Oh Walt Whitman

Oh Walt Whitman
bardic every-man
with love and song
for the grass
that is mankind
in blade and in leaves,
democratic and romantic.

Yet Walt Whitman, 
you do not have enough
love to fool

5 thoughts on “Oh Walt Whitman

  1. How do you think your students would react if they knew you wrote this?

    And by saying this I’m not trying to moralize, just curious what sort of raport you have with them.

  2. I’d tell the students that I was acting as Whitman and Emerson instructed me. A couple of critics, Malcolm Cowley notably, have put forth the argument that Whitman probably wasn’t influenced by Emerson as much as people often credit.

    I think Cowely’s argument stems from a defensive concern that Whitman wasn’t being original and could possibly be construed as an of assimilator of ideas. That isn’t a concern for me though. It is just as hard to be a good DJ as it is to play guitar. And according to Whitman, nothing is really original anyway. “These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands—they are not original with me”. I guess Cowley didn’t read that line. He should have. It is a central idea that permeates Whitman’s entire poem.

    In addition to disagreeing with Cowely on what seems to be the underlying grounds of his argument, I’d also say that Whitman probably knew his Emerson inside out. Whitman had sent a copy of Leaves of Grass to Emerson, hoping Emerson would endorse it. Whitman probably also that knew Emerson couldn’t not like it. Why? Because there is so much Emerson infused in Whitman that at times one gets the sense that Whitman copied lines from Emerson verbatim. Emerson was waiting with baited breath for an American artist like Whitman to come along who could put his [Emerson’s] philosophies into artistic practice. Its little surprise that after Emerson got the copy of Leaves of Grass, that he sent Whitman back a letter of gushing praise.

    In a different version of Emerson’s Self-reliance than I posted, Emerson, writes “Trust your emotion” and “Leave your theory”. Emerson wants us to trust our emotion and act spontaneous even if we run the risk of contradicting ourselves. And guess who else contradicts himself because he acts according to his emotion? Whitman. In chant 51 Whitman writes,

    Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; (I am large—I contain multitudes.)

    My emotion told me that reading Whitman was interfering with my life Saturday night. Accordingly I took my frustration out on his poem. If by chance a student read my poem, some might say that my authority as a teacher could be contradicted or undermined. So be it. I would have been Emersonian if that was the case. My contradiction, vast in multitudes, would have implored students not to necessarily trust everything that authority tells them. Authority is fallible and some of the best instruction that a student can get is that authority is finite in its wisdom. With this new vision, a student then might go away and instruct themselves and rejoice and/or “loafe”, as Whitman writes, in their own contradiction.

  3. That’s really thought out and well backed up with appropriate quotation. And here I was thinking it’d just be like:

    Student: Daaang Mr. G! I though youz down with them Leaves Uh Grass ‘n sheet. Why yall’s poem be hatin’ on Whitman?

    Loki: Check it biyatch: Jus cuz I know Emerson et al back t’ front don’t mean I wanna sleep wit d’ mofos. They jus ain’t how I roll yo.

  4. Students expect a certain amount of eccentricity from you academic types, but I think Loki’s brand would probably blow a few minds.

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