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)

As I walked out one winter morn

As I walked out one winter morn

Where I was stopping
           I saw the first palpable frost
on my sunrise walk
           December 12
all over the yet-green
           spread a light blue-gray veil
giving a new show
           to the entire landscape

I had little time
           to notice it
for the sun rose
           cloudless and mellow-warm
and as I returned
           along the lane
it had turned to glittering
           patches of wet

And as I walk
           I notice the bursting pods
of wild-cotton
           the so-called Indian hemp
with flossy-silky contents
           and dark red-brown seeds
I pull a handful
           of the balsamic
           and stuff it down
into my trouser pocket
           for scent

Walt Whitman

Adapted from Specimen Days (1882) by John Lyons


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)