A DAY WITH WALT WHITMAN.
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 WALT WHITMAN.
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 street-dweller,—Ever upon this stageIs 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.)