Thursday, September 16, 2010

Every Single One, One

Page 23 continues the long litany of personages brought out by our poet.
On the piazza walk five friendly matrons with twined arms;
The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold,
The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his cattle,
The fare-collector goes through the train—he gives notice by the jingling of loose change,
The floormen are laying the floor—the tinners are tinning the roof—the masons are calling for mortar,
In single file each shouldering his hod pass onward the laborers;
Seasons pursuing each other the indescribable crowd is gathered . . . . it is the Fourth of July . . . . what salutes of cannon and small arms!
Seasons pursuing each other the plougher ploughs and the mower mows and the wintergrain falls in the ground;
Off on the lakes the pikefisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface,
The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe,
The flatboatmen make fast toward dusk near the cottonwood or pekantrees,
The coon-seekers go now through the regions of the Red river, or through those drained by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansas,
The torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahoochee or Altamahaw;
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great grandsons around them,
In walls of adobe, in canvass tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day's sport.
The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time . . . . the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife;
And these one and all tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am.
We get individuals (a Missourian, an old husband) and more often we get groups (five friendly matrons, a crew, the city, the living).

From the patriarchs at summer to the city at sleep, we seem to have come to the end of a day, an American day. Sleep intimates death, but all repose “for their time,” a phase that hints at each having a pre-allotted portion. If not a divine allotment, maybe the phrase suggests a human entitlement.

The poet concludes the litany of personages by bringing them into the self. Bringing reciprocates in giving, and the poet declares we are all avatars of one another, “more or less.”

The poet launches out on another litany. If the first, the one just concluded, concentrated on roles and work and the day, the second seems to toss anchors on place.
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine,
One of the great nation, the nation of many nations— the smallest the same and the largest the same,
A southerner soon as a northerner, a planter nonchalant and hospitable,
A Yankee bound my own way . . . . ready for trade . . . . my joints the limberest joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deerskin leggings,
A boatman over the lakes or bays or along coasts . . . . a Hoosier, a Badger, a Buckeye,
A Louisianian or Georgian, a poke-easy from sandhills and pines,
At home on Canadian snowshoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen off New-foundland,
At home in the fleet of iceboats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine or the Texan ranch,
Comrade of Californians . . . . comrade of free northwesterners, loving their big proportions,
The poet renders each placed person in a larger scheme of e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.” The poet’s nation is old and young, maternal and paternal, southerner and Yankee. The poet never forgets the many, the individuality of the many--this element never becomes subsumed into banal oneness, nationality, or patriotism.

In the poet’s reckoning of them, these placed people congregate and constellate around the idea of being “at home.” Each one belongs at the place, in that environment, and immersed in that climate.

More importantly, perhaps, the poet belongs there. The poet belongs in all of those places, but more importantly in each of them. The poet identifies the poet as comrade to the people and the places of the nation, to every single one.

Every single one. Whitman’s poet lives at this highly granular level, sweeping yet extraordinarily delicate and fine. The poet collects people, places, work, and images one at a time. The poet collects and builds from each one, weaving a pattern that connects a startling geographic and temperamental diversity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment if you have something substantial and substantiated to say.