Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman

Time to celebrate the Good Grey Gay Poet.

Calamus 4 from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass:

THESE I singing in spring collect for lovers,
(For who but I should understand lovers and all their sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?)
Collecting I traverse the garden the world, but soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side, now wading in a little, fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences where the old stones thrown there,
   pick'd from the fields, have accumulated,
(Wild-flowers and vines and weeds come up through the stones and
    partly cover them, beyond these I pass,)
Far, far in the forest, or sauntering later in summer, before I
    think where I go,
Solitary, smelling the earthy smell, stopping now and then in the silence,
Alone I had thought, yet soon a troop gathers around me,
Some walk by my side and some behind, and some embrace my arms
    or neck,
They the spirits of dear friends dead or alive, thicker they come, a
    great crowd, and I in the middle,
Collecting, dispensing, singing, there I wander with them,
Plucking something for tokens, tossing toward whoever is near me,
Here, lilac, with a branch of pine,
Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pull'd off a live-oak in
    Florida as it hung trailing down,
Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage,
And here what I now draw from the water, wading in the pondside,
(O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me, and returns again
    never to separate from me,
And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades, this
    calamus-root shall,
Interchange it youths with each other! let none render it back!)
And twigs of maple and a bunch of wild orange and chestnut,
And stems of currants and plum-blows, and the aromatic cedar,
These I compass'd around by a thick cloud of spirits,
Wandering, point to or touch as I pass, or throw them loosely
    from me,
Indicating to each one what he shall have, giving something to each;
But what I drew from the water by the pond-side, that I reserve,
I will give of it, but only to them that love as I myself am capable
    of loving.

You might want to dig into The Walt Whitman Archive, where you can find complete texts and scans of every edition of Leaves of Grass, plus a lot of other materials such as photographs, critical texts, and so forth. This is one of the best online archives, that which is devoted to a single poet, of its type that I have run across.

There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country, if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance.
—Walt Whitman

The Swimming Hole, Thomas Eakins

Calamus 12 from the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass:

AGES and ages, returning at intervals,
Undestroyed, wandering immortal,
Lusty, phallic, with the potent original loins, perfectly sweet,
I, chanter of Adamic songs,
Through the new garden, the West, the great cities, calling,
Deliriate, thus prelude what is generated, offering
    these, offering myself,
Bathing myself, bathing my songs in sex,
Offspring of my loins.

Don't most men who write write without knowing life? Write all over the surface of the earth, never dig a foot into the ground—everlastingly write.
—Walt Whitman


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