Sunday, July 1, 2012

The spirit of Whitman seems to be floating in the aether. Though Frost is always chief ghost at the Frost Place, Whitman joined us early in the week and would not leave. Rather by accident, I read a passage; then later a participant read a passage; today another participant sent me another passage.

We seemed to need him last week. We seemed to need to hear him. For the first time in my life I really, truly absorbed his lines as biblical. We sat in Frost's barn and listened to the Gospel of Walt. And I think part of what made these moments so compelling was the fact that, like a church service, they were communal. We listened together; we read together; we responded together. We suspended our disbelief.

Somewhere in San Francisco there is a place called Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church. The mere existence of such a place makes me wonder why Walt doesn't have one too.

part 9 of  Crossing Brooklyn Ferry

           Walt Whitman

Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide, and ebb with the ebb-tide!
Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg’d waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! drench with your splendor me, or the men and women
generations after me!
Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers!
Stand up, tall masts of Manahatta! stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn!
Throb, baffled and curious brain! throw out questions and answers!
Suspend here and everywhere, eternal float of solution!
Gaze, loving and thirsty eyes, in the house or street or public assembly!
Sound out, voices of young men! loudly and musically call me by my nighest name!
Live, old life! play the part that looks back on the actor or actress!
Play the old role, the role that is great or small according as one makes it!
Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in unknown ways be looking upon you;
Be firm, rail over the river, to support those who lean idly yet haste
with the hasting current;
Fly on, sea-birds! fly sideways, or wheel in large circles high in the air;
Receive the summer sky, you water, and faithfully hold it till all downcast eyes
            have time to take it from you!
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the shape of my head, or any one’s head,
            in the sunlit water!
Come one, ships from the lower bay! pass up or down, white-sail’d schooners,
            sloops, lighters!
Flaunt away, flags of all nations! be duly lower’d at sunset!
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at night-fall!
            cast red or yellow light over the tops of the houses!
Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are,
You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul,
About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung our divinest aromas,
Thrive, cities—bring your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient rivers,
Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual,
Keep your places, objects that which none else is more lasting.

You have waited, you always wait, you dumb, beautiful ministers,
We receive you with free sense at last, and are insatiate henceforward,
Not you any more shall be able to foil us, or withhold yourselves from us,
We use you, and do not cast you aside—we plant you permanently within us,
We fathom you not—we love you—there is perfection in you also,
You furnish your parts toward eternity,
Great or small, you furnish your parts toward the soul.


Ruth said...

And I, ashamed as I am, came to understand finally the beauty and necessity for me of Whitman. I SHALL be reading more and more of him in the upcoming weeks. I suddenly realized that not teaching any ELA classes next year might be an enormous gift rather than a reason to mourn. I can read for my sake and not for curricula

Thomas said...

I remember walking past the Coltrane Church frequently when I lived in San Francisco in the early 90s. Alas, I never was able to muster up the courage to attend a service there because I wasn't sure the uninitiated were welcome. The internet certainly has made that kind of information more widely available!