Eagle over the Hudson River

Eagle over the Hudson River

Sometimes in the fiercest driving storm
           of wind and rain or hail or snow
a great eagle will appear over the river
           now soaring with steady
and now thrashing wings
           always confronting the gale
or perhaps cleaving into it
           or at times literally sitting upon it

It’s like reading some first-class
           natural tragedy or epic
or hearing martial trumpets
           : the splendid bird
enjoys the hubbub
           is adjusted and equal to it
finishes it so artistically
           his pinions just oscillating
the position of head and neck
           his resistless varied flight
now a swirl
           now an upward rush
the black clouds driving
           and down below
the angry wash
           the hiss of rain
the wind’s piping
           the bird tacking or jibing

and now for a moment
           abandoning himself to the gale
racing with it at such speed
           and now resuming control
he comes up against it
           lord of the situation and the storm
lord in the midst of it
           of power and savage joy

Walt Whitman


From Specimen Days (1882), adapted by John Lyons

 

A hint of wild nature

A hint of wild nature

As I was crossing the Delaware to-day
           I saw a large flock of wild geese
right overhead not very high up
           ranged in V-shape
in relief against the noon clouds
           of light smoke-colour

Had a capital
           though momentary
view of them
           and then of their course
on and on southeast
           till gradually fading

Strange thoughts
           melted into me
seeing these creatures
           cleaving the sky
the spacious airy realm
           even the prevailing
smoke-gray colour everywhere
           no sun shining
the waters below
           the rapid flight of the birds
appearing just for a minute
           revealing to me such a hint
of the whole spread of Nature
           with her eternal
unsophisticated freshness
           her never-visited recesses
of sea and sky
           and shore
and then disappearing
           in the distance

Walt Whitman

 


Adapted by John Lyons from Specimen Days (1882)

The great unrest of which we are part

whitman house
Whitman’s birthplace

The great unrest of which we are part

My thoughts went floating
           on vast and mystic currents
as I sat today in solitude
           in the half-shade by the creek
returning mainly
           to two principal centres

One of my cherished themes
           for a never-finished poem
has been the two impetuses
           of man
and the universe
           —in the latter
creation’s incessant unrest
           exfoliation or
what Darwin termed evolution
           : indeed, what is Nature
but change in all its visible
           and still more
its invisible processes
           and what is humanity
in its faith its love
           its heroism its poetry
even in its morals
           but emotion ?

Walt Whitman


Adapted from Specimen Days (1882) by John Lyons. Happy Thanksgiving in the bicentennial of the great American poet’s birth on 31 May 1819!

Autumn days

autumn
Autumn, John Lyons (oil on wood)

Autumn days

A clear crispy day
           dry and breezy air
full of oxygen
           So I go wrapt
in the beauty of things
           trees water grass
sunlight early frost
           the silver glaze
of light on the river
           colours beyond
any painting ever made

Sometimes I think
           I never saw the skies before
their still motion in the heavens
           day after day
sunrise and sunset
           so often tinged
with reds and golds

What is happiness
           if not moments like this
when I abandon myself
           to nature’s moods
the impalpable
           evanescent beauty
of the spirit in breath
           that drips endlessly
subtly through the air ?

John Lyons


Adapted from Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

Summer days and nights

whitman house
Walt Whitman’s birthplace, Huntingdon, Long Island, N.Y.

Summer days and nights

As I sit under the willow shade
           a little bird is leisurely
dousing and flirting himself amid the brook
           almost within reach of me
Evidently he has no fear of me
           and takes me for some feature
of the neighbouring bank
           of coarse bushes and wild weeds

The last three days
           have been perfect
heavy rains at night
           with thunder and lightning
But I’m writing this
           sitting by the creek
watching two kingfishers
           at their sundown sport
strong beautiful
           joyful creatures
their wings glistening
           in the slant of the sunbeams
as they circle round and round
           dipping and dashing
the surface of the water
           occasionally testing their wings
on longer stretches
           up and down the stream

Walt Whitman

(adapted from Specimen Days by John Lyons)


Walt Whitman was born in Huntington, Long Island, New York, on 31 May 1819. In honour of his bicentennial I have been working on passages of Specimen Days (1882) which, among other things, record his lyrical observations of the natural word around him. Although written in prose, many of these passages are absolutely poetic and I have tried to draw out this poetry with a little subtle editing.

Loafing in the woods

specimen days

Loafing in the woods

I write this down
           in the country again
in a new spot
           seated on a log
in the woods
           warm sunny midday

Have been loafing here
           deep among the trees
shafts of tall pines
           oak and hickory
with a thick undergrowth
           of laurels and grapevines
the ground covered by debris
           dead leaves
breakage
           moss
everything solitary
           ancient and grim

I hear the wind
           through the pine-tops
I sit and listen
           long long
to its hoarse sighing
           above the stillness
blue-birds robins
           and meadow-larks
begin to appear
           all the senses
sight sound smell
           delicately gratified

John Lyons

(adapted from Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days)

Occasional side-bit

companion piece
Companion piece, John Lyons (oil on wood)

Occasional side-bit

Down every day
           to the solitude of the woodland
a serene sun filtering
           through the trees
as I sit here by the pond
           the water surface moving
in gentle wind-ripples
           before me

On an old beech at the edge
           decayed and slanting
yet still with life and leaves
           on its mossy limbs
a grey squirrel is exploring
           running up and down
flicking its tail before sitting
           on its haunches

Suddenly it sees me
           and the game is up
as it races back into the thick
           of the foliage again

John Lyons


Adapted from Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days