Jul. 4, 2013
To a Young Girl in Washington Square Park
Lolling beneath the Garibaldi statue,
you look like some pre-Raphaelite Cordelia,
except you're tarted up for rock and roll.
Your beauty is the barrel you'll go over
the falls in, and you're copping now, I see—
I hope it's only pot. Oh I would row
you back to Astolat, and swiftly too,
but that's just not my job. You're on your own,
and while you gambol off to get your buzz,
the statue tries to pull its damaged sword,
snapped off by hooligans eons ago.
That sword reminds me now of Marshal Ney,
who charged at Waterloo with half a saber
brandished above his powder-blackened head.
Five horses fell from under him, before,
unscathed, he made it out, at last, on foot,
only to find disaster on the roads,
and gallantry in short supply; though he
would tramp along, apparently unshaken,
to Paris and a Bourbon firing squad.
Today is Independence Day, celebrating the day in 1776 that the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England.
On this day in 1855, Walt Whitman (books by this author) published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. The first edition consisted of 12 poems, and was published anonymously; Whitman set much of the type himself, and paid for its printing. Over his lifetime, he published eight more editions, adding poems each time; there were 122 new poems in the third edition alone (1860-61), and the final "death-bed edition," published in 1891, contained almost 400 poems. The first edition received several glowing — and anonymous — reviews in New York newspapers. Most of them were written by Whitman himself. The praise was unstinting: "An American bard at last!" One legitimate mention by popular columnist Fanny Fern called the collection daring and fresh. Emerson felt it was "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed." This wasn't a universal opinion, however; many called it filth, and poet John Greenleaf Whittier threw his copy into the fire.
The 1855 edition contained a preface, which was left out of subsequent editions, and in it he wrote: "This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body."
It's the birthday of Nathaniel Hawthorne (books by this author), born in Salem, Massachusetts (1804). He's the author of The Scarlet Letter (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851). He was looking for a job, and at last won a well-paid appointment at the Salem Custom House, only to lose it when the Whigs came into power again. He arrived home, told his wife he was out of work, and wondered aloud what to do. "Now you can write your book," she said. He asked what she proposed they live on while he wrote, and she opened a desk drawer and showed him a pile of gold pieces she'd saved out of the household allowance — $150, enough to cover their expenses for several months. He sat down at once and began work on The Scarlet Letter.
It's the birthday of literary critic Lionel Trilling (books by this author), born in New York City (1905). He was one of the last literary critics that people read even if they weren't English majors. He's best known for a collection of essays published after his death, called The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent (2000).
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®