Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Walt Whitman

Whitman is my favorite classic poet.

Walt Whitman was born May 31, 1819. He was the second of nine children, four of whom were disabled. At age eleven he was pulled out of school to help support his family. At age twelve he began to learn the printing business and was mainly self-taught. His collection of poems Leaves of Grass, which he began working on in 1848, was so unusual in form and content that no commercial publisher would publish it. In 1855 he published his first collection, consisting of twelve poems, at his own expense. His editing job was the only way he kept himself afloat.

Despite his rough upbringing in poverty, Whitman took his experiences and used them to give a foundation to his writing. He could not know and truly appreciate the wonders of life without first experiencing the grime. And that he did. Whitman was a writer that the average worker could relate to. Because of his experiences, his poetry speaks to us all.

And we listen because he knows what it is to live. He has begged in the gutters with the worst of us, and he has soared through the heavens with the best.

Excerpt from Song of the Rolling Earth

A song of the rolling earth, and of words according,
Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
         those curves, angles, dots?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the
         ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.

Were you thinking that those were the words, those delicious sounds
         out of your friends' mouths?
No, the real words are more delicious than they.

"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 mothers of families. ... 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."

~ Walt Whitman

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