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on July 24, 1999
Holding a very special place among Whitman's writing, & very unlike anything by Thoreau, Specimen Days is as close as we get to Walt with his masks removed. There is something of a suburbanite in Whitman's appreciation of nature; essentially, he simply went, looked around & wrote down what he saw & what he did. Force of nature that he was, what he mostly saw was, of course, himself. Nature is benign.
The Civil War entries are famous. The real war, which Whitman said would never get in the books, makes an appearance in the sad hospitals he visited.
Specimen Days is an inspiring message to us. Whitman knew we would be here.
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on May 10, 2000
Holding a very special place among Whitman's writing, & very unlike anything by Thoreau, Specimen Days is as close as we get to Walt with his masks removed. There is something of a suburbanite in Whitman's appreciation of nature; essentially, he simply went, looked around & wrote down what he saw & what he did. Force of nature that he was, what he mostly saw was, of course, himself. Nature is benign. The Civil War entries are famous. The real war, which Whitman said would never get in the books, makes an appearance in the sad hospitals he visited.
Specimen Days is an inspiring message to us. Whitman knew we would be here.

Bob Rixon
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 21, 2009
This very interesting book is based on fragments of diaries and other autobiographical material collected almost randomly over the long duration of Whitman's life. The recollections include vignettes from his childhood, a long set of powerful recollections of his work in hospitals during the Civil War, and a good deal of nature writing. This is something of a hodge-podge, the longest section in the book, for example, is an essay of the British writer Thomas Carlyle. The quality of writing is consistently high. The best part, and the best known, is the Civil War sequence. The nature writing is consistently excellent though somewhat repetitive. Whitman's passionate attachment to democratic nationalism runs throughout Specimen Days.
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on February 24, 2009
Specimen Days & Collect
Walt Whitman, "Specimen Days"

For four years, from 1862 to 1865, Walt Whitman visited thousands of wounded Civil War soldiers in hospitals. He kept a record his observations in "Specimen Days." He characterized the dead as "The Million Dead," and celebrated them in his poems.

"Ashes of Soldiers"
Again a verse for sake of you,
You soldiers in the ranks--you Volunteers,
Who bravely fighting, silent fell,
To fill unmention'd graves.

ASHES of soldiers!
As I muse, retrospective, murmuring a chant in thought,
Lo! the war resumes--again to my sense your shapes,
And again the advance of armies.

Noiseless as mists and vapors,
From their graves in the trenches ascending,
From the cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee,
From every point of the compass, out of the countless unnamed graves,
In wafted clouds, in myraids large, or squads of twos or threes, or
single ones, they come,
And silently gather round me. 10

Now sound no note, O trumpeters!
Not at the head of my cavalry, parading on spirited horses,
With sabres drawn and glist'ning, and carbines by their thighs--(ah,
my brave horsemen!
My handsome, tan-faced horsemen! what life, what joy and pride,
With all the perils, were yours!)

Nor you drummers--neither at reveille, at dawn,
Nor the long roll alarming the camp--nor even the muffled beat for a
burial;
Nothing from you, this time, O drummers, bearing my warlike drums.

But aside from these, and the marts of wealth, and the crowded
promenade,
Admitting around me comrades close, unseen by the rest, and
voiceless, 20
The slain elate and alive again--the dust and debris alive,
I chant this chant of my silent soul, in the name of all dead
soldiers.

Faces so pale, with wondrous eyes, very dear, gather closer yet;
Draw close, but speak not.

Phantoms of countless lost!
Invisible to the rest, henceforth become my companions!
Follow me ever! desert me not, while I live.

Sweet are the blooming cheeks of the living! sweet are the musical
voices sounding!
But sweet, ah sweet, are the dead, with their silent eyes.

Dearest comrades! all is over and long gone; 30
But love is not over--and what love, O comrades!
Perfume from battle-fields rising--up from foetor arising.

Perfume therefore my chant, O love! immortal Love!
Give me to bathe the memories of all dead soldiers,
Shroud them, embalm them, cover them all over with tender pride!

Perfume all! make all wholesome!
Make these ashes to nourish and blossom,
O love! O chant! solve all, fructify all with the last chemistry.

Give me exhaustless--make me a fountain,
That I exhale love from me wherever I go, like a moist perennial dew,
For the ashes of all dead soldiers.

Walt Whitman

"Such was the War. It was not a quadrille in a ball-room. Its interior history will not only never be written, its practicality, minutia of deeds and passions, will never be even suggested. The actual Soldier of 1862-'65, North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, habits, practices, tastes, language, his appetite, rankness, his superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed lights and shades of camp -- I say, will never be written -- perhaps must not and should not be."
Fortunately for us, his diaries survived, and the stories of the War were written, and remembered.
 This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage Civil War Library)
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on January 6, 2009
Did not finish, but did not expect this to chronicle his experience as a visitor so to speak of civil war victims. It is well written and an interesting chronicle of the useless loss of lives, brothers against brothers, of the war. Too bad we have not learned our lesson!
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