Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Happy birthday ...

... Walt Whitman, born this day in 1819. A good way to celebrate - in addition to reading favorites from Leaves of Grass - is to read D.H. Lawrence's essay on Whitman in Studies in Classic American Literature.
Whitman, of course, is always thought of as an irrepressible optimist. But, like all authentic optimists, he came by his outlook the hard way. One of my favorites among his poems is "As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life," which buoyed me up during dark days by virtue of its unblinking look at disappointment:

O baffled, balk'd, bent to the very earth,
Oppress'd with myself that I have dared to open my mouth,
Aware now that amid all that blab whose echoes recoil upon me I have
not once had the least idea who or what I am,
But that before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet
untouch'd, untold, altogether unreach'd,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.

I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single
object, and that no man ever can,
Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon
me and sting me,
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all.

2 comments:

  1. That is, indeed, a wonderful poem, Frank.
    Thanks for posting it.

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  2. I enjoyed it too. The first I heard of Whitman was in William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways which I thought was better than Kerouac's On The Road. Having read Lawrence's essay, I understand a little better why Heat-Moon admired Whitman so much.

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