This week’s tag-line (the print in italics way up top of the page on the right) is a quote from Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself.” Hopefully this tag-line will be changed once a week to some other quote, followed by a brief discussion. I say “hopefully” because this intern doesn’t have the best memory; you should see her to-do list.
Anyways, Walt Whitman self published this poem in his book Leaves of Grass in 1855. It caused quite a stir as it challenged the way that people saw life and writing.
Not only did it capture a captive audience of readers, but of writers as well. Ralph Waldo Emerson sent Whitman a personal letter of encouragement.
Whitman broke the mold. He wrote in free verse, long flowing lines without rhyme, without set stopping points or any kind of rules. There was no such thing as “appropriate” writing either. Sex was not a voodoo topic in his eyes.
The first time that I encountered this man, in high school, the two of us didn’t quite see eye to eye. I thought he was conceited and that his verse was boring. Looking at it now (for my American literature II class) I enjoy reading his work, and I don’t find his conceitedness out of place. The later is, in a way, an every-man sort of thing.
Why shouldn’t we all love ourselves? Why not “go bathe and admire” ourselves?
Walt Whitman lived for 69 years in an America that would seem foreign from our own, and yet he is still opening doors for us as we read his verse and prose.
The following is an excerpt from the 1881-1882 version of Leaves of Grass.
I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy, by God! I will
accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.
Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas’d and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the thread that connect the stars, and of wombs and of the father-stuff,
And of the rights of them the others are down upon, of the defrom’d, trivial, flat,
foolish, despised, fog in the air, beetles rolling balls of dung.
Through me forbidden voices,
Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil’d and I remove the veil,
Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d.
I do not press my fingers across my mouth
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.
Check out the Whitman Archive and Sherman Alexie’s poem “Defending Walt Whitman.”