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Title: "Marble Time" in the Park.

Creator: Walt Whitman

Date: April 4, 1842

Publication information: New York Aurora 4 April 1842: [2].

Source: Original issue held at the Paterson Free Public Library, Paterson, NJ. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.

Whitman Archive ID: per.00381

Contributors to digital file: Elijah Ekstedt, Sean Courtney, Nolan Shan, Jason Stacy, and Kevin McMullen




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"Marble Time" in the Park.

Reader, let us take a lounge together. Be'st thou gentle lady, or busy merchant, or indolent idler, or workingman, or student—it will do thee no harm. Nor, if a high bred dame, needest thou start at our familiarity; we only ask thee to lock arms with us—in imagination. And as the time of an editor is precious, and we cannot circulate very far, we will descend from our sanctum, exit, cross over to the iron gates opposite, and enter the Park.1

Evidences of the coming summer are around us. The grass has just put on a delicate green, buds are upon the tips of the branches overhead, and the sun beats down with an ardent warmth upon us. The air is balmy and delicious. Is it not pleasant to be, once in a while, where your prospect is unintercepted by walls and stacks of chimneys within a dozen arms' length?

It is "marble time;" and in many a nook and many a sunny spot around, we observe groups of the little people playing at that time honored divertisement. Let us stop a while, and observe yon busy squad to the left. What a heterogeneous mixture! And what fine, healthy, dirty, bright eyed, mischievous little devils most of them are! We are among them; silence and attention!2

A large ring of two yards in diameter encircles a smaller ring in the centre, which latter encircles ten or fifteen marbles. "I'm first!" exclaims an urchin, whose shirt tail is sticking out from a tear in his trowsers—"I'm first," and down he bends, at the outer ring, with his marble between his thumb nail and the end of the second finger. For a moment he waits, taking aim, as it were—leans his head slightly one side, cocks his eye with a knowing half wink, and surveys the whole bearings of the ground. Then with a firm, nervous, quick jerk of the outer joint of thumb, he sends the pebble forward. Aha! It scatters the heap "put in" by the other boys, and one of the marbles has rolled completely out of the large ring. He pockets it, and by the laws of the game, has a right to a second trial. Again he bends; but now, elated with success, neglects his former cautiousness. Long practice, however, has made his aim expert from mere habit; he scatters the heap, as before—but none of them goes beyond the ring.3

Next comes a red haired young gentlemen, whose hat, being mavellous scant of brim, and, moreover, intended originally for a caput4 twice the size of its present wearer's, slides down every now and then over his eyes, and rests upon the bridge of his nose—much to the red haired young gentleman's annoyance and tribulation. Ere he kneels him upon the ring, he gives his head a quick toss, by which he gains temporary relief from the grief above allluded to.

"Knuckle down to taw!" ejaculates one of the players.

Now, lest the uninitiated should not comprehend the meaning conveyed by the foregoing phrase, it may be as well to say that "knuckle down to taw!" is equivalent to "plant your hand on the ring, fairly!" words which imply that the individual to whom they are spoken, is disposed to take some undue and unfair advantage. We would by no means assert that the red haired young gentleman was disposed to take such advantage; that is a point which we think proper to leave to the sagacity of the reader. And here, were we disposed to be philosophical, we might expatiate at full length on the propriety of knowing for sure, before you give decision upon a mooted point. We forbear.

The marble of the red haired young gentleman flies wide of its mark. It takes no effect at all.

And then comes brown haired young gentleman, and dark haired young gentlemen, and young gentleman with snub noses, and young gentleman with sharp noses, and, in short, young gentleman of all qualities and ages, from the thick lipped negro sweep to the aristocratic truant from the college high school a few rods5 to the north.

What troops of children, large and small, appear on every side! Were it amiss to look on them, engaged as they are so earnestly—as but mimics of the strife that occupies our advanced years! And the "knuckle down to taw!" and the "fen scrapins!"6—have they not their counterpart in manhood?

How ardent the little gamesters are! How pleased at gaining a spherical moiety of clay—and how cast down at losing it! Thus it is. In our greener age, we pursue shadows and toys; in maturity, the toil and the sweat and the fever are for benefits as intangible, and phantom gewgaws, intrinsically as valueless as the objects of our youth. Why should we smile at the zeal and irritability of children? We daily chase gilded butterflies. In our common walks—in the path of ordinary business, we spend precious time, and godlike capacities, and advantages of fortune, to reach some goal where, when we arrive, we turn sick with disappointment and disgust at its not conferring the blessings we most foolishly expected.7


Notes:

1. Whitman is likely referring to "City Hall Park." In October 1842, Croton Fountain was unveiled in City Hall Park, which celebrated the completion of the Croton Reservoir in 1841. [back]

2. Whitman often took the reader sight seeing in his journalism, writing in the voice of an eyewitness strolling down the street and noting the things that he saw around him. This eyewitness voice would later become very common in Whitman's poetic catalogs. For example, in the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, in the poem that would eventually be titled "Song of Myself," Whitman notes "The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the clank of the shod / horses on the granite floor, / The carnival of sleighs, the clinking and shouted jokes and pelts of snowballs; / The hurrahs for popular favorites . . . the fury of roused mobs." [back]

3. Whitman is describing a game of "Ring Taw," similar to modern "marbles". [back]

4. "Caput" here refers to the boy's head. See: John Boag, Popular and Complete English Dictionary (London: William Collins, 1848), 903. [back]

5. Rod is an increment, originating in Britain, used for measuring acreage. The exact measurement of a rod is five and a half yards (Noah Webster, John Walker, An American Dictionary of the English Language [Boston: N.&J. White, 1839], 532). [back]

6. "fen scrapins" was perhaps a slang term used during the game of "Ring Taw." However, the meaning here is not entirely clear. [back]

7. Whitman makes a similar argument in his 1840–41 journalistic series "Sun-Down Papers," numbers 3, 4, and 7. [back]


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