Walt Whitman, a Kosmos (At 200)

Today is the 200th anniversary of  Walt Whitman’s birth; in today’s parlance, #waltwhitman200. Happy Walt Day, all. Celebrate, or loafe, at least. I wrote and posted the following in observation of the day in 2013, and I find it still “plumb in the uprights”:

Walter Whitman Jr. was born on May 31st, 1819 in West Hills, Long Island. The birth of Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest… is a more uncertain date but was announced to the world from a print shop in Brooklyn in July 1855.

leaves of grass 1855

As you can see from this picture I took of the copy in the National Gallery in Washingtion, D.C., the author’s name does not appear on the title page of the first edition of Leaves of Grass, just an image of his avatar, a word we use very casually in the virtual realm we inhabit these days. The name “Walt Whitman” does not appear until several hundred lines into the text of which this “kosmos” is composed.

young WaltWalt Whitman, 1854

In this picture, taken the year before the publication of Leaves of Grass, you see the poet, the rough kosmos intentionally posed. Previously, Mr. Whitman, sometime journalist and newspaper editor, had been a bit of a dandy, a city slicker…

Walt 1848Walter Whitman, circa 1848

Walter, Sr., did work as a carpenter, but his son, though he worked on occasion as a typesetter, had soft hands. Walt was just the sort of guy you would find today draped over a cup of milky java at the espresso bar. Today Walt would likely have an iPad, rather than the little notebook bound in green, in which he wrote the words

Observing the summer grass…

The slacker with soft hands reinvented himself as “one of the roughs” and found within himself “miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.”

I celebrate myself, 
And what I assume you shall assume, 
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul, 
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of summer grass.

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, 
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun . . . . there are millions of suns left, 
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand . . . . nor look through the eyes of the dead . . . . nor feed on the spectres in books, 
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, 
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself. 

I have heard what the talkers were talking . . . . the talk of the beginning and the end, 
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. 

There was never any more inception than there is now, 
Nor any more youth or age than there is now; 
And will never be any more perfection than there is now, 
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. 

Urge and urge and urge, 
Always the procreant urge of the world. 

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance . . . . Always substance and increase, 
Always a knit of identity . . . . always distinction . . . . always a breed of life. 

To elaborate is no avail . . . . Learned and unlearned feel that it is so. 

Sure as the most certain sure . . . . plumb in the uprights, well entretied, braced in the beams, 
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical, 
I and this mystery here we stand.

The miracle exploded into ecstasy out of nothing like a one man big bang, and in its inflation became the “kosmos” proclaimed in Leaves of Grass. Walt lived in its afterglow the rest of his life, revising, adding, revising, adding, modifying the vessel of the literary persona as he aged into the “Good Grey Poet.”  Even for poets who don’t read, the body electric of the eidolons of Walt the Kosmos exist as a sort of cosmic background radiation like the cold remnant glow of photon decoupling that suffuses the visible universe.

Copy and paste this in your hearts, poets:

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 every season of every year of your life, reexamine 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. . . . . . . . The poet shall not spend his time in unneeded work. He shall know that the ground is always ready ploughed and manured . . . . others may not know it but he shall. He shall go directly to the creation. His trust shall master the trust of everything he touches . . . . and shall master all attachment.


Random Photo: Chelydra serpentina

snapping turtle beargrass gphot 3 crop twk

A photo a day keeps the Doctor in play.

A Poem for Memorial Day: Flower War


flower war collage mr blick twk

Collage by Mr. Blick

Flower War

Tlachinol xochitli
zan iyyo tonequimilol

Flowers of fire;
only they can be our garments:
Flowers of war.

Put down your weapons, soldiers.
The flowery god,
the plumed serpent

is gathering spring blossoms
in green meadows
and mountain gorges.

He is gathering fresh fire,
the little flowers
that bloom from spent shell casings.

Put down your death spitters,
ugly and depleted.
The god will give you weapons more beautiful

and honorable—Lances,
tipped not with the dark glitter of obsidian,
but with bright plumes.

Tlachinol xochitli
zan iyyo tonequimilol

Flowers of fire;
only they can be our garments:
Flowers of war.

Take off your helmets and armor.
The god will cloth you in fire,
flowers of fire, the bright rainment of flower war.

In the flower war,
you can be heroes,
you can be the champions.

The gods will be nourished,
the people will celebrate your sacrifice,
the glory in your capture.

you are the teotl ixiptla,
the divine images,
the flower warriors.

In flower war,
there is defeat with honor,
death will not sting, death will drink

for you are rich with octli,
the nectar and pollen
of divinity.

iwo jima flower war mr blick

Collage by Mr. Blick

Museum of Joy: In that sensual music all neglect

saville ancestors byzantium

Jenny Saville, Ancestors

Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

William Butler Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium

Steal This Meme: Little Things

little things guillotine

Note to self: More number 3.


Sunday Selfie

forest selfie tulip tree flower in hat

Random Photo: My Mammy’s Gone

my mammys gone crop twk fbw

A photo a day keeps the Doctor in play.