May 01, 2006


Caption: Ferdinand, one of several poets in residence at Goat Rope Farm, has quite a barbaric yawp of his own.

In these dark days for democracy, sometimes a shot in the arm is needed--and who could be better to give it than Walt Whitman, poet of democracy and its wound dresser.

Here's a sampler (note: the computer will probably mess up the format a little, but the words are right).

Sage advice from "To the States:"

To the States or any one of then, or any city of the
Resist much, obey little.
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth,
ever afterward resumes its liberty.

Whitman knew that democracy requires a rebellious spirit to sustain itself. As he put it in the last poem cited here,

...Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over,
And he going with me leaves peace and routine behind him,
And stakes his life to be lost at any moment...

Whitman knew that life was struggle and that the struggle continues win or lose. We just need to get used to it. In "Song of the Open Road," he wrote:

Have the past struggles succeeded?
What has succeeded? yourself? your nation? Nature?
Now understand me well--it is provided in the essence of
things that from any fruition of success, no matter what,
shall come forth something to make a greater struggle

He knew that victory is never final and defeat can have its dignity. In "To a Foil'd European Revolutionaire," he wrote:

Did we think victory great?
So it is - but now it seems to me, when it cannot be help'd, that
defeat is great,
And that death and dismay are great.

The same poem offers some pretty good advice as well:

COURAGE yet, my brother or my sister!
Keep on - Liberty is to be subserv'd whatever occurs;
That is nothing that is quell'd by one or two failures, or any
number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by any
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal

What we believe in waits latent forever through all the continents,
Invites no one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is
positive and composed, knows no discouragement,
Waiting patiently, waiting its time.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn, I wish I had paid a bit more attention in American Lit oh so many years ago. The words of Walt Whitman are more telling in the year 2006 than he or I could have ever imagined. I think I will go to the attic and locate Whitman's writings among the boxes of my outdated if not antique college texts. Whitman's words should be committed to memory before they can be rewritten or banned as a threat to national security or more likely as a threat to the Emperor and his court.