Thursday, February 9, 2012

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, give alms to everyone 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 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.
from Walt Whitman's Preface to the 1855 Edition of "Lyrical Ballads"

I think I love this passage because it is so ridiculous and so beautiful at the same time. The bravery of opening oneself up to ridicule should not be overlooked. Nor should the bravery of writing what overflows from our hopes. The analytical mind triumphs over us enough as it is. We never win any arguments. We are always squelched, and then we feel guilty and stupid. But no analytical mind would ever have burst out with a prayer like Whitman's. He would have thought carefully, weighed the absurdities, stopped firmly at the ends of sentences. He would not have sounded like a fool, and no one's giddy heart would have flowered foolishly at his words. How sad.

1 comment:

David X. Novak said...

A nice passage and a nice exposition on it. But I don't think we need to feel sad that another mind would have (or may have) done differently. Thanks for showcasing it.