Walt Whitman is an excellent poet, and one of the first poets to draw me in. When I was in primary school, we were learning about poetry and I remember being bored to death by classics like “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (Keats) and “The Patriot” (Browning). I didn’t understand Blake’s “The Tyger” one bit.
Then we read a poem of Whitman’s and one stanza in particular just struck me. I sat in class, repeating that line to myself under my breath. I still remember it to this day. It is from “A child said, what is the grass”:
“I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?”
So here is a post dedicated to Walt Whitman, including two excerpts from “Song of Myself” (which is quite long in its entirety).
1. Excerpt from SONG OF MYSELF
I am he that walks with the tender and growing night,
I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.
Press close bare-bosom’d night – press close magnetic nourishing night!
Night of south winds – night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night – mad naked summer night.
Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset – earth of mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow’d earth – rich apple-blossom’d earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.
- Walt Whitman
2. Excerpt from SONG OF MYSELF
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.
- Walt Whitman
3. Quote from Walt Whitman
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches,
give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your
income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience
and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or
to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the
young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air of every
year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any
book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great
poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of
its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body . . . .
- Walt Whitman
4. 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.
— Walt Whitman