Earth, My Likeness: Nature Poetry of Walt Whitman

Overview

While Walt Whitman is best known as America’s first great urban poet, he was also a gifted nature poet, as the selections in this book show. Here his celebration of the “body electric” from Leaves of Grass expands into a celebration of an equally electrifying nature as he memorializes the seashore, the night sky, animals, even daydreaming in the grass. Whitman considered humans and animals “an interesting continuum,” in the words of editor Howard Nelson, and felt that “wilderness—the true, essential wilderness of...
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Overview

While Walt Whitman is best known as America’s first great urban poet, he was also a gifted nature poet, as the selections in this book show. Here his celebration of the “body electric” from Leaves of Grass expands into a celebration of an equally electrifying nature as he memorializes the seashore, the night sky, animals, even daydreaming in the grass. Whitman considered humans and animals “an interesting continuum,” in the words of editor Howard Nelson, and felt that “wilderness—the true, essential wilderness of the universe—is still with us as long as we can see a river or an ocean or the night sky.”

Whitman was unsurpassed at describing people as natural creatures—including not only experiences of animal calm but also the instinctual life and the sensations and yearnings of the body. Earth, My Likeness, which includes numerous prose selections taken from the author’s Specimen Days, showcases his entwining of outer nature and inner nature, the unique way he made his nature poetry and his love poetry inseparable. Howard Nelson’s introduction includes biographical information, analysis, and a fascinating comparison of Thoreau, Melville, and Whitman. Roderick MacIver’s shimmering watercolors perfectly complement Whitman’s immortal words.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Generations of readers have turned to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass for its nature poetry. Now Howard Nelson has given us, in one slim volume, the best of Whitman’s nature writing. Nelson’s superb selection includes prose and poetry, both soaring rhetoric (‘I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars’) and a quietly delightful diary entry about an ‘Adamic air-bath’ on the banks of Timber Creek. Rod MacIver’s fresh, deft watercolors are a perfect match for Whitman’s ‘spontaneous me.’” 
—Michael Robertson, author of Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781556439100
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books
  • Publication date: 7/20/2010
  • Pages: 200
  • Sales rank: 1,400,962
  • Product dimensions: 8.68 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Walt Whitman, generally considered the most important American poet of the nineteenth century, was born on May 31, 1819, in West Hills, Long Island, and died in 1892 at age 72. Editor Howard Nelson is a professor of English at Cayuga Community College and has been awarded Chancellor’s Awards from the State University of New York for teaching, scholarship, and creative activities. A widely published poet, he has also written several criticisms of American poetry, including Robert Bly: An Introduction to the Poetry and On the Poetry of Galway Kinnell: The Wages of Dying. A contributing editor to The Hollins Critic and a contributor to the Walt Whitman Encyclopedia and The Walt Whitman Companion, Nelson reads his poetry and lectures on Whitman and other American writers regularly. He lives in Moravia, NY. Artist Roderick MacIver lives in the Adirondack Mountains, NY.
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Read an Excerpt

From the introduction to the new edition:
Thinking back at the end of his life to Emerson's attempt to persuade him to take some of the sex out of Leaves of Grass, Whitman said, "if I had cut sex out I might just as well have cut everything out." The sex in his poetry is not located in just a few poems; it suffuses much more than an erotic or taboo poem here and there. When Whitman wrote about sex, he often wrote about it in terms of the natural world, and when he wrote about the natural world, he often wrote about it in terms of sexual intimacy and pleasure. The poems "Spontaneous Me" and "These I Singing in Spring" are perhaps the premier examples; no other walks in the woods in literature are quite like them. Eros and nature are richly tangled in a wet, lush bouquet. Whitman does not want us to separate them. The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins probably comes closest to this effect, though his idea was that it is Christ and nature that are entangled. Hopkins said about Whitman, "I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman's mind to be more like my own than any other man's living. As he is a great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession." Hopkins too recognized something wild, elemental, pre-Christian, in Whitman.

A selection:
Thoughts Under An Oak - A Dream
This is the fourth day of a dark northeast storm, wind and rain. Day before yesterday was my birthday. I have now entered on my 6oth year. Every day of the storm, protected by overshoes and a waterproof blanket, I regu larly come down to the pond, and ensconce myself under the lee of the great oak; I am here now writing these lines. The dark smoke-colored clouds roll in furious silence athwart the sky; the softgreen leaves dangle all round me; the wind steadily keeps up its hoarse, soothing music over my head - Nature's mighty whisper. Seated here in solitude I have been musing over my life - connecting events, dates, as links of a chain, neither sadly nor cheer ily, but somehow, today here under the oak, in the rain, in an unusually matter-of-fact spirit. But my great oak- sturdy, vital, green -five feet thick at the butt; I sit a great deal near or under him. Then the tulip tree near by- the Apollo of the woods - tall and graceful, yet robust and sinewy, inimitable in hang of foliage and throwing-out of limb; as if the beauteous, vital, leafy creature could walk, if it only would. (I had a sort of dream-trance the other day, in which I saw my favorite trees step out and promenade up, down and around, very curiously - with a whisper from one, leaning down as he passed me, "We do all this on the present occasion, exceptionally, just for you.") - Walt Whitman, "Specimen Days"
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