Category Archives: Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain

Contained within a book of poetry “The Poet’s Choice” (published 1962) that I recently bought at a used book sale, is a poem by Jamaican poet, Louis Simpson (1923 – 2012) entitled “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain.”  Mr. Simpson came to the U.S. when he was 17 to attend college and remained here, eventually teaching at University of California, Berkeley and SUNY at Stony Brook.   He was very interested in understanding America, his adopted country, and his poems at times reflect an investigation into the myths that he believed this country tells itself.

Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain 

. . . life which does not give the preference to any other life, of any previous period, which therefore prefers its own existence . . .   — Ortega y Gasset

Neither on horseback nor seated,

But like himself, squarely on two feet,

The poet of death and lilacs

Loafs by the footpath.  Even the bronze looks alive

Where it is folded like cloth.  And he seems friendly.

 

“Where is the Mississippi panorama

And the girl who played the piano?

Where are you, Walt?

The Open Road goes to the used-parking lot.

 

“Where is the nation you promised?

These houses built of wood sustain

Colossal snows,

And the light above the street is sick to death.

 

“As for the people – see how they neglect you!

Only a poet pauses to read the inscription.”

 

“I am here,” he answered.

“It seems you have found me out.

Yet, did I not warn you that it was Myself

I advertised?  Were my words not sufficiently plain?

 

“I gave no prescriptions,

And those who have taken my moods for prophecies

Mistake the matter.”

Then, vastly amused—“Why do reproach me?

I freely confess I am wholly disreputable.

Yet I am happy, because you have found me out.”

 

A crocodile in wrinkled metal loafing . . .

 

Then all the realtors,

Pickpockets, salesmen, and the actors performing

Official scenarios,

Turned a deaf ear, for they had contracted

American dreams.

 

But the man who keeps a store on a lonely road,

And the housewife who knows she’s dumb,

And the earth, are relieved.

 

All that grave weight of America

Cancelled!  Like Greece and Rome.

The future in ruins!

The castles, the prisons, the cathedrals

Unbuilding, and roses

Blossoming from the stones that are not there . . .

 

The clouds are lifting from the high Sierras.

The Bay mists clearing;

And the angel in the gate, the flowering plum,

Dances like Italy, imagining red.

–published in Louis Simpson’s book of poems “At the End of the Open Road” (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And again…Mr. Whitman

Me, wherever my life is to be lived, O to be self-balanced for contigencies!

O to confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs,

as the trees and animals do.

 

–Walt Whitman  (from the poem “Me Imperturbe” within Leaves of Grass)                                              

And today’s “Poem in my Pocket” is…

Another Walt Whitman poem!

I decided to try and make a random choice of this year’s “Poem in My Pocket” selection by going to the web page http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/409 (where all the sample poems are arranged by topic) and closing my eyes and choosing.  Turns out I landed on another Walt Whitman poem!  Turns out Whitman has four of his poems among the 61 samples (more than any of the other poets whose poems are provided).

Walt Whitman, American poet (1819 – 1892)

A man ahead of his time I began to appreciate Walt Whitman in the past 10 years or so.  He seems to embody the vagabond spirit of the wandering poet at the same time realizing that he, himself, was standing at the precipice of a very changing world.  He recognized somehow that the emerging industrial age that he lived in would eventually change the course of the world as it had been known and what had been mostly farm and agrarian life.  He wrote about himself, the “I” and the “me” in a boisterous manner as if to somehow reclaim man’s solitary identity in the midst what was to be eventually the modern machine age (that we continue to live in today).  Whitman was perhaps the last of the Romantics, however I’m not sure he’s classifed anywhere that way.  Here is his poem I’ll print and carry with me today, “Poem in My Pocket” day.

 

As I Walk These Broad Majestic Days     

As I walk these broad majestic days of peace,

(For the war, the struggle of blood finish’d, wherein,

O terrific Ideal,

Against vast odds erewhile having gloriously won,

Now thou stridest on, yet perhaps in time toward denser wars,

Perhaps to engage in time in still more dreadful contests, dangers,

Longer campaigns and crises, labors beyond all others,)

Around me I hear that eclat of the world, politics, produce,

The announcements of recognized things, science,

The approved growth of cities and the spread of inventions.

I see the ships, (they will last a few years,)

The vast factories with their foremen and workmen,

And hear the indorsement of all, and do not object to it.

But I too announce solid things,

Science, ships, politics, cities, factories, are not nothing,

Like a grand procession to music of distant bugles pouring,

triumphantly moving, and grander heaving in sight,

They stand for realities—all is as it should be.

Then my realities;

What else is so real as mine?

Libertad and the divine average, freedom to every slave on the face

of the earth,

The rapt promises and luminé of seers, the spiritual world, these

centuries-lasting songs,

And our visions, the visions of poets, the most solid announcements

of any.

(published 1860, 1881)

National Poetry Month — Who’s on First?

Walt Whitman

     Portrait: from an 1854 engraving by Samuel Hollyer  (from www.poets.org)

An American poet who was born on Long Island, New York in 1819 and died in Camden, NJ in 1892.  Whitman is an American original, and in my humble opinion, a man ahead of his time.  I didn’t appreciate him until recent years.

There are two verse sections from Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” that I especially like.  These verse sections are 4 and 5.  This excerpt I ran across in an anthology compiled by Stephen Mitchell entitled “The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry.”  After looking some into Walt Whitman’s life, I learned that in the years June 1853 or June 1854 Walt Whitman experienced a spiritual awakening.  Written in 1855, it can be speculated that this awakening is captured in this poem “Song of Myself.”

For a good analysis of “Song of Myself” check out former U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert Haas, and his insight on this poem:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125789927

Here I want to include the Whitman poem “A Noiseless Patient Spider.”  I ran across this poem when it was among those included in the Poem in Your Pocket day a couple of years ago.  This event takes place on one day during April’s National Poetry Month — this year’s POEM IN YOUR POCKET DAY is THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2012.  For more information consult this web page:  http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/406

The year that I celebrated this event this is the poem I carried around with me for a few days:

A NOISELESS PATIENT SPIDER

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.  

  

(written in the 1860s, this poem was first published in the 1871-72 edition of Leaves of Grass)