Walt Whitman | ‘A Meadowlark’ from Specimen Days

The iconic American poet whose ‘Leaves of Grass’ transformed American literature also wrote letters and prose pieces. I learned this the day I bought ‘Specimen Days, Democratic Vistas, and Other Prose’, a collection of Whitman’s writings.

Whitman himself explains the fragmented nature of ‘Specimen Days’ as it is taken from irregular journals at various locations. But here you read him observing Great Nature and commenting on his walks, the skies and clouds, weather changes, wildlife, etc. After the Civil War — during which Whitman gave so much of himself as a nurse in the hospitals of Washington D.C. that his own health never recuperated — a series of fortunate events saw him earn money through small government jobs that ultimately allowed him to leave the city to find restoration in the rural wilds. One long entry describes his summertime days at a small pond, where he would sunbathe naked, hike and swim, to which he attributed his slow return to ‘health’.

Today I am posting a favorite section from ‘Specimen Days’ about my favorite bird, my ally bird, the Western Meadowlark. I heard this bird throughout my childhood in the deserts around Elko, Nevada and have loved hearing it since in travels all over the West. I would try to describe what I hear when the meadowlark sings and how it soothes me but Walt does it so much better.


A Meadowlark | March 16, 1878 | Fine, clear, dazzling morning, the sun an hour high, the air just tart enough. What a stamp in advance my whole day receives from the song of that meadowlark perch’d on a fence stake twenty rods distant! Two or three liquid-simple notes repeated at intervals, full of careless happiness and hope. With its shimmering-slow progress and rapid-noiseless action of the wings, it flies on a ways, lights on another stake, and so on to another, shimmering and singing many minutes.


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