Sunday, August 2, 2009

Walt Whitman from Paumanok Starting

We visited Walt Whitman’s birthplace on Saturday. Paumanok isn’t what it used to be. Rt 25A is miles and miles of strip malls interrupted by traffic lights every ¼ mile or so. But Walt’s birthplace looks like it used to be.

It isn’t of course. Much of it has been made to look as it did when Walt lived there in the first four years of his life. But the basic structure is original, and we stood in the rooms in which almost certainly he was born, and conceived for that matter.

His original energy without check came into manifest existence there. One could almost feel it.

Everything else is a story of course. His childhood, his life, even his poems. There never was a Walt, of course.

We consider ourselves human beings, and we invest our life, society, culture, history with a meaning from that fact. But it’s all a creation of our own thinking.

Within the context of an original universe thirteen billion years old and an infinite expanse unchecked, we really are quite laughable in our assumptions.

Nevertheless why not laugh and dream. And Walt’s ‘Song of Myself’ is quite the dream. There is a realization there not found in any previous (or later?) American poem.

In that house, I easily assumed what he assumed with an urge, urge, urge.

“What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?”

“To be in any form, what is that?”

“I heard what was said of the universe,... It is middling well as far as it goes . . . . but is that all? “

“Writing and talk do not prove me..., With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.”

“I do not know it . . . it is without name . . . it is a word unsaid, It is not in any dictionary or utterance or symbol.”

“Long enough have you dreamed contemptible dreams, Now I wash the gum from your eyes, You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light.”

“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop some where waiting for you.” Yes, there he was in West Hills, Long Island, New York.

And he was true to his word.

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