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"Good-Bye, my Fancy!"

"Good-Bye, my Fancy!"*

THE GREEKS put in their graves an image of Hermes the psychopompos to convey the spirit over into the land of shades. 'Good-bye, my Fancy!' is Walt Whitman's Hermes-image to convey his parting salutations to the afterworld. In its sixty-six pages we have a medley and motley of prose and verse like what the countryman calls the rich 'strippings' of the cow's milk, the last and oiliest, the most nutritious and creamiest of the lacteal fountain. A few things here have been published before. The Critic's readers have tasted and enjoyed the uncloying 'Old Man's Rejoinder,' 'For Queen Victoria's Birthday,' 'The Pallid Wreath' and 'Unassail'd Renown'; but the bulk of the book—its stem, stalk and flower—is new to the public and has not before tempted the intellectual palate.

I sing of life, yet mind me still of Death,

is the keynote of the volume, in which the author humorously calls himself a sea-shell cast up by the sea. Yet does he not remember the wonderful susurrus of that Wordsworthian shell which, though far inland, whispered of its native place even as that susurrus in the soul whispered of immortality? The almost dead shell of the 'greybeard sufi' has a live soul in it capable still of radiant abalone-like iridescences. The chemist's tincture brings out these wondrous tints even as opportunity will elicit them from the 'conch' of Camden.

In fact, here I am these current years 1890 and '91 (each successive fortnight getting stiffer and stuck deeper), much like some hard-cased dilapidated grim ancient shell-fish or time-bang'd conch (no legs, utterly non-locomotive) cast up high and dry on the shore-sands, helpless to move anywhere—nothing left but to behave myself quiet, and while away the days yet assign'd, and discover if there is anything for the said grim and time-bang'd conch to be got at last out of inherited good spirits and primal buoyant centre-pulses down there deep somewhere within his gray-blurr'd old shell***And old as I am I feel to-day almost a part of some frolicsome wave.

The 'shell' is indeed a part of the 'frolicsome wave' which laves it into exquisite curves and colors. This is Whitman's universal quality, his sympathy, his world-wide hand-clasp, his general salutation to the universe. The shell and the sea are comrades, and so is every creeping and smiling or sailing and winged creature—comrades all in that catholic-apostolic camaraderie which includes every sprout and germ of the divine energy—a camaraderie as close and as kind as that which clasped hamadryad and enclosing oak together. Death, which inspires so many of these beautiful irregular lines, looms up magical and benign before a mind simply wondering, not abashed—the 'eidόlon-yacht' of his soul ready to put forth on its mirage-haunted seas with utmost trustfulness. Whitman's beliefs come out singularly strong and triumphant here and there among the creed-leaves of the book: beliefs in future personality, identity, immortality, a merciful and loving God, progress, consciousness: he peoples that dim world with these, and it becomes immediately lustrous. These brave beliefs ring almost gayly through 'An Ended Day,' 'The Pallid Wreath,' 'My 71st Year,' 'Shakespeare-Bacon's Cipher,' and other protests against materialism, often as beautifully expressed as Tennyson's or Whittier's vital faith. Indeed, the whole book is a book of 'last words' from dying lips sealing a life that has been blameless. There is no sound of lamentation or Job-cry in it, pervaded as it is with bright, broad optimism, the grace of benignant utterance, the egoism of a healthy and gracious child. Almost the only querulous note is the plaintive reference to rejected MSS. sent in to the 'great magazines.' The generous recognition of Tennyson and Ruskin and the other English and American admirers has offset this, and kept the paralyzed author from real want. The last twenty pages or so are full of Pascal-like pensées 1 grouped in paragraphs, vividly poetic, many of them, with Whitmanesque threads and colorations running all through. Such are 'A Death-Banquet,' 'Some Laggards Yet,' 'Splinters,' 'Health,' 'Crossing from Jersey City,' 'An Engineer's Obituary' (his brother), and the 'Old-Age Jottings.' Histrionic New York of thirty or forty years ago reappears delightfully in 'Old Actors, Singers, Shows, etc.'—a tell-tale bead of personal recollections in which the author suspends a votive offering before each vanished image and lingering voice, all quaintly carved in his own rich involved English. Much ruddy philosophy courses through these recollections—healthy love of the drama, love of a beautiful voice, love of Shakespeare and the great artists—of Alboni2 and Jenny Lind3 and Fanny Kemble4 and fine reading.

The author turns the kodak on himself and reveals each inner sanctuary of his moral and physical nature. Now in his seventy-third year, he is as fresh and piquant as ever, as devoted to his great 'America,' his ideal Democracy, his poetic theories as he was in 1855, when he began jotting down his revolutionary memoranda. And at the forefront of it all looks out a portrait—profile rounded like the arch of the full moon, nebulous, Ossianlike,5 but striking in its filmy vagueness.

Good-Bye, my Fancy! Second Annex to Leaves of Grass By Walt Whitman. [illegible] Philadelphia: David McKay.


1. Blaise Pascal's Pensées (1670) offered notes and essays on religious and philosophical topics. [back]

2. The Italian contralto opera singer Marietta Alboni (1823-1894) gained fame for her classic Italian bel canto. [back]

3. Jenny Lind (1820-1887), a Swedish operatic and oratorio soprano, toured the U.S. and attracted a huge following in 1850. [back]

4. Fanny Kemble (1809-1893) was a popular English actress and author of plays, poems, and memoirs concerning the stage and social history of the nineteenth century. [back]

5. The Works of Ossian is an influential cycle of poems partly collected and partly fabricated by James Macpherson in the 1760s. Macpherson's claim that the poetry was of ancient Scots Gaelic origin resulted in a long running controversy over its authenticity. [back]

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