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Walt Whitman by Unidentified photographer
  • Walt Whitman, 1883
  • Unidentified photographer
  • Albumen silver print, 14.3 cmx10.1 cm
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Image No. NPG.84.258

Whitman's Specimen Days and Collect (1882), his reminiscences of the Civil War and after, is divided between clear-eyed descriptions of war and peaceful nature writing. Writing about butterflies-"now and then some gorgeous fellow flashing lazily by on wings like artists' palettes"-Whitman maintained that these flighty insects could be trained: "I have one big and handsome moth down here . . . [who] likes me to hold him up on my extended hand." This charming photograph reenacts this event, demonstrating the poet's literal connection with nature-although with a cardboard butterfly.

Whitman was always happy to have his picture taken, although he professed himself never satisfied with the results. "I've been photographed, photographed, and photographed until the cameras themselves are tired of me. . . . I've run the whole gamut of photographic fol-de-rol."

Author: D. Ward

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