Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Halcyon Days"
Author:
Baldwin, David B.
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

First published in the New York Herald on 29 January 1888, "Halcyon Days" is found in "Sands at Seventy," the First Annex to the 1891–1892 edition of Leaves of Grass.

In eight lines Whitman contrasts the usual great rewards in life ("successful" love, wealth, honor, fame) with what he sees as greater rewards "as life wanes," paralleling nature's quieter moods in the autumn or at day's end with the same condition in old age.

Since these days are "teeming" as well as being the "quietest, happiest days of all," and are "brooding" as well as being "blissful," they by no means suggest complete passivity and resignation. Although the language catches a dominant mood of affirmation, it avoids sentimentalizing old age. Whitman often uses a key word (key in choice, position, stress, or frequency) as he does here with "halcyon," well chosen for his purposes in meaning, sound, and rhythm.

Not all of Whitman's latter days were halcyon, however. He was wracked by illness and occasional doubts, as his letters, his old-age chronicler Horace Traubel, and several poems in the "Sands at Seventy" cluster attest, notably "As I Sit Writing Here," "Queries to My Seventieth Year," and "An Evening Lull." But in this cluster, as elsewhere, affirmative old age poems strongly predominate.

Bibliography

Schwiebert, John E. The Frailest Leaves: Whitman's Poetic Technique and Style in the Short Poem. New York: Lang, 1992.

Stauffer, Donald B. "Walt Whitman and Old Age." Walt Whitman Review 24 (1978): 144–148.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Comprehensive Reader's Edition. Ed. Harold W. Blodgett and Sculley Bradley. New York: New York UP, 1965.


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