Friday, May 31, 2013

American Poet Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, the great American poet and essayist, was born on this date in 1819. He brought free verse to poetry. He also brought a sensuality and sexuality that in his time was considered obscene. His collection of poems Leaves of Grass, including Song of Myself and I Sing the Body Electric, is hailed today as egalitarian and humanistic with its gender diverse experience and its praise of the common citizen. He wrote from everyday experience, including the nursing of wounded soldiers in the Civil War, and, when Lincoln was assassinated, composed the elegy "O Captain! My Captain!".

His poem To You speaks with the love and acceptance coveted by an analytic attitude in which he sees in the other more than the other sees yet in her/himself. He respects. He encourages. I have included a few verses (I added bold) from To You:

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands,
Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,
troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true soul and body appear before me.
They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work,
farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking,
suffering, dying.
I … find no imperfection in you,
O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!
You have not known what you are--you have slumber'd upon yourself all
your life;
Your eye-lids have been the same as closed most of the time;
What you have done returns already in mockeries;

The mockeries are not you;
Underneath them, and within them, I see you lurk;

I pursue you where none else has pursued you;

Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard!
These shows of the east and west are tame, compared to you;
These immense meadows--these interminable rivers--you are immense and
interminable as they;
These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent
dissolution--you are he or she who is master or mistress over
Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain,
passion, dissolution.

The hopples fall from your ankles--you find an unfailing sufficiency;
Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest,
whatever you are promulges itself;
Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing
is scanted;
Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are
picks its way.

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