A Cedar Plum

“DID you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies, changing their early or late summer habitat? It is something not to be forgotten. A friend called me up just after 12 last night to mark the peculiar noise of unusually immense flocks migrating north (rather late this year.) In the silence, shadow and delicious odor of the hour, (the natural perfume belonging to the night alone,) I thought it rare music. You could hear the characteristic motion—once or twice “the rush of mighty wings,” but oftener a velvety rustle, long drawn out—sometimes quite near—with continual calls and chirps, and some song-notes. It all lasted from 12 till after 2. Once in a while the species was plainly distinguishable; I could make out the bobolink, tanager, Wilson’s thrush, white-crown’d sparrow, and occasionally from high in the air came the notes of the plover.”

~ Walt Whitman, Specimen Days.

I was told recently that this book is hard to find in print, but here are two versions: the Library of America Whitman: Poetry and Prose includes it, and what patriot is without a copy of this volume? Also, Melville House has a handsome paperback edition of Specimen Days and Collect in its Neversink Library.

The name of this fascinating MH series comes from this passage in Melville’s White Jacket: “I was by no means the only reader of books on board the Neversink. Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such as you may find at the book- stalls around Fulton Market; they were slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubt-less contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much.”

Both Whitman and Melville celebrate their bicentennial birthdays this year. Backyard & Beyond is on the case(s).

2 Responses to “A Cedar Plum”


  1. 1 Paul Lamb March 18, 2019 at 5:28 am

    Great post! Thanks for the White Jacket reference.


  1. 1 More Whitman | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on March 31, 2019 at 8:01 am

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