Walt Whitman – Midnight migration

               Walt Whitman

The midnight flight of birds
       passing through the air
darkness overhead
       immense flocks migrating north

In the silence in the shadow
       the delicious odor of the hour
the natural perfume – a rare music
       the rush of mighty wings
or a velvety rustle
       long drawn out
with continual calls and chirps
       and some song-notes

It lasted from 12 till after 3 –
       once in a while a species
plainly distinguishable
       the bobolink the tanager
Wilson’s thrush
       the white-crowned sparrow
and occasionally from on high
       the notes of the plover

Walt Whitman

From Specimen Days (1882), adapted by John Lyons

Away from tailordom and fashion’s clothes

Away from tailordom and fashion’s clothes

Away then to loosen
           to unstring the divine bow
so tense so long
           Away from curtain
carpet        sofa        book
           from society
from city house
and modern improvements and luxuries
           away to the primitive winding
wooded creek with its
           untrimmed bushes and turfy banks
away from ligatures
           tight boots
           and the whole cast-iron
civilized life
           from entourage of artificial store
machine      studio      office       parlor
           from tailordom and fashion’s clothes
from any clothes perhaps
           the summer heats advancing
there in those watery
           shaded solitudes

Away soul
           let me talk in perfect freedom
negligently        confidentially
           for one day and night at least
returning to the naked source
           —life of us all—
to the breast of the great silent
           savage all-accepting Mother

           how many of us are so sodden
have wandered so far away
           that return is almost impossible

Walt Whitman, from Specimen Days (1882)

Edited by John Lyons

In the Jersey woods

In the Jersey woods

Home again
           in the Jersey woods
Mornings between eight and nine
           a full concert of birds
from different quarters
           In keeping with the fresh scent
the peace
           the naturalness all around me
I am lately noticing the russet-back
           size of the robin or a trifle less
light breast and shoulders
           with irregular dark stripes
long tail
           these days sits hunched up by the hour
top of a tall bush or some tree
           singing blithely

I often get near and listen
           as he seems tame
I like to watch the working
           of his bill and throat
the quaint sidle of his body
           and flex of his long tail

I hear the woodpecker
           and at night and early morning
the shuttle of the whip-poor-will
the delicious gurgle of the thrush
           and the meo-o-ow of the cat-bird

Many I cannot name
           but I don’t particularly seek information
You need not be too precise or scientific
           about birds and trees and flowers
and water-craft —
           a certain free margin
even vagueness or ignorance
           helps your enjoyment of these things
and of the sentiment of feathered
           or wooded or river or marine nature

Walt Whitman

(adapted from Specimen Days by John Lyons)

On Wimbledon Common

On Wimbledon Common

A fine clear dazzling morning
           as I stroll out
the sun scarcely an hour high
           the air just tart enough
How my whole day is shaped
           by the song of that meadow lark
perched on a fence-stake
           twenty yards away!

Two or three liquid-simple notes
           repeated at intervals
full of careless happiness
           and hope

With its peculiar shimmering
           slow progress and swift
noiseless action of its wings
           away it flies
alights on another stake
           and so on to another
shimmering and singing
           as it goes

John Lyons

(adapted from Walt Whitman, Specimen Days)



At sunrise
           the pure clear sound
of the meadow lark
           and later
some notes
           few and simple
yet delicious and perfect
           from the bush-sparrow—
towards noon the reedy trill
           of the robin

Today is the fairest
           sweetest yet
penetrating warmth
           a lovely veil in the air
partly heat-vapour
           and partly from the turf-fires
everywhere in patches
           on the farms

A group of soft maples near by
           silently bursts out in crimson tips
buzzing all day with busy bees
           The white sails
of sloops and schooners
           glide up and down the river
and long trains of cars
           with ponderous roll
or faint bell notes
           almost constantly
on the opposite shore
           The earliest wild flowers
in the woods and fields,
           spicy arbutus
blue liverwort
           frail anemone
and the pretty white blossoms
           of the bloodroot

As I go along the roads
           I like to see the farmers’ fires
in patches
           burning the dry brush
turf and debris
           How the smoke crawls along
flat to the ground slanting
           slowly rising
reaching away
           and at last dissipating

Walt Whitman

(adapted by John Lyons)


Toward the close of day

Toward the close of day

Toward the close of day
           an incomparable sunset
shooting in molten sapphire and gold
           shaft after shaft
through the ranks
           of the long-leaved corn

Another day—
           the rich dark green
of the tulip-trees
           and the oaks
the gray of the swamp-willows
           the dull hues of the sycamores
and black-walnuts
           the emerald of the cedars
after rain— and the light yellow
           of the beeches

Walt Whitman
(adapted by John Lyons)

Wild flowers

Wild flowers

Oceans of them
           line the roads
through the woods
           border the edges
of the water-runlets
           grow all along the old fences
and are scattered in profusion
           over the fields

An eight-petalled blossom
           of gold-yellow clear and bright
with a brown tuft in the middle
           nearly as large as a silver half-dollar
is very common : yesterday
           on a long drive I noticed it
thickly lining the borders
           of the brooks everywhere

Then there is a beautiful weed
           covered with blue flowers
however white is the prevailing colour
           but there are all hues and beauties
especially on the frequent tracts
           of half-opened scrub-oak
and dwarf cedar hereabout
           —wild asters of all colours
Despite the frost-touch
           the hardy little chaps
maintain themselves
           in all their bloom

Walt Whitman

(Adapted by John Lyons from Specimen Days, first published in 1882.)


Palpable spring indeed

Palpable spring indeed

Palpable spring indeed
           or the indications of it
I’m sitting in bright sunshine
           at the edge of the creek
the surface just rippled by the wind
           all is solitude
morning freshness

For companions my two kingfishers
           sailing winding darting dipping
sometimes capriciously separate
           then flying together
I hear their guttural twittering
           again and again

As noon approaches
           other birds warm up
the reedy notes of the robin
           and now and then through the trees
the sibilant murmur
           of a stiff breeze

Then a poor dead leaf
           long frost-bound
whirls from somewhere up aloft
           in one wild escaped freedom-spree
in space and sunlight
           and then dashes down
to the waters
           which soon drown it out of sight

The bushes and trees
           are yet bare
but the beeches have
           their wrinkled yellow leaves
of last season’s foliage largely left
           frequent cedars and pines still green
and the grass not without proofs
           of coming fullness

And over all a wonderfully fine dome
           of clear blue
the play of light
           coming and going
and great fleeces of white clouds
           swimming by so silently

Walt Whitman

Adapted by John Lyons from Specimen Days (1882)

The eloquence of trees

The eloquence of trees

Here now before me
is a fine yellow poplar
quite straight
perhaps ninety feet high
and four thick at the butt

How strong and vital
how enduring
how dumbly eloquent !

What suggestions

of imperturbability and being
as against the human trait
of mere seeming

Then the heroic  
almost emotional
palpably artistic 
qualities of a tree
so innocent and harmless
yet so savage

It is
yet says nothing
How it rebukes all weathers
by its tough and equable serenity
this gusty-tempered little whiffet
that runs indoors at a mite
of rain or snow

Perhaps the greatest moral lesson
from earth and rocks and animals
is that same lesson of inherency
of what is
without the least regard
to what the looker-on supposes or says
or whether he likes or dislikes

What worse
what more general malady
pervades each and all of us
our literature our education
our attitude toward each other
even toward ourselves
than a morbid trouble
about seems
and no trouble at all
or hardly any
about the sane
slow-growing perennial
real parts of character
books and friendship and marriage
humanity’s invisible foundations

The all-basis
the nerve
the great-sympathetic
the plenum within humanity
giving stamp to everything
that is necessarily invisible

Walt Whitman

Adapted from Specimen Days (1882)

Rest and repair

Rest and repair

Some time after the war ended
           I had a paralytic stroke
which laid me low
           for many years

In 1876 I began to get over
           the worst of it
and from this date
           portions of several seasons
especially summers
           I spent at a secluded haunt
down in Camden county
           New Jersey

Timber Creek
           quite a little river :
it enters from the great Delaware
           twelve miles away
with primitive solitudes
           a winding stream
reclusive woody banks
           sweet-feeding springs
and all the charms
           that birds and grass
wild flowers and rabbits
           and squirrels and old oaks
and walnut trees
           can bring

Walt Whitman

Part of a poetic sequence adapted by John Lyons from Specimen Days (1882)