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Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman

From The Walt Whitman Archive
Date: Late 1860s
Place: Unknown, probably New York
Photographer: Unknown, probably William Kurtz
Note: This photo is often dated 1861, but it appears to be later, and it would seem to be the photo Whitman refers to in a notebook dated between 1869 and 1871, where he records a desire to "Collect the good portraits" including "Kurtz's head with eyelids drooping." He goes on to make notes for a poem about this portrait, including lines like "Veil with the lids thine eyes, O soul!/ . . . Droop—”droop thine eyes O Soul. . . ./ Mask with their lids thine eyes, O Soul!/ The standards of the light & sense shut off/ To darkness now retiring, from thy inward abysms/ How curious, looking thence, . . ./ Appears aloof thy life, each passion, each event. . . ./ The objective world behind thee left. . . ." Dr. R. M. Bucke dated this photo much earlier (1861) and saw Whitman's "attitude and aspect" here suggestive of "the shadow of the national catastrophe, which was to crush him as well as so many thousand others . . . already falling upon him and darkening his life." This and other Whitman photographs from this period would seem to be classic examples of Kurtz's "Rembrandt" style of light and shadow, a style Kurtz pioneered in 1867."

Credit: Ohio Wesleyan University, Bayley Collection. Made available via The Walt Whitman Archive (Ed Folsom & Kenneth M. Price).

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Date Published: 17 April 2012
In Collection(s): Walt Whitman