Monday, August 3, 2009

Old Walt

All truths wait in all things...
Walt Whitman

...I’m recycling myself again, from a comment left on Brooks’ latest blog post...which I was enticed into...even though I always read her anyway...by one of my favorite Whitman poems when I first read him twenty years ago...but that I'd almost completely forgotten until I saw those first few words...unseen buds, infinite, hidden well...god, how I love old Walt...Leaves of Grass remaining probably the closest thing my intrinsically vague personal religion has to a holy book...

...gotta admit I didn’t like him particularly at first...reading bits of Song of Myself and maybe some other stuff in an American Lit class...didn’t do a thing for me, really...but for some reason knew there was something I was missing...got a copy of Leaves of Grass, walked a mile through the woods from campus to the beach on Puget Sound to sit on rocks and open to random pages...generally reading small poems like unseen buds...

...I still have that copy, though it’s fallen apart, gotten yellow and crinkly after living in my backpack through my serious backpacking years...up and down the Appalachians and Rockies, across Zion and Canyonlands and Arches, to the top of the San Francisco Peaks and the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where I spent my twenty ninth birthday and the pack got clawed open by a ringtail cat during the night...

...more recently, taught Song of Myself to students at a couple different colleges...making sure to point out the significance of I loaf and invite my soul...which is, essentially, that it’s Whitman’s instruction on how to read the poem...and, as such, the complete antithesis of reading it in a classroom where they’d be required to write a paper about it and end up being graded on their performance, as I was having them do...and told them something like if you really want to understand this poem, read it on your own when you don’t have to worry about papers or grades...preferably lying in the grass or sitting on a beach on Puget Sound, or way down in the Grand Canyon...but be sure to hang your backpack properly...

12 comments:

Kim said...

Beautiful post, as always. I often find that those times like the one you describe on Puget Sound are the ones that shape us the most--even though nothing and everything has happened all in reading something.

Brooks Hall said...

Hey Dr. Jay!
I'm glad that you enjoyed my post! Your comment enhances it. The Lou Reed quote is great. I've already read it to a couple people today!

And I like what you said about learning. I don't think I really started learning until many years after school. I finally learned to relax and let things in. But I'm sure that school helped me in many ways, too. However I didn't get into poetry until later. And when I was in school I was always trying to please everybody else--as well as burning off some bad karma(...)--which prevented truthful appreciation.

Lydia said...

O, how I love him too. Just thinking of certain lines makes me emotional. Thinking of you somehow safe from a ringtail cat's claws brings on emotions, too. The whole scene there at the bottom of the Grand Canyon...you with your book...is marvelous.This post was perfection.

the walking man said...

As much as I appreciate everything Whitman in words is...I LOVE the back story of Leaves of Grass as well. How it came to be, how it was promoted and how he revised it so many times the first edition is entirely different from the final.

earthtoholly said...

Another beautiful post, drjay. I love your recollection of your travels with your beloved Walt. Yikes on his assault by the cat, though. Good thing you were an "unseen bud" yourself on that night...

...preferably lying in the grass or sitting on a beach on Puget Sound, or way down in the Grand Canyon... is the only way such writings should be read.

Oh, the ringtail cat is now keeping the bear company on my nature-to-avoid list.

Erik Donald France said...

Palimpsest -- makes me think of Bill Clinton as Appollinaire, giving the same gifts to different "special lady friends." In Bill's case, Walt. I wonder if he smuggled a copy into North Korea?

koe whitton-williams said...

Jay - you sent me to my copy of Leaves of Grass - I love to open it at random and find. . .

'if you tire, give me both burdens'

'strong and content I travel the open road'

'these are the days that must happen to you'

Lucy Lopez said...

Hi! I just discovered your blog as a result of clearing out my mailbox and finding an email with a link to your blog...the title of your blog plus my haste in clearing out my mailbox got me clicking on the link without actually reading what the email was about! In other words, I have no idea how I happened to receive an email with your url in it...

But what I really want to say in this comment is that I too love Walt Whitman...his poetry and much of what I know of the man.

I first came across him about 15 years ago in a National Geographic issue and fell in love with his writing immediately...

(I also saw a wonderful though somewhat Hollywoodefiled film, Beautiful Minds, about a Canadian psychiatrist who was inspired by WW, which made me love him more :))

Also want to say that I enjoy your blog - the images, content, bloglist...

Blessings, Lucy

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Realised today that i am equally guilty of not visiting some of my usual reads as much as i should

I think what you said about not immediately liking Whitman is very true - sometimes you have to discover things for yourself in your own way and time. I've often said that school is the wrong time to learn about Shakespeare, because it's read out by 12 year olds who don't understand the language and don't care.

Much better to find out for yourself...

Brooks Hall said...

Dr. Jay, I just gotta tell you how addicted I am to Song of Myself since I read about it here... And for me writing is what the loafing and inviting the soul is all about... Thanks! I am inspired by your post.

Nothing Profound said...

Dr. Jay-thanks for writing about me. And I'm glad you're enjoying my book. I wrote it for free spirits like you and nothingprofound, who like nothing better than loafing and inviting their soul and moseying down that forever Open Road.

Maybe someday you and I will meet at some junction in that road.

Lana Gramlich said...

I still have to laugh whenever I think about "Leaves of Grass" & the fact that my husband's been trying to force his way through it for 6 years now. Evidently it's considerably less holy to him than it is to you.