Early in November

Early in November

Early in November
           the lane opens
into a broad grassy
           upland field
of over twenty acres
           slightly sloping
to the south

Here I’m accustomed to walk
           for sky views and effects
either morning or sundown
           Today from this field
my soul is calmed and expanded
           beyond description
the whole forenoon
           by the clear blue
arching over all
           cloudless
only sky and daylight

The autumn leaves
           the cool dry air
the faint aroma
           crows cawing
in the distance
           two great buzzards
wheeling gracefully
           and slowly far up there
the occasional murmur
           of the wind
through the trees
           sometimes quite gentle
sometimes threatening
           a gang of farm-laborers
loading cornstalks
           in a field in sight
and the patient horses
           waiting

Walt Whitman


(adapted by John Lyons from November Boughs, 1888)

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)

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

matrix2
Inverted matrix, JohnLyons (20 x 20 cm oil on canvas)

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

The poet knew
           that true love
is indissoluble
           neither can it
be faked

Wild flowers
           and vines and weeds
come up through
           the headstones
that line the boundary wall
           in the grounds
of St Mary Magdalen
           in Bermondsey Street

The names engraved
           on these sandstone markers
long gone to dust
           and dead words hang
in the silence

What of the murmur
           of dreams
what of the curious
           systole and diastole
the beating and pounding
           of blood in the veins
what of the cries
           and the laughter
the husky pantings
           of these lovers
now laid to rest ?

The poet knows
           in the senses of his body
and in every limb
           and in every breath
that love
           is the pulse of life

John Lyons


The matrix painting may be hung in any of its four orientations. See Matrix in yellow and umber

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

Walt Whitman – a vignette

Walt Whitman – a vignette

And then I go down
           and loaf along the Harlem river
— just had a good spell
           of this recreation

The sun sufficiently veiled
           a soft south breeze
the river full of small or large
           tapered shell boats
darting up and down—some singly
           now and then long ones
with six or eight young men
           practicing

Two fine yachts lie
           anchored
off the shore
           I linger long
enjoying the sundown
           the glow
the streaked sky
           the heights
the distances
           the shadows


Adapted from Walt Whitman’s ‘Hot Weather New York’ in Specimen Days