Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Whitman Leavings

The following is from the preface of the 1855 edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, a collection of his poems that grew ever larger through numerous further editions.
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, re-examine 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.
A remarkable statement, don't you think, for the middle of the Victorian age? Whitman's been called the quintessential American poet. Yes, that may be, but can you feature most Americans today being thrilled by these words? Most of these injunctions would be regarded as the ravings of some lunatic socialist. Must be why I find them so strangely powerful.  
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