Let's now look at how the descriptive art of poetry, from this same period, parallels the descriptive visual art of Eakins. Here, similar themes of the natural world and respect for the common man are communicated through the poetry of Walt Whitman, where striking colors, shapes and textures come alive through words. Eakins and Whitman were not contemporaries Whitman was 68, Eakins, 43 but were contemporaries of the mind, compatriots as artists. In fact, although many artists of the day painted Whitman's portrait, took his picture, sculpted his frame, none were as much esteemed as that of Eakins. Whitman said of his portrait
Walt Whitman, Painting from Life
, "I do not see how anyone can doubt but it is a masterly piece of work… strong, rugged, even daring. All that Eakins does has the mark of genius." The two became fast friends, Eakins visiting him regularly at his home in Camden, New Jersey, a short distance from Eakins' native Philadelphia. What did they share in spirit? First, a deep respect for their place in time. They both documented the changing vista of their world with integrity and beauty beauty in an honest sense, not dependent upon the superficial. Secondly, they shared a spirit of oneness with their fellow Americans, a spirit of brotherhood, which is witnessed in both of their arts. It would be impossible to assess the contribution of the arts in America without including the poetry of Walt Whitman. Students of any age will be able to, if not relate, come to understand the atmosphere and excitement of the age, as documented by this American poet. From
Leaves of Grass
, his ode to the American spirit, we see America's coming of age.
For You, O Democracy
Come, I will make the continent indissoluble,
I will make the most splendid race the sun ever shone upon,
I will make divine magnetic lands,
With the love of comrades,
With the life-long love of comrades.
I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,
and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,
I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other's necks,
By the love of comrades,
By the manly love of comrades.
For you these from me, O Democracy, to serve you ma femme!
For you, for you I am trilling these songs.
Whitman had witnessed the age from a somewhat different perspective than that of Eakins. He had lived through the Civil War, had seen its torment with the eyes of an older man, one who would grasp not only the splendor of the emerging American "spirit" but appreciate, too, its cost. He would communicate the essence of this age, not only as a realist, but also with an aesthetic fervor. Yet, the two, Eakins and Whitman, would tell us of their country. In another poem,
I Hear America Singing
, Whitman glorifies a realistic scene:
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck…
Though we do not see Eakins' characters singing, we do see in his visual song an enormous respect for the place in time, for his viewed reality. These two artists complement each other; balance the emerging American scene in different art forms.