May 31, 2001
Leaves of Grass (excerpt)
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Poem: lines from "Leaves of Grass," by Walt Whitman from Whitman: Poetry and Prose (Viking Press).
Leaves of Grass
Who goes there? Hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?
What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?
All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.
Why should I pray? why should I venerate and be
Having pried through the strata, analyzed to a hair,
counsel'd with doctors and calculated close,
I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
I know I am deathless,
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter's
I know I shall not pass like a child's carlacue cut with a
burnt stick at night.
I know I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
(I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my
house by, after all.)
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is
And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand
or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I
It's the birthday of writer Bailey White, born in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1950. She was a first grade teacher in her hometown when she started doing commentaries for NPR's All Things Considered. She has published two memoirs, Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living, and Sleeping At the Starlite Motel, and Other Adventures of the Way Back Home.
It's the birthday of poet and novelist Jonis Agee, born in Omaha in 1943. Her first collection of short stories was Pretend We've Never Met, which introduces the reader to the fictional town of Divinity, Iowa, which is also the setting of her first novel, Sweet Eyes.
It's the birthday of comedian Fred Allen, born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894. He worked nights at the Boston Public Library when he was in high school in Boston, and one night he came across a book about comedy that fascinated him. So, he began to collect jokes and also taught himself to juggle, and that was his start in vaudeville as a comic juggler. He got into radio with an hour-long show of his own, "Town Hall Tonight," 1934, which was later renamed "The Fred Allen Show." He wrote most of his own material and was famous for his satire and for poking fun at his corporate sponsors.
It's the birthday of poet Walt Whitman, born in West Hills, Long Island, in New York, in 1819. He was a printer and then the editor of a daily newspaper, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He came out with a first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855 at his own expense because no one else wanted to publish it. He sold ten copies and gave away the rest. Whitman was not above self-promotion; he even wrote his own reviews of Leaves of Grass anonymously. He said, "The public is a thick-skinned beast and you have to keep whacking away at its hide to let it know you're there." In 1862, he went to Washington and took a series of bureaucratic jobs while he volunteered in Union hospitals. He was appalled by the conditions he found there and published his collection of war poems, Drum Taps, in 1865, which included the great elegy on the death of Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Ralph Waldo Emerson was a great fan of Whitman. Henry David Thoreau felt otherwise. He said of Whitman, "He was not only eager to talk about himself, but reluctant to have the conversation stray from the subject for long."
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