Courtney for 11/17

November 15th, 2009

It has been nearly impossible for me to categorize Whitman.  One week I read a poem and find myself completely overcome by inspiration; the next week I’m totally frustrated and just want to scream, “C’mon, Walt!  Get to the point already!”  I am beginning to see that it is the confliction that has made Walt so immensely popular over the years.  He has the ability to encompass everything, giving his readers endless chances to be inspired or enraged.  He is an American poet, a nature poet, a gay poet, a war poet, or a love poet (especially in the eyes of those that are particularly fond of Abe Lincoln).

This must be the appeal.  Ezra Pound perfectly describes the conflict of interpreting Whitman, saying that he “is an exceedingly nauseating pill, but he accomplishes his mission.”  Whitman’s endless effort to encompass everything and everyone makes him difficult to grasp sometimes, but it also allows nearly any reader to find something that seems to speak to him or her directly.  Old Walt was a smart guy, though.  He probably knew better than anyone his broad appeal, like in ‘Song of Myself,’ when he says, “I am the mate and companion of all people. Just as immortal and fathomless as myself, (They do not know how immortal, but I know.)”  Whitman is immortal, his legacy lives on the lives that he has touched and the works he has inspired.

The only selection that I was familiar with from this week’s readings was that of Allen Ginsberg.  The connection between these two men is pretty obvious: the beards, the prophetic self-images, and their “possibly-romantic-or-maybe-just-platonic” obsessions with their contemporaries.  However, my favorite poem from this week was “Ode to Walt Whitman” by Frederico Garcia Lorca.

I’ve been thinking about Whitman as an “American Poet” and I’ve decided that he does indeed fit the bill.  Here is this poet, Frederico.  He is a gay Latin-American poet living in America in the 1930s.  He picked up Leaves of Grass, and it spoke to him.  Whitman truly lived up to his promises of creating a comradeship of men from all different walks of life.  In his poem, Lorca evokes Whitman in both form and content.  I know I had a fellow Whitmaniac on my hands when I read,

“Not for a moment, Walt Whitman, lovely old man,

Have I failed to see your beard full of butterflies,

Nor your corduroy shoulders frayed by the moon,

Nor your thighs pure as Apollo’s,

Nor your voice like a column of ash,

Old man, beautiful as the mist…”

He calls Whitman “old man” twice in this short passage.  A term that I too have begun to use in reverence, picturing this old gray prophet dispensing wisdom down to his followers.  The repetition in the poem is something that I can easily recognize as taken from Whitman and the declarations and explanation points also hark back to our Whitman.

It’s pretty amazing to read the scope of works that have been inspired by our Walt.  Artists spanning several decades and walks of life create echoes of Whitman’s message.  Just as he predicted, he is indeed immortal and has become the voice of America.

4 Responses to “Courtney for 11/17”

  1. Avatar of jpike1 jpike1 on November 16, 2009 3:17 pm

    I love your statement: “Whitman truly lived up to his promises of creating a comradeship of men from all different walks of life” In my post I discussed how Whitman’s use of the personal pronoun “I” and how he addressed his readers with “you” and “dear reader”, creates intimacy which allows the comradeship between Whitman and his readers to shine through. So, I agree that the fact that a gay Latin-American poet is so influenced by Whitman demonstrates Whitman’s personal relationship with all readers.

  2. Avatar of meghanedwards meghanedwards on November 16, 2009 9:00 pm


    I loved your point about Whitman’s lengthiness and expansiveness allowing everyone to take a piece of him. That’s so true, especially when you look at our readings this week. Each poet is so different (racially, politically, sexually) and uses Whitman’s poetry to achieve different meanings. Even the Levi’s commercials have touched people today; I found a comment about a woman who had never read Walt looking for his poetry ‘s and connecting him to her role as a housewife. It’s kind of fascinating how -anyone- can take Whitman to heart.

  3. Avatar of chelseanewnam chelseanewnam on November 16, 2009 10:48 pm

    Courtney, I completely agree with your assessment of Whitman and your description, “Artists spanning several decades and walks of life create echoes of Whitman’s message. Just as he predicted, he is indeed immortal and has become the voice of America” is wonderfully right on the money. I, too, was taken with the fact that pretty much any poet or person anywhere can find some piece of Whitman to hold on to as well as with the sheer amount of influence Whitman has maintained in the artistic realm (even against a cynical T.S. Eliot during the modern to post-modernist movement).

    Lorca’s poem was also my favorite of the bunch for this week. Despite my connections to Riche and Ginsberg, I found this dedication refreshingly beautiful. It resonated with me as being one of the most honest and desperate poems I have read that gravitate around Whitman. It shows not only a longing absence of the man but it mourns the loss of Whitman’s attention to the world – “None of them paused, / none of them wanted to be a cloud, / none of them looked for ferns / or the yellow wheel of a tambourine.” As we are coming to the end of our studies (at least for this class), I think this is a feeling we can all relate to.

  4. Avatar of bcbottle bcbottle on November 17, 2009 11:35 am

    I can definitely relate. When I first read Whitman’s comment about containing multitudes I thought “Okay, Whitman, you think that” but by the time I made it to 1867 I totally got what he meant.

    It’s fascinating to see him possess so many different personalities and to have influenced so many different types of people. Whitman really did contain multitudes,and now we can contain them too.

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