May 31, 2009
Song of Myself (excerpt)
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
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.
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
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
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.®