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Here Whitman is approaching his 70th birthday and wondering if this year will be his last. To continue to live, for Whitman, is the worser fate because all of his faculties are failing him, and he doesn’t want to be left dull, parrot-like and old. For Whitman, to die will bring new experiences. Death would “stir the waters” and bring “placid skies and sun”.


The dim, uncertain spectre has a double meaning for Whitman. Here he uses uncertain spectre as the unknown future that he cannot look upon, and he is questioning what the year will bring. But also, as seen in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word spectre has more than one meaning:
Main Entry: spec·ter
Variant(s): or spec·tre \ˈspek-tər\
Function: noun
Etymology: French spectre, from Latin spectrum appearance, specter, from specere to look, look at — more at spy
Date: 1605
1 : a visible disembodied spirit : ghost
2 : something that haunts or perturbs the mind : phantasm

The definition of spectre that means a disembodied spirit: ghost suggests that Whitman speculates that he sees himself as a ghost, and sees that his future brings death. Furthermore, the next definition of spectre is someting that haunts or perturbs the mind. Although in many of his works Whitman reassures the reader that he is ready for death, this usage of spectre suggest that the though of death is haunting his mind still.


“More paralysis and heavier” refers to Whitman’s declining health. In 1873 Whitman suffered a stroke, and was partially paralyzed in result. Whitman is concerned that in his
70th year he will suffer the same fate, and possibly worse


Harping takes an interesting meaning here as well. Whitman is making an allusion to the fact that he is harping on about the same things year after year. Parrot-like, he is repeating himself in his works, and is becoming dull in result. Whitman wants his works to convey his messages, but the longer he lives the more he will continue to harp on in his works. And, his crack’d voice of old age is not as strong in his poetry as his poetic voice was in his youth.

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Approaching, nearing, curious,
Thou dim, uncertain spectre bringest thou life or death?
Strength, weakness, blindness, more paralysis and heavier?
Or placid skies and sun? Wilt stir the waters yet?
Or haply cut me short for good? Or leave me here as now,
Dull, parrot-like and old, with crackd voice harping, screeching?