Sunday

May 31, 2009

Song of Myself (excerpt)

by Walt Whitman

This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make
    appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp'd slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of
    hair,

This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.
Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have, and the mica
    on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering
    through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

                                                       20

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.

I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth.

Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids,
    conformity goes to the fourth-remov'd,
I wear my hat as I please indoors or out.

Why should I pray? why should I venerate and be ceremonious?

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.

...

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
    myself,
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 can
    wait.

Excerpts from "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Walt Whitman, (books by this author) born at West Hills, Long Island (1819). When he was four, his family moved to Brooklyn, and he spent much of his youth and early manhood there. He loved to ride the ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and wrote about it the journey in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry." The words of his poem are now etched into a fence at the new Fulton Ferry Landing pier.

Whitman hung out all over New York City, in clubs and pubs, including at a place called Pfaff's Beer Hall, on Broadway near Bleecker Street. The place to drink was in the cellar, and to get down to it, Whitman and his fellow carousers had to navigate down a set of uneven stairs. Inside, the bar had high ceilings, was poorly lit, and was always filled with thick smoke. Whitman spent many nights there. He even wrote a few lines of verse about the place:
"The vault at Pfaff's where the drinkers and
    laughers meet to eat and drink and carouse;                                           
    while on the walk immediately
    overhead pass the myriad feet of Broadway."

Whitman worked as a journalist in Brooklyn and roamed the streets on foot, carrying around a polished cane, people-watching, and seeking out story ideas. He also wrote editorials decrying the area's various problems. He felt that the place was dirty and disorderly, and wrote in the Brooklyn Evening Star: "Our City is literally overrun with swine, outraging all decency, and foraging upon every species of eatables within their reach. … Hogs, Dogs and Cows should be banished from our streets."

He had several homosexual relationships in New York City (though the term "homosexual" was not in use at the time), mostly with young men in their late teens and early twenties.

In 1855, Whitman self-published the first edition of his Leaves of Grass. It contained 12 poems and was 95 pages long.

"Song of Myself" begins:
"I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









«

»

  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
The Writer's Almanac on Facebook


The Writer's Almanac on Twitter

Subscribe to our daily newsletter for poems, prose and literary history every morning
An interview with Jeffrey Harrison at The Writer's Almanac Bookshelf
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show
O, What a Luxury

Although he has edited several anthologies of his favorite poems, O, What a Luxury: Verses Lyrical, Vulgar, Pathetic & Profound forges a new path for Garrison Keillor, as a poet of light verse. Purchase O, What a Luxury »