all goes onward and outward

Happy Earth Day, readers. In keeping with tradition, here is a section of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” from Leaves of Grass. Although I’ve already shared this piece several times over the years, I don’t think it ever becomes less wondrous…

 

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

Advertisement

The earth does not withhold, it is generous enough

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”

1

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.

2

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.

3

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?

4

Accouche! Accouchez!
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.

every hour of the light and dark is a miracle

What better way to start the year than with Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and his breathless lines so full of hope? Happy 2012, friends.

picture of Walt Whitman

“Miracles”

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of
the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night
with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with
the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—
the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?