Sunday, February 12, 2023
HomePhilosophyWalt Whitman on Birds Migrating at Midnight – The Marginalian

Walt Whitman on Birds Migrating at Midnight – The Marginalian

Sometimes, a portray in phrases is price a thousand footage. I take into consideration this increasingly, in our compulsively visible tradition, which more and more reduces what we predict and really feel and see — who and what we’re — to what might be photographed. I consider Susan Sontag, who known as it “aesthetic consumerism” half a century earlier than Instagram. In a small act of resistance, I supply The Unphotographable — Saturdays, a beautiful picture in phrases drawn from centuries of literature: passages transcendent and transportive, depicting landscapes and experiences radiant with magnificence and feeling past what a visible picture may convey.

The Unphotographabe: Walt Whitman on Birds Migrating at Midnight

There is singular magic to seeing a mass of creatures transfer in unison alongside the vector of a standard goal, as if commanded by a single thoughts. In these final situations of unselfing, we’re reminded that each one of nature is one grand synchrony, through which we’re mere particles present in conviviality and consanguinity with each different particle.

A century and a half earlier than Richard Powers painted in phrases the majestic migration of sandhill cranes, Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) channels one such spectacle of humbling grandeur in Specimen Days (public library) — the beautiful assortment of prose fragments that additionally gave us his reflections on democracy, music, and the knowledge of timber.

Walt Whitman circa 1854 (Library of Congress)
Walt Whitman circa 1854 (Library of Congress)

Under the heading “BIRDS MIGRATING AT MIDNIGHT,” Whitman writes:

Did you ever probability to listen to the midnight flight of birds passing by way of the air and darkness overhead, in numerous armies, altering their early or late summer time habitat? It is one thing to not be forgotten. A buddy known as me up simply after 12 final night time to mark the peculiar noise of unusually immense flocks migrating north (fairly late this yr.) In the silence, shadow and scrumptious odor of the hour, (the pure fragrance belonging to the night time alone,) I assumed it uncommon music. You may hear the attribute movement — a couple of times “the rush of mighty wings,” however oftener a velvety rustle, lengthy drawn out — generally fairly close to — with continuous calls and chirps, and a few song-notes. It all lasted from 12 until after 3. Once shortly the species was plainly distinguishable; I may make out the bobolink, tanager, Wilson’s thrush, white-crown’d sparrow, and infrequently from excessive within the air got here the notes of the plover.

Complement with Whitman, shortly after his paralytic stroke, on what makes life price dwelling and his everlasting recommendation on dwelling a vibrant and rewarding life, then revisit different enchanting Unphotographables: Henry Williamson on the transcendence of a winter storm; Jack Kerouac on the self-revelation of the windblown world; Georgia O’Keeffe on the grandeur of Machu Picchu; Iris Murdoch on the ocean and the celebrities; an Alpine transcendence with Mary Shelley; an Alaskan paradise with Rockwell Kent.


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