Nichols College News

Will the Real Walt Whitman Please Stand Up!

Actor Stephen Collins portrayed one of America’s most notable poets and father of free verse, Walt Whitman, at the Currier Center on September 14. The lively introduction to Whitman’s poems is just one of several events sponsored by the Fischer Institute to celebrate the sesquicentennial or 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.

“Collins made students think critically about Whitman as a poet before his time,” said Director Blanche Milligan, “and as a man with great heart, who served by tending to the wounded in Union hospitals — without thought of compensation.”

Collins recounted how after reading a list of fallen Union soldiers, Whitman headed south to find his brother George in a Union hospital with only a minor wound. Whitman, profoundly upset at seeing heaps of amputated limbs in the army hospital, volunteered as he worked part-time in the paymaster’s office in Washington, D.C.

Leaves of Grass, one of Whitman's major works, was published in 1855 with his own money and then revised several times until his death in 1892. At the time of its publication, it was considered too sexual in nature and caused Whitman to be fired from several positions. His poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln,“O Captain! My Captain!,” was referenced in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society.

Collins read this favorite to Nichols students:


A NOISELESS patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament,filament, filament, out of itself.
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

Students had this to say about Collin’s presentation on Whitman:

Amber Aubin, Senior
I really liked the poem A NOISELESS PATIENT SPIDER and love going to a cultural event at 1:30 p.m.!

Ashley Harris, First Year, Commuter
Whitman celebrated that fact that he was a common man. The poems read made me examine life from a different viewpoint and appreciate the simple things.

Andrew Haas, First Year
This event was very “mind opening” and it made me look at free verse poetry in a whole new light.

Jarred Mahota, Senior, Commuter
I really enjoyed this cultural and learned a lesson from both the poem MIRACLES and Stephen Collins advice that we should “follow our dreams.”

Skye Oliver, First-Year
“I was surprised that Walt Whitman, born in Long Island in 1819, only achieved an elementary school education.”

Kerry Postale, First Year
I learned that Whitman’s signature poem is “Song of Myself”, but I enjoyed the NOISELESS PATIENT SPIDER the most. This is why I joined the Poetry Club on campus!