Published by Koharu on 13 Oct 2009 at 10:00 am
I watched a documentary on Walt Whitman yesterday and I couldn’t help needing to comment on the last few years of his life. Whitman is probably the most determined writer I’ve ever read about. He spent the majority of his life writing and revising ‘Leaves of Grass’ and dealt with society’s reaction to revolutionary thinking in a way that many of us can only dream of. He thrived on criticism, took great pleasure in ruffling the feathers of high society and bragged about things others would sooner die than admit. Put bluntly he was a real person who rarely put up a façade for anyone. He ran himself ragged seeing to soldiers during the civil war, sitting to talk to them and comfort them when no one else would. He was a thinker, a leader and full of life, yet his last few years had more pain and suffering in them than most see in a lifetime. The man who would hop on the ferry and bus to roam around Manhattan was wheelchair bound and almost completely paralyzed. The country he’d aspired to unite through poetry could barely come together even after the death of their president. The light in his eye that had been present through much of his life was gone. After learning more about his life, the line “If you want me again, look for me under your boot soles” takes on new meaning. To me it sounds resigned as if he’s realized that his words cannot reach the people of his time and that they’re too stubborn for change. It made me sad to think that through all his hard work Whitman died without a wife or child-alone.
Suffering through hardships, fighting tooth and nail to lay down your opinion- to chip it into the stone of history so that it may be appreciated not for the society of your time, but for all the generations that may come later. That is the true fate of a great writer.