Fairies, Ferries and Flamboyance…
Taking in the “absorbing shows, accompaniments, [and] surroundings” is where we find Mr. Whitman in this installment of Specimen Days titled “My Passion for Ferries.” The loafing, leisure and loquaciousness of Walt is beginning to make sense, for me. How many non-ferry captaining individuals do you know who have a passion for ferries? I’ll wait. Leisure time is Uncle Walt’s time. Why captain the ferry when you can sit back and observe, “the changing panorama of steamers, all sizes.” I wonder if that just flew over a couple of heads. I slay myself!
While reading this installment and working on this week’s Tweet of the Week, I couldn’t help but notice Whitman’s almost over-the-top attraction to the men who were employed as pilots and train conductors. After searching for a connection to fairies, I found the fifth entry in the Oxford English Dictionary useful as it defines fairy as an adjective that is “delicate, finely formed or woven” and references it being used by Alfred Tennyson in his 1864 poem Aylmer’s Field. After giving Tennyson’s poem a scanning this the following lines stood out to me as significant:
Here is a story which in rougher shape / Came from a grizzled cripple, whom I saw Sunning himself in a waste field alone-- /Old, and a mine of memories--who had served, / Long since, a bygone Rector of the place,/ And been himself a part of what he told.
Who else could Tennyson have been describing except Walt Whitman? Ok, maybe not. However, in his critical piece titled Whitman and Tennyson, Herbert Bergman suggests that while Whitman felt that Tennyson had a “value for America,” that he also believed that Tennyson was not a “proper singer for American ears.” Of course not, that was strictly the domain of the ever-observant Whitman. Traveling on a ferry, flamboyantly dressed in a finely formed or woven suit (very fairly-like) and pushing into modernity is the picture of Whitman that is beginning to form in my inner mind’s eye.