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Posted on October 7th, 2009 at 8:35 pm by ginam

Camden Sunset 2


camden sunset

Whitman’s short poem “Old Age’s Lambent Peaks” is an examination of the final stages in the human life. His use of the word “hues” offers a multilayered meaning in the overarching theme of the poem and seems to be influenced by his life and experiences in Camden at the end of his life. The Merriam Webster Dictionary offers four distinct definitions for the word:

1. The property of colors by which they can be perceived as ranging from red through yellow, green, and blue, as determined by the dominant wavelength of the light.

2. A particular gradation of color; a shade or tint.

3. Color: all the hues of the rainbow.

4. Appearance; aspect: a man of somber hue.

The first definition relies on the examination of colors scientifically with hue being defined by the visual result of light seen on a particular wavelength. The hue in this context refers to the constantly changing colors of the setting sun as well as the changing shades of life as the colors begin to fade for the elderly. Whitman emphasizes the loss of light when the sun sets in conjunction to the loss of light as a life ends connecting aging and the setting sun through the changing hues of old age.

The second definition is best applied to the discussion Whitman has of memories and the difficulty the aging face as they sacrifice their visions of the past to the passing years. Whitman’s poem seems to focus on memories as objects that fade from the mind of the aging and in defining hue as a “shade or tint” it immediately references a memory as a convoluted image of the past quickly  fading from the aging mind.

 The third definition applies to the large spectrum of color Whitman uses in describing the sunset. He uses term like “fire” and “flame” in the beginning of the poem to discuss the brilliance of the sun before it begins to fade. Yet, as the poem progresses and the sunset begins to parallel the aging process Whitman uses terms like “calmer” and “golden” to describe the sun as it begins to recede behind the horizon. The hues then apply to the rainbow of color in the setting sun, which again parallels the fading hues of the aging.

 Finally, and perhaps the most significant definition, is the last one cited in the dictionary. Whitman’s poem follows a declining style in which the vigor of youth is presented in the beginning of the play in conjunction with the sun before it sets. The play moves downward as the sun sets and the aging continues. Whitman’s voice is saddened at the end of the poem and the description of hue being one of “appearance” the darkness associated with the end of the day is immediately resonant to the depression of the elderly. The “man of somber hue” could easily be applied to the subject of Whitman’s poem, not outwardly expressing any single emotion and still feeling the sadness of old age.

 The word hue is truly a one that encapsulates the many different layers of the poem. The voice of the aging man is projected through the poem and symbolism of the setting sun parallels the hues of color to the hues of the aging intentionally. Whitman expertly employs multiple meanings of the term in order to include a multilayered discussion of aging and its inescapable emotional hardships.

Donald Barlow Stauffer links the sunset and its varying hues to the state of Whitman mentally while he was in Camden at the end of his life. He claims, “Whitman’s mental state at the end of his life was that of fixation on the fading shades of his past. His poetry becomes increasingly focused on the idea of fading and receding into nothingness” (Stauffer 22-3). Stauffer extends his argument to include elements of his poetry, visions of death and the dying based on his personal experiences, and the growing feelings of isolation within his home and the city of Camden. For Stauffer, the idea of fading hues and colors is directly comparable to the mentality of the aging Whitman as he suffered slowly in his home. “The length of time Whitman spent contemplating death was far greater than most because he was ill for an extended period of time; and his relationship with death was highly developed” (Stauffer 31). His life was essentially funneling to its end and the constant discussion of fading sunlight and diminished colors in his later poetry adds credence to the significance of the word “hue.” For Whitman, while aging in Camden and approaching the inevitable final stage in life, the world could be easily broken into basic hues that faded with each day. “The Camden years were Whitman’s exploratory eulogy in which his own fading talent mirrored the fading city around him. As the vigor and excitement of youth became more distant to the poet, the colors of the world faded into the eternal darkness of death” (Stauffer 14).

Looking at the word “hue” and its contextual place in the poem situates Whitman in a depressing stage of life and art. The literary significance of the poet becomes much more apparent in retrospect as the poetry of the aging Whitman begins to describe a mental portrait of the artist facing his mortality in the bustling world of Camden at the turn of the century. Stauffer argues that Whitman saw the world as only a vision and his place within the society was unimportant. Whitman had become “an observer” of life and the “poems of his later years in Camden serve to mimic the depressed image of the world and the fading images of the past as Whitman neared his own symbolic darkness” (Stauffer 7).

Works Cited:

Stauffer, Donald Barlow. Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Old Age. Cleveland, Ohio:

            Case Western Reserve University, 1976.

“hue.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 1

            October 2009. < hue>

Comments so far:

Link Here | October 28, 2009,

Great photos to accompany your explication. Don’t forget to tag this “annotations” as well as ww20 and any other tags you think are relevant.

Comment by Carol Singley

Link Here | November 12, 2009,


The pictures are awesome and they accompany what you are saying well. Nice post!!

Comment by jillians |

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