hidden at the roots
of love.

  Once Paumanok,
  When the snows had melted--when the lilac-scent was in the air
          and Fifth-month grass was growing,
  Up this seashore, 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 crouch'd on her nest, silent, with bright
  And every day I, a curious boy, never too close, never disturbing
  Cautiously peering, absorbing, translating.

       *       *       *       *       *

  Till of a sudden,
  May-be kill'd, unknown to her mate,
  One forenoon the she-bird crouch'd not on the nest,
  Nor return'd that afternoon, nor the next,
  Nor ever appear'd again.

  And thenceforward all summer in the sound of the sea,
  And at night under the full of the moon in calmer weather....

  Yes, when the stars glisten'd,
  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

       *       *       *       *       *

  I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
  Listen'd long and long....

                        (_Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking_).

But now the Stafford family were assembled at breakfast and Walt limped
in to join them. Courteously and simply he greeted the various members
of the household,--the dark, silent, diligent Methodist father,--the
spiritually-minded yet busy-handed mother,--the two young fellows, the
married daughter and her little ones. He was the most domesticated,
least troublesome of inmates, and his "large sweet presence" imparted
something to the homely breakfast-table, something of benignity and
tranquillity, which it had lacked before his entrance. "The best man I
ever knew," Mrs. Stafford called him. Her sons adored him; and her
grandchildren were almost like his own, in the love and confidence with
which they curled themselves upon his great grey knee when the meal was
over. For his affection for children, his sense of fatherhood, was a
predominant trait of Whitman's character. Lonely, since his mother's
death, he had lived as regards the closer human relationships: lonely,
in this sense, he was doomed to remain. A veil of secrecy hung over his
past life, which none had ever ventured to lift. Rumours of a lost mate,
as in the song of the Alabama bird upon the shore,--of children whom he
never could claim,--hints of harsh fates and imperious destinies,
occasionally penetrated that close-woven curtain of silence which
covered his most intimate self. But only in his poems had he voiced his
loneliness, and that with the tenderest poignancy of yearning for
"better, loftier love's ideals, the divine wife, the sweet, eternal,
perfect comrade"....

  That woman who passionately clung to me.
  Again we wander, we love, we separate again,
  Again she holds me by the hand, I must not go,
  I see her close beside me with silent lips sad and tremulous.

       *       *       *       *       *

  (Be not impatient--a little space--Know you, I salute the air, the
          ocean and the land,
  Every day, at sundown, for your dear sake, my love.)

And this was the man who had been blamed for his utter lack of "the
romantic attitude towards women!" But Whitman was no light singer of
casual empty love-lyrics; he was of sterner stuff than that.

  No dainty dolce affettuoso I,
  Bearded, sun-burnt, gray-neck'd, forbidding, I have arrived.

       *       *       *       *       *

As breakfast passed, he spoke but little to his companions. His ordinary
mood of "quiet yet cheerful serenity," lay gently on him, and he was
content to sit almost silent, emanating that radiant power, that
"effluence and inclusiveness as of the sun," which none could fail to
note in him. When addressed, he only replied with the brief monosyllable
"Ay? Ay?" (which he pronounced _Oy? Oy?_), and which, slightly inflected
to answer various purposes, served him for all response.


  I, with bare feet, a child, the wind wafting my hair,
  Listen'd long and long....

                       (_Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking_).]

The meal was not yet over, for most of the family, when Whitman, rising
abruptly with that startling _brusquerie_ which occasionally offended
his friends, observed "Ta-ta!" to everybody in general and departed--"as
if he didn't care if he never saw us again!" remarked one of the young
men. He left the house and strolled down the green lane, to a wide
wooded hollow, where the stream called Timber Creek went winding among
its lily-leaves beneath the trees. Here Whitman had found, a year
before, "a particularly secluded little dell off one side by my
creek ... filled with bushes, trees, grass, a group of willows, a
straggling bank and a spring of delicious water running right through
the middle of it, with two or three little cascades. Here (he) retreated
every hot day" (_Specimen Days_),--and here, while the summer sun drew
sweet aromatic odours from the tangled water-mints and cresses, he
proceeded slowly now, carrying a portable chair, and with his pockets
filled with note-books; for, as he truly avowed, "Wherever I go, winter
or summer, city or country, alone at home or travelling, I _must_ take
notes." He was about to make sure of a morning's unmitigated
delight,--in the spot where he sought, "every day, seclusion--every day
at least two or three hours of freedom, bathing, no talk, no bonds, no
dress, no books, no manners."

And each step of the way was a pure joy to him. "What a day!" he
murmured, "what an hour just passing! the luxury of riant grass and
blowing breeze, with all the shows of sun and sky and perfect
temperature, never before so filling me body and soul!" So rhapsodizing
inwardly and drinking in the beauty of sight and sound, he proceeded,
"still sauntering on, to the spring under the willows--musical as soft
clinking glasses--pouring a sizeable stream, pure and clear, out from
its vent where the bank arches over like a great brown shaggy eyebrow or
mouth-roof--gurgling, gurgling ceaselessly; meaning, saying something,
of course (if one could only translate it.)" (_Specimen Days._)

Here he sat down awhile and revelled in sheer joy of summer opulence. He
enumerated to himself,--laying a store of lovely recollections for
future reference in darker days,--"The fervent heat, but so much more
endurable in this pure air--the white and pink pond-blossoms, with great
heart-shaped leaves, the glassy waters of the creek, the banks, with
dense bushery and the picturesque beeches and shade and turf; the
tremulous, reedy call of some bird from recesses, breaking the warm,
indolent, half-voluptuous silence: the prevailing delicate, yet
palpable, spicy, grassy, clovery perfume to my nostrils,--and over all,
encircling all, to my sight and soul, the free space of the sky,
transparent and blue," (_Specimen Days_,) and, "from old habit,
pencilled down from time to time, almost automatically, moods, sights,
hours, tints and outlines, on the spot." Minutes like these were the
seed time of his art, if that can be called art which was almost one
with Nature. For Walt Whitman had, from the very outset, striven to
obtain that fusion of identity with _Natura Benigna_, which, even if
only momentary, bequeathes a lasting impression on the mind. He had
always felt, with regard to his productions, that "There is a
humiliating lesson one learns, in serene hours, of a fine day or night.
Nature seems to look on all fixed-up poetry and art as something almost
impertinent.... If I could indirectly show that we have met and fused,
even if but only once, but enough--that we have really absorbed each
other and understood each other,"--it sufficed him. Nothing less did:
for he recognised that "after you have exhausted what there is in
business, politics, conviviality, love and so on--have found that none
of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear--what remains? Nature
remains: to bring out from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a
man or woman with the open air, the trees, fields, changes of
seasons--the sun by day and the stars of heaven by night." And, while
confessing, "I cannot divest my appetite of literature, yet I find
myself eventually trying it all by Nature--_first premises_ many call
it, but really the crowning results of all, laws, tallies and proofs....
I have fancied the ocean and the daylight, the mountain and the forest,
putting their spirit in a judgment on our books. I have fancied some
disembodied soul giving its verdict." (_Specimen Days._) He was "so
afraid," as he phrased it, "of dropping what smack of outdoors or sun or
starlight might cling to the lines--I dared not try to meddle with or
smooth them." To be "made one with Nature," in a deeper sense than ever
any man yet had known, was, in short, his ideal,--and, one may say, his
achievement. For the verdict of the average person, vacant of _his_
glorious gains, he did not care. Regardless of ridicule, calumny,
contumely, he had pursued his own way to his own goal: till he was able
at last to realize his dream of--

  Me imperturbe, standing at ease in Nature,
  Master of all, or mistress of all--aplomb in the midst of irrational

And now he was an old man, to look upon,--yet a man surcharged with
electric vigour and daily renewing his physical strength from the
fountains of eternal youth. He was just as full of _élan_, of
enterprise, of the glorious hunger for adventure, as when first he had

  Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
  Healthy, free, the world before me,
  The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.

  Allons! to that which is endless, as it was beginningless,
  To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
  To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights
          they tend to,
  Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys;
  To see nothing anywhere but what you may reach it and pass it,
  To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for
          you--however long, but it stretches and waits for you;
  To see no being, not God's or any, but you also go thither.

                                      (_Song of the Open Road._)

The big grey man expanded almost visibly in the sun-steeped air, as he
absorbed the exquisite minutiæ of the green dell into his mind, and
assimilated the music of the wind and stream. Sound of any sort had a
powerfully emotional effect upon him. It was not mere fancy on Whitman's
part that "he and Wagner made one music." With music on the most
colossal scale his poems are fraught from end to end: and while their
technical form may be less finished, less perfected, than those of other
authors,--while they have less melody, they have the multitudinous
harmony, the superb architectonics, the choral and symphonic movement of
the noblest masters. "Such poems as _The Mystic Trumpeter_, _Out of the
Cradle_, _Passage to India_, have the genesis and exodus of great
musical compositions." And to many auditors, the "vast elemental
sympathy" of this unique personality can only be compared to that of
Beethoven, whom he said he had "discovered as a new meaning in music:"
Beethoven, by whom he allowed he "had been carried out of himself,
seeing, hearing wonders:" Beethoven, who, like himself, sought
inspiration continuously in the magic and mystery of Nature.

[Illustration: THE LUMBERMEN'S CAMP.

  Lumbermen in their winter camp, day-break in the woods, stripes of
          snow on the limbs of trees, the occasional snapping,
  The glad clear sound of one's own voice, the merry song, the natural
          life of the woods, the strong day's work,
  The blazing fire at night, the sweet taste of supper, the talk, the
          bed of hemlock boughs, and the bear-skin.

                                     (_Song of the Broad-Axe_).]

And thus, all Whitman's finest poems have a processional air, like the
evolution of some great symphony--a pageantry of sound, so to speak,
which whirls one forward like a leaf upon a resistless stream. Sometimes
he is superbly triumphant, as in his inaugural _Song of Myself_:

  With music strong I come--with my cornets and my drums,
  I play not marches for accepted victors only,
  I play great marches for conquer'd and slain persons.

Sometimes he translates the sonorities of the air into immortal
effluences of meaning:

  Hark, some wild trumpeter--some strange musician,
  Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night....

  Blow, trumpeter, free and clear--I follow thee,
  While at thy liquid prelude, glad, serene,
  The fretting world, the streets, the noisy hours of day, withdraw;

or he blends all sorts and conditions of beautiful resonance into,
surely, the strangest yet loveliest love-song ever yet set down:

  I heard you, solemn-sweet pipes of the organ, as last Sunday morn I
          pass'd the church,
  Winds of autumn, as I walked the woods at dusk, I heard your
          long-stretch'd sighs up above so mournful,
  I heard the perfect Italian tenor singing at the opera, I heard the
          soprano in the midst of the quartet singing;
  Heart of my love! you too I heard murmuring low through one of the
          wrists around my head,
  Heard the pulse of you, when all was still, ringing little bells
          last night under my ear.

But now the precious hour had arrived, which to Whitman spelt
revivification and rejuvenescence above all others: the time when,
stripped of all externals, he became the very child of Mother Earth. In
his own description of the process:

"A light south-west wind was blowing through the tree-tops. It was just
the place and time for my Adamic air-bath.... So, hanging clothes on a
rail near by, keeping old broadbrim straw on head and easy shoes on
feet ... then partially bathing in the clear waters of the running
brook--taking everything very leisurely, with many rests and pauses ...
slow negligent promenades on the turf up and down in the sun ... somehow
I seemed to get identity with each and everything around me, in its
condition. Perhaps the inner, never-lost rapport we hold with earth,
light, air, trees, etc., is not to be realized through eyes and mind
only, but through the whole corporeal body." (_Specimen Days._)

Power and joy and exhilaration infused his whole frame. "Here," he
murmured, "I realize the meaning of that old fellow who said he was
seldom less alone than when alone. Never before did I get so close to
Nature: never before did she come so close to me."

And a miracle of transient transformation had been wrought upon him. His
youth was "renewed like the eagle's," his lameness hardly perceptible,
as he reluctantly emerged from the sweet water, and, having dried
himself in the sun-glow, still more reluctantly dressed again. This was
no longer the "battered, wrecked old man," the veteran of life-long
battles with the world: but one who could realize with keenest
perception every sensation of stalwart strength. He might have been, at
this moment, one of his own "lumbermen in their winter camp," enjoying

      Day-break in the woods, stripes of snow on the limbs of trees,
          the occasional snapping,
  The glad clear sound of one's own voice, the merry song, the natural
          life of the woods, the strong day's work,
  The blazing fire at night, the sweet taste of supper, the talk, the
          bed of hemlock boughs, and the bear-skin.

                                      (_Song of the Broad-Axe._)

or a scion of the "youthful sinewy races," whom he had chanted in

      Come, my tan-faced children,
  Follow well in order, get your weapons ready;
      Have you your pistols? have you your sharpedged axes?
          Pioneers! O pioneers!...

      All the past we leave behind!
  We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world;
  Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labour and the march,
          Pioneers! O pioneers!

Here at last was the true Walt Whitman, superabundant in splendid
vitality and conscious of mental and physical power through every fibre
of his being.

[Illustration: THE PIONEERS.

      All the past we leave behind!
  We debouch upon a newer, mightier world,....

  Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep....
          Pioneers! O Pioneers!


One last longing, loving look he cast upon the creek before returning
homewards. The magnificent mid-noon lay full-tide over all, brimming the
uttermost shores of beauty: it was the very apotheosis of summer, the
tangible realization of Whitman's prophetic vision.

  All, all for immortality,
  Love like the light silently wrapping all,
  Nature's amelioration blessing all,
  The blossoms, fruits of ages, orchards divine and certain,
  Forms, objects, growths, humanities, to spiritual images ripening.
  Give me, O God, to sing that thought,
  Give me, give him or her I love this quenchless faith,
  In Thy ensemble, whatever else withheld withhold not from us
  Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space,
  Health, peace, salvation universal.

  Is it a dream?
  Nay but the lack of it the dream,
  And failing it life's lore and wealth a dream,
  And all the world a dream.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now he passed back up the lane to the little farmstead, and, entering
in, found the midday meal was served. Mr. Stafford was already seated
and about to say grace. Whitman stopped as he passed behind the farmer's
chair, and clasping Stafford's head in his large, well-formed hands,
became an actual part, as it were, in the benediction. Then he took his
seat in silence. But that irrepressible joyousness which sometimes,
after working on a manuscript, seemed to shine from his face and pervade
his whole body,--that "singular brightness and delight, as though he had
partaken of some divine elixir"--was visible now upon his noble
features. He talked a little, in simple homely phrases,--giving little
idea of the voluminous reserve force within him: telling little
incidents of the War of Secession and anecdotes of his hospital
experiences. He had been a volunteer nurse of exquisite patience and
admirable efficiency throughout those terrible years 1862-64. His
passionate tenderness and sympathy then found vent: and he gave his best
and uttermost: believing that (in his own words) "these libations,
extatic life-pourings, as it were, of precious wine or rose-water on
vast desert-sands or great polluted rivers, taking chances of _no
return_,--what are they but the theory and practice ... of Christ or of
all divine personality?" For in the human, however defaced, he still
could discern the divine and immortal. The worth of every individual
soul was the pivot of all his arts and beliefs:

     "Because, having looked at the objects of the Universe, I find
     there is no one, nor any particle of one, but has reference to
     the soul."

Usually, to his sensitive mind, able as it was to realise with the
keenest sympathy every phase of human suffering, the memories of carnage
were repulsive. By day he could shut them off: but by night, he said,

  In clouds descending, in midnight sleep, of many a face in battle,
  Of the look at first of the mortally wounded, of that indescribable
  Of the dead on their backs, with arms extended wide--
      I dream, I dream, I dream.

                                             (_Old War Dreams._)

But he had faith in the future of his country, vast hopes in the
purification wrought out by those sorrowful years: and his poem _To the
Man-of-War Bird_ was but one of many allegories in which he saw his
beloved America rising transfigured from the ashes of the past.

  Thou who hast slept all night upon the storm,
  Waking renew'd on thy prodigious pinions,
  (Burst the wild storm? above it thou ascended'st,
  And rested on the sky, thy slave that cradled thee,)....

  Thou born to match the gale, (thou art all wings,)
  To cope with heaven and earth and sea and hurricane,
  Thou ship of air that never furl'st thy sails,
  Days, even weeks untired and onward, through spaces, realms gyrating,
  At dusk that look'st on Senegal, at morn America,
  That sport'st amid the lightning-flash and thunder-cloud,
  In them, in thy experiences, had'st thou my soul,
  What joys! what joys were thine!

and out of the smoke and din of conflict, he believed, should spring
"the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon," knit in sublime unity
of brotherhood.

Dinner over, Whitman retired awhile to his own apartment: that fearful
chaos of pell-mell untidiness which was the delight of its occupant and
the despair of Mrs. Stafford. An indescribable confusion it was of
letters, newspapers and books,--an inkbottle on one chair, a glass of
lemonade on another, a pile of MSS. on a third, a hat on the floor....
Imperturbably composed, the poet surveyed his best-loved books,--Scott,
Carlyle, Tennyson, Emerson,--translations of Homer, Dante, Hafiz, Saadi:
renderings of Virgil, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius,--versions of Spanish
and German poets: most well-worn of all, Shakespeare and the Bible.
Finally, out of the heterogeneous collection he selected George Sand's
_Consuelo_ and seated himself at the window with it. On another
afternoon he would have returned to the creek, but to-day he was
expecting a friend.

And friends, with him, did not mean mere acquaintances: still less those
visitors who were brought by vulgar curiosity. Although the best of
comrades and one who found companionship most exhilarating, he had a
bed-rock of deep reserve, and "to such as he did not like, he became as
a precipice." But to those with whom he was truly _en rapport_,--whether
by letter or in the flesh,--he was spendthrift of his personality. His
English literary friends,--Tennyson, Rossetti, Buchanan, Browning and
others, had supplied the financial aid which enabled him to recuperate
at Timber Creek: compatriots such as Emerson, John Burroughs, and a host
of old-time friends were welcome visitors. But nothing in his life or in
his literary fortunes, he declared, had brought him more comfort and
support--nothing had more spiritually soothed him--than the "warm
appreciation and friendship of that true full-grown woman," Anne
Gilchrist, the sweet English widow who was now staying with her children
in Philadelphia, to be within easy reach of Whitman. "Among the perfect
women I have known (and it has been very unspeakable good fortune to
have had the very best for mother, sisters and friends), I have known
none more perfect," wrote the poet, "than my dear, dear friend, Anne
Gilchrist." It was this warm-hearted, courageous Englishwoman, "alive
with humour and vivacity," whose musical voice was shortly heard
outside, enquiring for Walt. He hastened down to receive her.

[Illustration: THE MAN-OF-WAR BIRD.

  Thou born to match the gale, (thou art all wings,)
  To cope with heaven and earth and sea and hurricane,
  Thou ship of air that never furl'st thy sails,
  Days, even weeks untired and onward, through spaces, realms gyrating,
  At dusk that look'st on Senegal, at morn America,
  That sport'st amid the lightning-flash and thunder-cloud,
  In them, in thy experiences, had'st thou my soul,
  What joys! what joys were thine!

                                    (_To the Man-of-War Bird._)]

Anne Gilchrist's opinion of Whitman was even more enthusiastic than his
appreciation of her. She admired and revered the courage with which he
expounded his theories of life, no less than the expression of them in
words which, as she put it, ceased to be words and became electric
streams. "What more can you ask of the words of a man's mouth," she
exclaimed, "than that they should absorb into you as food and air, to
reappear again in your strength, gait, face--that they should be fibre
and filter to your blood, joy and gladness to your whole nature?" She
alone, of all women, and almost alone among men, had stood forth to
defend him for the "fearless and comprehensive dealing with reality"
which had alienated the conventional and offended the prudish--and she
alone was the recipient, now, of his most intimate thoughts and

They sat together on the shady piazza, and he unfolded to her, while her
children played around, the hopes and wishes of his heart not only for
America but for all humanity. He said, "My original idea was that if I
could bring men together by putting before them the heart of man with
all its joys and sorrows and experiences and surroundings, it would be a
great thing.... I have endeavoured from the first to get free as much as
possible from all literary attitudinism--to strip off integuments,
coverings, bridges--and to speak straight from and to the heart; ... to
discard all conventional poetic phrases, and every touch of or reference
to ancient or mediæval images, metaphors, subjects, styles, etc., and to
write _de novo_ with words and phrases appropriate to our own days." He
took her hand as he spoke, as was his wont with a sympathetic listener,
and gazed with eagerness into her serious yet easily-lighted face. His
"terrible blaze of personality" was subdued for the nonce into that
child-like simplicity, that woman-like tenderness, which constituted
some of his chief charms.

They discussed the work of contemporary poets, English and American.
Whitman, however much he differed from these in theory and method, gave
generous homage to their varied genius. He loved to declaim the
_Ulysses_ and kindred majestically-rolling passages of Tennyson, in a
clear, strong, rugged tone, devoid of all elocutionary tricks or
affectation. He never spoke a line of his own verse, but to recite from
Shakespeare was a great pleasure to him: and he compared the
Shakespearean plays to large, rich, splendid tapestry, like Raffaelle's
historical cartoons, where everything is broad and colossal. For Scott,
whose work, he said, breathed more of the open air than the workshop, he
had unfeigned admiration. Dramatic work and music in all its forms he
discussed with knowledge and fervour. As for the poets of America, he
poured encomium upon them ungrudgingly. "I can't imagine any better luck
befalling these States for a poetical beginning and initiation than has
come from Emerson, Longfellow, Bryant and Whittier." (_Specimen Days._)

The afternoon shadows stretched themselves out, and at sunset Mrs.
Gilchrist and her children departed. It had been for her a memorable
afternoon: and Whitman had been thoroughly in his element as comrade of
so congenial a soul. Now, as the twilight deepened, he devoted himself
to the consideration of the deepest notes in the whole diapason of human
existence. Never was a man of more exuberant a joy in life: never one
who gazed more courageously into the dim-veiled face of Death,--the
sower of all enigmas, the comforter of all pain.

  Whispers of heavenly death, murmur'd I hear;
  Labial gossip of night--sibilant chorals;
  Footsteps gently ascending--mystical breezes, wafted soft and low....

  (Did you think Life was so well provided for--and Death, the purport
          of all Life, is not well provided for?)...
  I do not doubt that whatever can possibly happen, any where, at any
          time, is provided for, in the inherences of things;
  I do not think Life provides for all, and for Time and Space--but I
          believe Heavenly Death provides for all.

                                 (_Whispers of Heavenly Death._)

And his heart once more, as in the matchless threnody for Lincoln, _When
Lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed_, uttered its song of summons and
of welcome.

  Come, lovely and soothing Death,
  Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
  In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
  Sooner or later, delicate Death....

  Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet,
  Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
  Then I chant it for thee--I glorify thee above all.

The skies deepened into purple, and the march of the stars began: it was
the sacredest hour of the day to Whitman, a period consecrated and set
apart above all. "I am convinced," thought he, "that there are hours of
Nature, especially of the atmosphere, mornings and evenings, addressed
to the soul. Night transcends, for that purpose, what the proudest day
can do." (_Specimen Days._)

And a new buoyancy quickened in his soul; the indomitable spirit of
enterprise revived within him. Now, at eleven at night, he was more
exhilarated in mind than his body had been in the blue July morning:
and, casting one comprehensive glance upon the burning arcana of the
heavens, that he might carry into his sleep a memory of that glory, he
"desired a better country," with longing and deep solicitude.

  Bathe me, O God, in Thee, mounting to Thee,
  I and my soul to range in range of Thee!

           *       *       *       *       *

  Passage to more than India!
  O secret of the earth and sky!
  Of you, O waters of the sea! O winding creeks and rivers!
  Of you, O woods and fields! Of you, strong mountains of my land!
  Of you, O prairies! Of you, gray rocks!
  O morning red! O clouds! O rain and snows!
  O day and night, passage to you!
  O sun and moon, and all you stars! Sirius and Jupiter!
  Passage to you!...

  O my brave soul!
  O farther, farther sail!
  O daring joy, but safe! Are they not all the seas of God?
  O farther, farther, farther sail!

                                           (_Passage to India_.)

    _Printed by Percy Lund, Humphries & Co. Ltd.,_
    _Bradford and London._

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Day with Walt Whitman" ***

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