Friday, July 23, 2010

Whitman's Cosmos

Page 17 of the 1855 edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass: this is a shocking and grand page of a shocking and grand poetic statement. We had finished page 16 with perception, both sight and sound. We left there with ideas that people had reason to speak, that people spoke from out of the depth of their desire to be know and to be available to the universe.

On the new page, we enter to thoughts of the great void, the question where are those who had come before:
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
Whitman's declares them well and as part of all the cosmos, part of it physically and temporally:
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward . . . . and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
Whitman moves easily from the massive to the minute and back again endlessly. His vision constantly oscillates. He returns to the theme of knowledge, of sharing knowledge.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.

I pass death with the dying, and birth with the new-washed babe . . . . and am not contained between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike, and every one good,
The earth good, and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good.
I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself;
They do not know how immortal, but I know.

Every kind for itself and its own . . . . for me mine male and female,
For me all that have been boys and that love women,
For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted,
For me the sweetheart and the old maid . . . . for me mothers and the mothers of mothers,
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
For me children and the begetters of children.
The poet here sings that he is everything and that everything is him. He speaks for it all, for all people and all experience. He champions unification, a sort of utopic or Edenic vision:
Who need be afraid of the merge?
Undrape . . . . you are not guilty to me, nor stale nor discarded,
I see through the broadcloth and gingham whether or no,
And am around, tenacious, acquisitive, tireless . . . . and can never be shaken away.

The little one sleeps in its cradle,
I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand.
The youngster and the redfaced girl turn aside up the bushy hill,
I peeringly view them from the top.
But don't think that the poet is all sunshine, light and butterflies. We leave this sprawling page with a curious image
The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom.
It is so . . . . I witnessed the corpse . . . . there the pistol had fallen.
This image is connected to the little infant, the youngster, and the red-faced girl. They all participate in lucky life and death, in the goodness of death and life.

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