Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Whitman the diarist

Walt Whitman is best known as one of America’s greatest poets, and is sometimes dubbed the father of free verse (see Wikipedia). He also kept daybooks and diaries, but there is only one specific book of his titled as a diary. It’s about a trip to Canada in 1880, and begins with an entry on 18 June.

Walt Whitman’s Diary in Canada, with Extracts from Other of His Diaries and Literary Notebooks was published by Boston, Small, Maynard in 1904 in a limited edition of 500. There is a very brief introduction by the editor, William Sloane Kennedy, who says he transcribed ‘out-door notes from the worn and time-stained fragments of paper (backs of letters, home-made note-books, etc.), on which they were originally written’. The whole work is available online thanks to Internet Archive.

Here is the book’s first entry: ‘London, Ontario, June 18, 1880. Calm and glorious roll the hours here the whole twenty-four. A perfect day (the third in succession); the sun clear; a faint, fresh, just palpable air setting in from the southwest; temperature pretty warm at midday, but moderate enough mornings and evenings. Everything growing well, especially the perennials. Never have I seen verdure grass and trees and bushery to greater advantage. All the accompaniments joyous. Cat-birds, thrushes, robins, etc., sinking. The profuse blossoms of the tigerlily (is it the tiger-lily?) mottling the lawns and gardens everywhere with their glowing orange-red. Roses everywhere, too.

A stately show of stars last night: the Scorpion erecting his head of five stars, with glittering Antares in the neck, soon stretched his whole length in the south; Arcturus hung overhead; Vega a little to the east; Aquila lower down; the constellation of the Sickle well toward setting; and the halfmoon, pensive and silvery, in the southwest.’

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