Every Atom | No. 38

Robert Hass

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

every atom logo

spotted hawk  Most immature hawks have spotted breasts. Our candidate for the bird’s sound and appearance is the red-tailed hawk, buteo jamaicensis, which might very well have been seen over the rooftops of Brooklyn in the mid-nineteenth century, though this bird’s cry more closely resembles a red-shouldered hawk’s or an osprey’s. Red-tails, perhaps descendants of Whitman’s bird, nest in Prospect Park to this day.

gab  Webster 1828: “The mouth, as in the phrase ‘the gift of the gab,’ that is, loquaciousness. But the word is so vulgar as rarely to be used.” OED dates “conversation, talk, twaddle, prattle” from 1790.

yawp  The cries of the red-tailed hawk, the red-shouldered hawk, and the osprey are about equally shrill, piercing and exultant. William Dean Howells, who met Whitman when the poet was an older man, had this to say about him: “The apostle of the rough, the uncouth, is the gentlest person; his barbaric yawp, translated into the terms of social encounter, was an address of singular quiet, delivered in a voice of winning and endearing friendliness.”


[reprinted with permission of Robert Hass from Song of Myself and Other Poems by Walt Whitman, with a Lexicon of the Poem. Robert Hass and Paul Ebenkamp. Counterpoint Press, 2010.]

placeholder width 225px height 300px

Robert Hass is the author, most recently, of A Little Book on Form (Ecco/HarperCollins) and The Apple Trees at Olema: Selected Poems (Ecco/HarperCollins) and Summer Snow: New Poems (Ecco/HarperCollins.) He teaches in the English department of the University of California at Berkeley.

Photo: Margaretta K. Mitchell


Cover art by Sarah Pauls