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Specimen Days & Collect

Part of The Neversink Library

Whitman’s uniquely revealing impressions of the people, places, and events of his time.

One of the most creative and individual poets America has produced, Walt Whitman was also a prolific diarist, note-taker, and essayist whose intimate observations and reflections have profoundly deepened understanding of nineteenth-century American life. Specimen Days and Collect, first published in 1882, is a choice collection of Whitman’s uniquely revealing impressions of the people, places, and events of his time, principally the era of the Civil War and its aftermath.

On page after page, a vast panorama of American life unfolds, and with it rare glimpse of Whitman as poet, empathetic observer, and romantic wanderer. From his years as a wartime nurse in Washington, D.C., come touching glimpses of the dead and dying in military hospitals, memories of Abraham Lincoln, and vivid impressions of the nation’s capital in a time of great crisis.

Whitman’s travel yields memorable recollections of Boston, the Hudson Valley, a walk through Central Park, Niagara Falls, the City of Denver, and more. Along with the famed essay “Democratic Vistas,” there are scenes from the poet’s childhood, touching tributes to songbirds, wildflowers, friendship and freedom; impressions of the music of Beethoven, reflections on a last visit to Emerson, the deaths of Lincoln and Longfellow and the painful process of aging.

Deeply felt and vividly expressed, Specimen Days and Collect is a richly rewarding experience, a rare excursion into the mind and heard of one of America

WALT WHITMAN (1819–1892), perhaps the most influential poet in American history, was born on Long Island but raised in Brooklyn, New York. Serving at various times as a printer’s devil, journeyman compositor, itinerant schoolteacher, newspaper editor, and unofficial nurse to Northern and Southern soldiers during the Civil War, he acquired a broad view of American life, central to his identity as a poet. His “American epic” Leaves of Grass—though initially controversial for its frank depiction of sexuality—earned him the title of the father of free verse. He continued to edit and reprint Leaves of Grass up until his death, in addition to writing new works of poetry and Democratic Vistas, a work of comparative politics.

Read an excerpt from Leslie Jamison’s introduction to Specimen Days & Collect on Slate