Walt Whitman on Birds Migrating at Midnight – The Marginalian

Generally, a portray in phrases is price a thousand footage. I take into consideration this an increasing number of, 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 will be photographed. I consider Susan Sontag, who referred to as it “aesthetic consumerism” half a century earlier than Instagram. In a small act of resistance, I provide The Unphotographable — Saturdays, a stunning 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 may be singular magic to seeing a mass of creatures transfer in unison alongside the vector of a standard function, 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 (Might 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)

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

Did you ever likelihood 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 season habitat? It’s one thing to not be forgotten. A pal referred to as me up simply after 12 final night time to mark the peculiar noise of unusually immense flocks migrating north (quite late this yr.) Within the silence, shadow and scrumptious odor of the hour, (the pure fragrance belonging to the night time alone,) I assumed it uncommon music. You possibly can hear the attribute movement — a couple of times “the frenzy 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. All of it lasted from 12 until after 3. Every so often the species was plainly distinguishable; I may make out the bobolink, tanager, Wilson’s thrush, white-crown’d sparrow, and sometimes 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 residing and his everlasting recommendation on residing 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 celebs; an Alpine transcendence with Mary Shelley; an Alaskan paradise with Rockwell Kent.

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