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Nature metaphors are common in Whitman's later work. Here, Whitman uses the passage of day to symbolize the journey through life. The "clangor" and "chorus" is apt to describe the exciting politicized nature of Whitman's early years, and the drum-beat rhythm of the war years. But the later years demonstrate a change in Whitman's verse. Instead of the band and the chorus, silence is the background for the poetic "symphony." The "dazzle" of the day fades to darkness, where Whitman can see the stars, the subtler notes of nature, ones that are equally as important as the energetic, political verse of Whitman's youth.
halcyon: "denoting a period of time in the past that was idyllically happy at peaceful" ( Whitman turns the concept of "halcyon" on its head by calling the years of old age blissful and edenic, as compared to the virtues of youth and middle age. While "life wanes", the subdued passions lend a new peace to life. "Teeming quietest" is a crux of the contrast. As love and lust diminish, the energies of the passions are better channeled into the peace and quiet of nature, "the evening sky," and the writing of poetry.
Nature expressions expound in the second half of Whitman's prose collection, Specimen Days. Whitman contrasts the green of apple orchards and the yellow of wheat fields, the fresh morning to the hazy afternoon. The lilac bushes are the beautiful, perfumed flowers of May, Whitman's birth month. They are also symbols of President Lincoln from Whitman's "Memories of President Lincoln."
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865, shocking the nation. See Whitman's elegies in "Memories of President Lincoln" Here, Lincoln's birth is celebrated, over twenty years after his tragic death.
(note: not all of this section of the poem is included on this page) "resumed upon myself" (line 1)--the narrator turns here to personal reminiscence. "scenes ephemeral" (line 3)--see Specimen Days, 1876 onward. Remembrance of extensive time spent in nature in New Jersey. (line 4)--see Specimen Days, War Memoranda
"sedge" (line 2)--"a grasslike plant with triangular stems and inconspicuous flowers, growing typically in wet ground" ( alliterative with salt, sense description. Grizzly in the Sedge "voice" (line 3)-- see "Fancies at Navesink, Had I the Choice" the voice of the sea emerges in contrast to the voices of the classical literary cannon. Nature is given voice here, and is personified with a particularly personal quality, inclined toward sobs and confessions. "eddies" (line 3)--"a current of water or air running contrary to the main current; especially : a circular current : whirlpool b : something moving similar" ( Created by the dangerous "foam-dash'd" rocks of the first verse-paragraph. Whitman's narrator himself is caught in such a dangerous spiral. "far" (line 5)--also a reference to the great length of time that separates the narrator from the classical poets of "Had I the Choice." "chorus of age's complaints" (line 8.) The preface of "The Second Annex: Good-bye my Fancy" details the decay of Whitman's state of health. Whitman is similarly trapped in an eddy or whirlpool of ill-health. See "suicide" (line 9.) debouche (line 12)--see debouch, "to emerge from a narrow or confined space into a wide, open area" ( "Oblivion" (line 10) promises a relief and release from the trapping eddy.
"hill" (line 3) here, Whitman's narrator stands poised on the peak looking over a sea which contains the rising and falling tide, a representation of birth and death, the coming and departing of lives in the nation. "vessel" (line 5)-- see Second Annex: Good-bye my Fancy, "Sail Out for Good Eidolon Yacht" and "Old Age's Ship & Crafty Death's" ship or vessel as the self, embarking on its journey through life and towards death. "foam-dash'd rocks" (line 5), these are the rocks that create the eddies and voices beginning in the fourth verse-paragraph. "Indian helmsman" (line 6) Whitman chooses an interesting figure to pilot his boat of life. The indian helmsman, like the "negro woman" from Drum-Taps's "Ethiopia Saluting the Colors" symbolize a sample of America's racial heterogeneity. Perhaps the Indian man as shaman is a fitting figure to be the Charon on a sea of both life and death.