Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

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.

RESIST OBEY WALT WHITMAN

“I guess it must be the flag of my disposition…”

frottage flag str twk crop rot

Frottage: Flag of My Disposition

frottage flag str twk crop

Vertical, or horizontal?

The frottage was made by rubbing Caran d’Ache watercolor crayons on 80 lb. drawing paper placed over inscriptions on various monuments in Civic Center Park in Denver, Colorado. It is in effect a collage frottage, not a scissor dance, but a bit of the old soft shoe, so to speak. I did a bunch of these frottages during a manic period circa 1990 or so. I was the guy flattening sheets of paper against various textured surfaces, fumbling for crayons, talking to myself, that you crossed the street to avoid. The quote is from Whitman.

Remember that on this day in 1845 Henry David Thoreau embarked on his experiment in living simply, by Walden Pond, on a piece of land owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Remember that on this day in 1855 Walt Whitman published the first edition of his Leaves of Grass. 

Remember that on this day in 1862 Charles Dodgson on a picnic excursion told Alice Liddell a story that was published on this day in 1865 as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

On this day I remember the words of these who are my Moses, my Solomon, my Elijah, the prophets of my Torah and the writers of the constitution of my heart as much as the words of Thomas Jefferson that the gaggle of “Founding Fathers” edited and amended into the proclamation that was not signed by most of them until August 2, 1776.

Happy Independence Day. Hold those truths self evident, y’all.

Grendel’s Laundry List: Van Gogh on Whitman

In August 1888, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his sister, Willemein:

In life there’s always a fate that’s very annoying. And many painters die or go mad from despair, or become paralyzed in their production because nobody loves them personally.
.
Have you read Whitman’s American poems yet? Theo should have them, and I really urge you to read them, first because they’re really beautiful…He sees in the future, and even in the present, a world of health, of generous, frank carnal love—of friendship—of work, with the great starry firmament, something, in short, that one could only call God and eternity, put back in place above this world. They make you smile at first, they’re so candid, and then they make you think, for the same reason.
.
We were talking just now about a fate that seemed sad to us. But isn’t there another, delightful fate? And what is it to us if there is or isn’t a resurrection?

Then he painted this:

van Gogh starry crop 1

Walt Whitman, a Kosmos

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.

RESIST OBEY WALT WHITMAN

Today is 12.19.18.9.7 4 Manik 15 Tzek

533 shopping days until 13.0.0.0.0 4 Ahau 3 K’ank’in.

Beach at Assateague Island, Virginia

My mind kept wandering back to the Atlantic shore today. Feeling the sand with my toes, and waves washing over my bare feet. The beach at Assateague Island National Seashore is the axis mundi , the preferred place of pilgrimage that draws me when I feel the urge to go forth without socks and baptize the soles of my feet in saltwater. Alas, Louisville, Kentucky on the Ohio River is too far away for a day trip. And while I enjoy an early morning round of “slow parkour” on the ancient fossil-bearing rocks at the Falls of the Ohio, the murky waters of the river at Louisville are not a tempting toe dip.

The last time I dipped my toes in the ocean was last August at Cape May, New Jersey. I took a little hike in the Pine Barrens, then drove on to the sea.  It was a good day.  I go down to the Atlantic shore, as Whitman wrote, to “Behold the great rondure, the cohesion of all,” to see my “fierce old mother.” Though I was born in the middle of the continent far from the sea, and have lend a mostly landlocked life, the fierce old mother calls to me. I am one of her castaways.

Sunset Point, Cape May, New Jersey

Today is 12.19.18.7.0 9 Ahau 8 Sip

580 shopping days until 13.0.0.0.0 4 Ahau 3 K’ank’in.

The Surfing Guadalupe

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.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

Today’s “rapture” as predicted by Harold Camping,  and advertised for months on billboards across the country, has yet to show a sign of itself. I’ve seen no white-robed saints streaking skyward, or Jesus sailing on a gorgeous galleon of clouds crewed by choirs of angels singing hosannas. Have you? Depending on your time zone, the clock is still ticking towards midnight. No one knows the day or hour.  Perhaps it will come like a thief in the night, just as the Gospel proclaims.

Observe yourself in the mirror of what is. It is rapture enough. You are, as Walt Whitman wrote, “miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.”

Today is 12.19.17.7.5 5 Chik’chan 18 Sip

935 shopping days until 13.0.0.0.0 4 Ahau 3 K’ank’in.

Graves of unknowns, Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg

Today is also Memorial Day, and Walt Whitman’s birthday. There is a certain felicity in this confluence of dates. Memorial Day was originally enacted to honor the Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, and Whitman served as a volunteer nurse in the hospitals around D.C. during that war; his brother was a Union officer who was captured and held as a prisoner of war, but who survived the war. Though Whitman did not serve on the front lines, in the hospitals the horror of war was omnipresent. He helped tend to men with ghastly wounds and sick with infectious disease, and watched many of them die.  After the war he wrote in memory of these dead, and in his memory the faces of the dead shone in the preternatural light of a blazing moon:

Look down, fair moon, and bathe this scene;

Pour softly down night’s nimbus floods, on faces ghastly, swollen, purple;

On the dead, on their backs, with their arms toss’d wide,

Pour down your unstinted nimbus, sacred moon.

In clouds descending, in midnight sleep, of many a face of anguish,

Of the look at first of the mortally wounded—of that indescribable look;

Of the dead on their backs, with arms extended wide,

I dream, I dream, I dream.

Of scenes of nature, the fields and the mountains;

Of the skies, so beauteous after the storm—and at night the moon so unearthly bright,

Shining sweetly, shining down, where we dig the trenches

and gather the heaps,

I dream, I dream, I dream.

Long have they pass’d, long lapsed—faces and trenches and fields;

Long through the carnage I moved with a callous composure—or away from the fallen,

Onward I sped at the time—But now of their forms at night,

I dream, I dream, I dream.

In a country with a population of maybe 30 million souls over half a million soldiers died in the Civil War. Shelby Foote (now deceased, alas) and others have asserted that the weapons were way ahead of the tactics the officers had been taught, and accounted for the high casualty rate. The large caliber soft lead musket bullets inflicted terrible wounds. But most of the deaths in the Civil War were due to the fact that no one knew how to dig a proper latrine, sterilize a scalpel, or had any inkling of or opportunity for personal hygiene. The majority of soldiers died in camp of infectious diseases. The number of American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan is miniscule in comparison. This does not mean we do not have just as much reason to mourn their loss. The number of total casualties is not quite as small. Some have asserted that the deaths have been so few because of our vastly superior military technologies, weapons, and tactics. The real reason so few soldiers (and that few too many) have died in the field in the Iraq and Afghan war, I think, is our vastly superior medical technology, triage, and evacuation techniques. Soldiers who would have died on the field in any former war are scooped up and saved for a fate worse than death: spending the rest of their lives as human jigsaw puzzles. I am sure that some of the severely wounded soldiers are simply glad to be alive; I am equally certain that some of them wish they had died on the battlefield. As per Tommy Franks (remember Tommy Franks?), we’re not counting the civilians, and the DoD keeps the exact number close to its collective bemedaled chest, but as far as total American casualties go, the ratio between the wounded and the dead must be at least 6 to 1. I’m just guessing here, so if anyone wants to go do my research for me and come back and tell me I’m a commie pinko idiot, be my guest.

The ones who live through war remember. Like Walt, they dream of the dead. They dream, they dream, they dream. In their tens of thousands, they dream. The duty of those who send soldiers to war, those who let their children go to war, is to remember, and care for, the living dreamers who dream of dead distorted faces under an unearthly bright moon.