Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Taking the Long View with Walt Whitman

I was thinking about children reading, and my friend Nor mentioned Dutch writer Kees t'Hart's book, Kinderen die leren lezen/Children Learning to Read. That made me think about Kees's book of poetry The Road to Camden, about a journey he made to Walt Whitman's home, pictured at left. (If you click on the image, you go to the publisher, Rain Taxi, and can learn more.)

I heard Kees read from this chapbook about a year ago now, at Nor's birthday celebration, so there were memories of that, too. Then Lenni, our German exchange student, needed something to declaim in his English class, and I suggested Leaves of Grass.

That's how it works with the poetics of daily life: one thing leads to another, and sometimes you have a rhyme in time.

So today, instead of musing about greed (after watching a few moments of the Senate oversight committee grilling CEO Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers about the half billion or so he made in compensation: "Was that fair?"), I'm turning to that portion of Leaves of Grass that Lenni chose to read in class:

Great are the myths . . . . I too delight in them,
Great are Adam and Eve . . . . I too look back and accept them;
Great the risen and fallen nations, and their poets, women, sages, inventors,
rulers, warriors, and priests.


Great is liberty! Great is equality! I am their follower,

Helmsmen of nations, choose your craft . . . . where you sail, I sail,

Yours is the muscle of life or death . . . . yours is the perfect science . . . .

in you I have absolute faith.


Great is today, and beautiful,

It is good to live in this age . . . . there never was any better.


Great are the plunges and throes and triumphs and falls of democracy,
Great the reformers with their lapses and screams,

Great the daring and venture of sailors on new explorations.


Great are yourself and myself,
We are just as good and bad as the oldest and youngest or any,
What the best and the worst did we could do,
What they felt . . do we not feel it in ourselves?

What they wished . . do we not wish the same?


Great is youth, and equally great is old age . . . . great are the day and night;

Great is wealth and great is poverty . . . . great is expression and great is

silence.

It seems timely. I like that line about reformers, their lapses and screams . . .

4 comments:

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elena said...

Thank you, Zhang!

Joyce Kennedy said...

I love dipping into elenabella each morning~ it's a treasure box of surprises! From short view Sarah to long view Walt, all in the space of 24 hours~ wonderful!

Sheff said...

Ditto.