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.
“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