Literary Calligraphy by Susan Loy

Language of Flowers Selections - Detailed information about "Specimen Days", Walt Whitman

Specimen Days

Prints are offset lithographic reproductions of Susan Loy’s original watercolor.

Image Size:   15-1/2” x 15-1/2”     Paper Size: 18” x 18-1/2”     Frame Size: 23” x 23”

Paying homage to Walt Whitman, Susan Loy’s print, “Specimen Days,” features a central bouquet of giant white laurel blossoms and pine, a colorful floral wreath with twenty-six plant species, insects, corner bird drawings of Canada goose, bush-sparrow, black-capped tit, and wood thrush, and a central quotation, from Whitman’s Specimen Days, hand-lettered in green: “This has been and is yet a great season for wild flowers; oceans of them line the roads through the woods, border the edges of the water-runlets, grow along the old fences, and are scatter’d in profusion over the fields. All is peace here… Here amid this wild, free scene, how healthy, how joyous, how clean and vigorous and sweet!”

Specimen Day & Collect, published in 1882, is Whitman’s journal of his time spent during the Civil War in Washington, D.C. and after the war, roughly 1876-1880, healing from a stroke in the rural countryside near Timber Creek and the Delaware River in Camden County, New Jersey. He also recorded his travels to the Hudson River Valley, Central Park, Boston, Niagara Falls, the Great Plains, and the Arkansas River. In a chapter titled, “A Civility Too Long Neglected,” Whitman dedicated these “Specimen Days” to the birds, wildflowers, trees, herbs, reptiles, and insects that populate the countryside:

“As a faint testimonial of my own gratitude for many hours of peace and comfort… I hereby dedicate the last half of these Specimen Days to the bees, black-birds, dragon-flies, pond-turtles, mulleins, tansy, peppermint, moths (great and little, some splendid fellows,) glow-worms, (swarming millions of them indescribably strange and beautiful at night over the pond and creek,) water-snakes, crows, millers, mosquitoes, butterflies, wasps and hornets, cat birds (and all other birds,) cedars, tulip-trees (and all other trees,) and to the spots and memories of those days, and of the creek.”

Throughout his journal, he recorded the various species of birds, trees, and perennial blossoms that he made acquaintance with in one season or another. In a section titled, “Trees I am familiar with here,” and dated Aug. 4, 1876, Whitman listed: “Oaks, (many kinds–one sturdy old fellow, vital, green, bushy, five feet thick at the but, I sit under every day.) Cedars, plenty. Tulip trees, (Liriodendron, is of the magnolia family–I have seen it in Michigan and southern Illinois, 140 feet high and 8 feet thick at the butt; does not transplant well; best rais’d from seeds–the lumbermen call it yellow poplar.) Sycamores. Gum-trees, both sweet and sour. Beeches. Black-walnuts. Sassafras. Willows. Catalpas. Persimmons. Mountain-ash. Hickories. Maples, many kinds. Locusts. Birches. Dogwood. Pine. The Elm. Chestnut. Linden. Aspen. Spruce. Hornbeam. Laurel. Holly.”

In a section titled, “Birds Birds and Birds,” from April 1877, Whitman noted, “An unusual melodiousness, these days, (last of April and first of May) from the blackbirds; indeed all sorts of birds, darting, whistling, hopping or perch’d on trees…. Let me make a list of those I find here: Black birds (plenty,) Ring doves, Woodpeckers, King-birds, Crows (plenty,) Wrens, Kingfishers, Quails, Turkey-buzzards, Hen-hawks, Yellow birds, Thrushes, Reed birds, Meadow-larks (plenty,) Cat-birds (plenty,) Cuckoos, Pond snipes (plenty,) Cheewinks, Quawks, Ground robins, Ravens, Gray snipes, Eagles, High-holes, Herons, Tits, Wood pigeons. Early came the Blue birds, Killdeer, Plover, Robin, Woodcock, Meadow lark, White-bellied swallow, Sandpiper, Wilson’s thrush, Flicker.”

In a chapter titled, “Wild Flowers,” Whitman lists “the names of some of these perennial blossoms and friendly weeds I have made acquaintance with hereabout one season or another in my walks: wild azalea, wild honeysuckle, wild roses, golden rod, larkspur, early crocus, sweet flag, (great patches of it,) creeper, trumpet-flower, scented marjoram, snakeroot, Solomon’s seal, sweet balm, mint, (great plenty,) wild geranium, wild heliotrope, burdock, dandelions, yarrow, coreopsis, wild pea, woodbine, elderberry, poke-weed, sun-flower, chamomile, violets, clematis, bloodroot, swamp magnolia, milk-weed, wild daisy, (plenty,) wild chrysanthemum.”

Susan Loy selected twenty-six of these trees and wild flowers, one for every letter of the alphabet, and illustrated them in a colorful wreath. She lettered the common and botanical name of each plant and its meaning in the Victorian Language of Flowers. The twenty-six plants and trees include:

Apple Blossom, Malus coronaria: preference
Whitman observed “apple-tree blossoms in forward April,” “marking and scenting the neighborhood in their seasons.”

Blue Liverwort, Hepatica americana: trust
On April 26, 1879, Whitman noted, “The earliest wild flowers in the woods and fields, spicy arbutus, blue liverwort, frail anemone, and the pretty white blossoms of the bloodroot. I launch out in slow rambles, discovering them.”

Coreopsis, C. lanceolata: cheerfulness
Whitman wrote a chapter on this flower, “A Silent Little Follower–The Coreopsis” and included it in his list of perennial blossoms.

Dogwood, Cornus florida: durability
“A while since the croaking of the pond-frogs and the first white of the dog-wood blossoms.” Whitman also included the dogwood in his list of familiar trees.

Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis: zealousness
Whitman included elderberry in his list of perennials.

Flax, Linum lewisii: kind feelings
Whitman included flax in his description of “America’s Characteristic Landscape,” “…the inexhaustible land of wheat, maize, wool, flax…”

Geranium maculatum, wild geranium: confidence
Whitman included the wild geranium in his list of perennials.

Horsemint, Monarda didyma: sympathy
Whitman wrote a chapter on “Horse-mint,” dated Aug. 22, 1878, “horse-mint wafting a spicy odor through the air (especially evenings.)”

Ipomoea pandurata, wild potato vine: affection
Whitman mentioned wild vines on many occasions. On Sept. 20, 1876, he noted “the many-threaded vines winding up and around trunks of trees.” In “Chicoutimi and Ha-ha Bay,” he described the mountains, “draped close all over with matted green verdure or vines.” In April, 1882 he visited an old forest haunt, “deep in the shade of pines and cedars and a tangle of old laurel-trees and vines.”

Johnny-Jump-Up, Viola papilionacea: faith
Whitman included violets in his list of perennials. In May, he observed “the wild violets, with their blue eyes looking up and saluting my feet, as I saunter the wood-edge.”

King Fern, Osmunda spectabilis: dreams
In Ulster County, New York, Whitman found “a wild scene of woods and hills” with “a rich underlay of ferns, yew sprouts and mosses.”

Lobelia cardinalis, cardinal flower: distinction
“As I look around, I take account of stock–weeds and shrubs,… frequent wild-flowers, little white, star-shaped things, or the cardinal red of the lobelia.”

Magnolia glauca, swamp magnolia: love of nature
Whitman included swamp magnolia in his list of perennial blossoms.

Nymphaea odorata, water lily: purity of heart
In “A July After-noon by the Pond,” Whitman described “the white and pink pond-blossoms, with great heart-shaped leaves.”

Orchid, Orchis spectabilis: a belle
On “The First Spring Day on Chestnut Street,” Whitman saw “incredible orchids” in the conservatory at the Baldwin mansion in Philadelphia.

Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana: freedom
Whitman included poke-weed in his list of perennials.

Quercus velutina, black oak: bravery
Whitman wrote often of oaks, in chapters titled “The Oaks and I” and “Thoughts Under an Oak,” and in his list of familiar trees–“Oaks, (many kinds–one sturdy old fellow, vital, green, bushy, five feet thick at the butt, I sit under every day.” On Sept. 20, 1876, “Under an old black oak, glossy and green, exhaling aroma… here I sit in solitude, absorbing, enjoying all.”

Rosa virginiana, wild rose: simplicity
Whitman includes wild roses in his list of perennials; on Sept. 20, 1876, he observed “the cherry-ball seeds of the perennial rose,” and on June 21, 1878, he noted the “honeysuckle-and-rose-embower’d cottage of John Burroughs.

Sunflower, Helianthus annus: lofty thoughts
Whitman included sunflower in his list of perennials.

Tulip-Tree, Lireodendron tulipifera: rural happiness
Whitman described ed a tulip-tree, “70 feet high” in the chapter titled “Bumble-Bees” and included Liriodendron in his list familiar trees. On June 2, he named the tulip-tree, “the Apollo of the woods–tall and graceful.”

Umbelliferae, Snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis: health
Whitman included snakeroot in his list of perennial blossoms.

Virgin’s Bower, Clematis virginiana: filial love
Whitman included clematis in his list of perennial blossoms.

Xyris torta, yellow-eyed grass: utility
Whitman wrote often of grass. On June 19, 1876, he found “the grass and trees looking their best–the clare-obscure of different greens, shadows, half-shadows, and the dappling glimpses of the water, through the recesses.” On May 6, 1878, he wrote, the sundown lights “along the grass as the sun lowers, give effects more and more peculiar, more and more superb, unearthly, rich and dazzling.” In “A Happy Hour’s Command,” July 2, 1882, Whitman wrote, “What a day! What an hour just passing! the luxury of giant grass and blowing breeze, with all the shows of sun and sky.”

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium: cure
Whitman includes yarrow in his list of of perennials.

Zea Mays, Indian corn: abundance
“Here I sit in solitude, absorbing, enjoying all. The corn, stack’d in its cone-shaped stacks, russet-color’d and sere.”

This wreath populated with species of bees, moths, and butterflies and has a floral motif of orange trumpet-creeper and green juniper with blue berries. Whitman included, creeper, trumpet-flower, Campsis radicans, in his list of perennials. In a chapter titled “Cedar-Apples,” he described the juniper or red cedar, Juniperus virginiana: “As you go along roads, or barrens, or across country, anywhere through these States, middle, eastern, western, or southern, you will see, certain seasons of the year, the thick woolly tufts of the cedar mottled with bunches of china-blue berries… After a long rain, when everything looks bright, often have I stop in my wood-saunters, south or north, or far west, to take in its dusky green, wash’d clean and sweet, and speck’d copiously with its fruit of clear, hardy blue.”

Four birds perch in each corner of the piece: Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, lower left; Bush Sparrow, Spizella pusilla, upper left; Black-Cap Tit or Chickadee, Parus atricapillus, upper right; Wood Thrush, Hylocichla mustelina, lower right. In a chapter titled, “A Hint of Wild Nature,” dated Feb. 13, 1880, Whitman described seeing a large flock of wild geese flying overhead, “…flashing to me such a hint of the whole spread of Nature, with her eternal unsophisticated freshness, her never-visited recesses of sea, sky, shore–and then disappearing in the distance.” On April 26, 1879, at sunrise, he noted several bird songs, including “An hour later, some notes, few and simple, yet delicious and perfect, from the bush-sparrow.”Whitman mentions the tit in the “Birds Birds and Birds” section from April 1877. On April 29, 1879, he recorded, “As we drove lingering along the road we heard, just after sundown, the song of the wood-thrush. We stopp’d without a word, and listen’d long. The delicious notes–a sweet, artless, voluntary, simple anthem, as from the flute-stops of some organ, wafted through the twillght–echoing well to us from the perpendicular high rock, where, in some thick young trees’ recesses at the base, sat the bird–fill’d our senses, our souls.”

The central bouquet features giant white blossoms of the Great Laurel, Rhododendron maximum, and the delicate green pine needles and brown cones of Pinus Virginiana. Whitman included laurels in his list of familiar trees and on March 8, 1880 found “a thick undergrowth of laurels” while loafing in the woods. The next day, following a snowstorm, he returned and saw that “every snowflake lay where it fell on the evergreens, holly-trees, laurels, &c., the multitudinous leaves and branches piled, bulging-white, defined by edge-lines of emerald.” He included pine in his list of familiar trees, and mentioned pine trees dozens of times in his journal; on April 6, 1877, he wrote “All is solitude, morning freshness….frequent cedars and pines yet green.”

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