Walt Whitman, Song of the Exposition, 5.
You shall see hands at work at all the old processes and all the
You shall see the various grains and how flour is made and then
bread baked by the bakers,
You shall see the crude ores of California and Nevada passing on
and on till they become bullion,
You shall watch how the printer sets type, and learn what a com-
You shall mark in amazement the Hoe press whirling its cylinders,
shedding the printed leaves steady and fast,
The photograph, model, watch, pin, nail, shall be created before
In large calm halls, a stately museum shall teach you the infinite
lessons of minerals,
In another, woods, plants, vegetation shall be illustrated—in
another animals, animal life and development.
One stately house shall be the music house,
Others for other arts—learning, the sciences, shall all be here,
None shall be slighted, none but shall here be honor’d, help’d,
…It was while looking at this photo in 1889 that Whitman explained what he saw to be the difficulty of photographing him properly: “my red, florid, blooded complexion — my gray dull eyes — don’t consort well together: they require different trimmings: it is very hard to adjust the camera to both.” Whitman attributed his photogenic qualities to his relaxed and natural attitude before the camera: “I don’t fix up when I go to have the picture taken: they tell me nearly everybody does: that is a great item… Startle, strikingness, brilliancy, are not factors in my appearance — not a touch of them. As for me I think the greatest aid is in my insouciance — my utter indifference: my going as if it meant nothing unusual…” whitmanarchive.org
“W. always objected to sending out these pictures because the photographer has immodestly painted the cheeks. N.J. 1908” (Written on verso.)
In an 1869 Washington Chronicle article, Whitman, describing the best photographs of himself, noted that “Mssrs. Seybold & Tarisse, on the Avenue, below Sixth, have a good head, just taken, very strong in shade and light.”… Whitman disapproved of retouching negatives or prints, since the “photograph has this advantage: it lets nature have its way.” whitmanarchive.org.
Walt Whitman was born two hundred years ago today, May 31, 1819, in New York and died on March 26, 1892, in New Jersey. His burial site is the Harleigh Cemetery in Camden. To commemorate and celebrate the bicentennial bard: four portraits of and a pair of poems (that include the word photograph) by Whitman. Walt was one of the most photographed (and photogenic) authors of the 19th century. “I have been photographed, photographed, photographed, until the cameras themselves are tired of me.”
“…Whitman again stressed the illusion of a ‘peculiar life-likeness’ in the displayed daguerreotypes. ‘What a spectacle!’ he exclaimed. ‘Ah! what tales might those pictures tell if their mute lips had the power of speech!'” (Reading American Photographs: Images As History – Mathew Brady to Walker Evans, By Alan Trachtenberg, pp. 60-70.)
Unidentified Photographer, [Illustration of Walt Whitman’s burial site, Harleigh Cemetery, Camden, New Jersey], ca. 1940
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 42.
This is the city and I am one of the citizens,
Whatever interests the rest interests me, politics, wars, markets,
The mayor and councils, banks, tariffs, steamships, factories, stocks,
stores, real estate and personal estate.
The little plentiful manikins skipping around in collars and tail’d
I am aware who they are, (they are positively not worms or fleas,)
I acknowledge the duplicates of myself, the weakest and shallowest
is deathless with me,
What I do and say the same waits for them,
Every thought that flounders in me the same flounders in them.
I know perfectly well my own egotism,
Know my omnivorous lines and must not write any less,
And would fetch you whoever you are flush with myself.
Not words of routine this song of mine,
But abruptly to question, to leap beyond yet nearer bring;
This printed and bound book—but the printer and the printing-
The well-taken photographs—but your wife or friend close and
solid in your arms?
The black ship mail’d with iron, her mighty guns in her turrets—
but the pluck of the captain and engineers?
In the houses the dishes and fare and furniture—but the host and
hostess, and the look out of their eyes?
The sky up there—yet here or next door, or across the way?
The saints and sages in history—but you yourself?
Sermons, creeds, theology—but the fathomless human brain,
And what is reason? and what is love? and what is life?
Walt Whitman, Twilight.
The soft voluptuous opiate shades,
The sun just gone, the eager light dispell’d—(I too will soon be
A haze—nirwana—rest and night—oblivion.