Saturday, May 31, 2008

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman!

In celebration, a favorite poem of mine, from the "Calamus" section of Leaves of Grass:

When I Heard at the Close of the Day

When I heard at the close of the day how my name
     had been received with plaudits in the capitol,
     still it was not a happy night for me that followed;
And else, when I caroused, or when my plans were
     accomplished, still I was not happy;
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of
     perfect health, refreshed, singing, inhaling the
     ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and
     disappear in the morning light,
When I wandered alone over the beach, and, undresing,
     bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and
      saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover,
     was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day
      my food nourished me more—And the beautiful
     day passed well,
And the next came with equal joy—And with the
     next, at evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters
     roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands,
     as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the
     same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face
     was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—And that
     night I was happy.

While you're at it, check out the Walt Whitman Archive online. Truly a splendid resource.

from With Walt Whitman in Camden, 25 April 1888:

He was a stranger to me—a Russian, I think: clean, earnest, with a beautiful face—but too insistent: he would have me, whether I would or would not, say yes to his political, or revolutionary, program. We had no quarrel—I only made it plain to him that I was not to be impressed into that sort of service. Everybody comes here demanding endorsements: endorse this, endorse that: each man thinks I am radical his way: I suppose I am radical his way, but I am not radical his way alone. Socialists, single tax men, communists, rebels of every sort and all sorts, come here. I don't say they shouldn't come—that it's unreasonable for them to come: the Leaves is responsible for them and for more than them. But I am not economically informed—I do not see the fine—even the coarse—points of difference between the contestants. I said to the Russian today: 'Don't ask me for too many definitions. Be satisfied with my general assurance. My heart is with all you rebels—all of you, today, always, wherever: your flag is my flag. Why should you want me to give you more?' The fellow was sensible—said he had learned a thing or two—and went away. I think Emerson was sweeter with such men than I am—was more patient, was more willing to wait their talk out.

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