The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Historic Landmark Building, Second floor, Room 9) houses the 1888 Thomas Eakins portrait of Walt Whitman. I was quite excited to view this original, superb and breathtaking portrait. It is my personal favorite portrait of Whitman. (Although the Whitman House in Camden, NJ has a pencil/charcoal drawing of Whitman by Horace Traubel’s father (Maurice Traubel) that is stunning!).
Eakins was an artist with exceptional talent. I had my picture taken as I stood very close to the portrait. As I was standing very near this impressive work – you know that feeling of ‘someone standing over your shoulder’? Where you can actually feel a person’s presence, perhaps feel their energy. I experienced that exact feeling standing close to Whitman’s portrait! It truly felt to me that Whitman was there – with me, as if he could whisper in my ear. Yea, I know it’s only the craziness in my own head, but I happily discovered it to be a very calm and reassuring feeling; Whitman was there in that moment.
This experience of “being in the physical presence of Whitman” brings to mind Whitman’s poem So Long. In this poem, the reader has the feeling that Whitman is right there with you. In the last few stanzas of the poem, Whitman writes: