Happy Earth Day, readers. I can think of few poets who celebrated the vast potential of this earth as fervently as Walt Whitman (1819-1892). So here’s a bit of a longer poem from Leaves of Grass.
from “Carol of Words”
EARTH, round, rolling, compact—suns, moons, animals—all these are words to be said;
Watery, vegetable, sauroid advances—beings, premonitions, lispings of the future,
Behold! these are vast words to be said.
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.
Human bodies are words, myriads of words;
In the best poems re-appears the body, man’s or woman’s, well-shaped, natural, gay,
Every part able, active, receptive, without shame or the need of shame.
Air, soil, water, fire—these are words;
I myself am a word with them—my qualities interpenetrate with theirs—my name is nothing to them;
Though it were told in the three thousand languages, what would air, soil, water, fire, know of my name?
A healthy presence, a friendly or commanding gesture, are words, sayings, meanings;
The charms that go with the mere looks of some men and women, are sayings and meanings also.
The workmanship of souls is by the inaudible words of the earth;
The great masters know the earth’s words, and use them more than the audible words.
Amelioration is one of the earth’s words;
The earth neither lags nor hastens;
It has all attributes, growths, effects, latent in itself from the jump;
It is not half beautiful only—defects and excrescences show just as much as perfections show.
The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough;
The truths of the earth continually wait, they are not so conceal’d either;
They are calm, subtle, untransmissible by print;
They are imbued through all things, conveying themselves willingly,
Conveying a sentiment and invitation of the earth—I utter and utter,
I speak not, yet if you hear me not, of what avail am I to you?
To bear—to better—lacking these, of what avail am I?
Will you rot your own fruit in yourself there?
Will you squat and stifle there?
The earth does not argue,
Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,
Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,
Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,
Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out,
Of all the powers, objects, states, it notifies, shuts none out.