Thursday, November 04, 2010

Back to Whitman: I Sit Content


I have written much recently, but not of Walt Whitman. So, let me step back and bring in Page 26 of the 1855 Leaves of Grass:
I have pried through the strata and analyzed to a hair,
And counselled with doctors and calculated close and found no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.

In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.

And I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.

And I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter's compass,
I know I shall not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by after all.

I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite,
I laugh at what you call dissolution,
And I know the amplitude of time.

I am the poet of the body,
And I am the poet of the soul.

The pleasures of heaven are with me, and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself . . . . the latter I translate into a new tongue.

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.

I chant a new chant of dilation or pride,
We have had ducking and deprecating about enough,
I show that size is only developement.
The language on this page is extraordinary: "pried through the strata," "the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow," "My foothold is tenoned and mortised in granite."

The word "I" appears most of any single word. "I know" and "I am" expressions each appear 6 times. To me, the highlight of this page in when the I, the know, and the am, are all brought together with concepts of awareness, sitting, and contentment:
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.
I like the how the poet is now sitting, as opposed to the leaning and loafing in the beginning of the poem.

Whitman's poet, as always, is audacious and presumptive. The poetry lives out the sentiments that Percy Bysshe Shelley had written only about 30 or so years before:
It is impossible to read the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the present day without being startled with the electric life which burns within their words. They measure the circumference and sound the depths of human nature with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely astonished at its manifestations; for it is less their spirit than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

2 comments:

  1. I know I shall not pass like a child’s carlacue cut with a burnt stick at night.

    I shall pass like a child’s curlicue cut with a burnt stick at night.
    I know I shall pass like the front of dark clouds blown hard by desert wind.
    I know I shall pass like the pitter-patter of toddler’s feet on this floor have already passed.
    I know we shall pass like like the reflection of 1960s shoppers off downtown storefront windowpanes.
    I know this world shall pass like silver light in receding flecks from the ocean surface.
    I know know the messages of this world and its glow shall pass like words that went unsaid, unheard.

    Say them now.

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  2. Interesting. Thanks.

    Notice how Whitman sustains images and arguments for a bit. He's not siimply patching together pictures, but he's building an argument. The language works, I think, because, he pauses just enough over each point. The point is that he's making a point, every step of the way.

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