Poetry Friday: Walt Whitman

Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
~ Walt Whitman ~

I’ve been avoiding the news recently. The headlines are overwhelming and depressing. I feel helpless to make any meaningful contribution to changing the tenor of our times. But the world is full of antidotes to this feeling of helplessness. This week, I found several on a trek into New York City, where I was fortunate to visit two celebrations of the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth.

The New York Public Library has an intimate gallery where treasures from the library’s collection are exhibited. Walt Whitman: America’s Poet is currently on view.  Original copies of Whitman’s work are on display, as well as works that influenced him and books by poets from around the world who have been inspired by him. One of the most powerful pieces in the exhibit is a video by filmmaker Jennifer Crandall.  Her project, Whitman, Alabamais the result of spending two years traveling throughout Alabama, meeting and engaging with people from all walks of life. Crandall filmed these folks reading from Whitman’s great work, Leaves of Grass. The resulting film reminds us that we have much more in common than not, and our strength comes from what we share. Here is a sample.

“Song of Myself”
Verse 16
by Walt Whitman

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff’d with the stuff that is coarse and stuff’d with the stuff that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same,

Read the rest here.

Leaving this exhibit, we walked down 5th Avenue, among people from “many nations,” to The Morgan Library and Museum. Here, Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy is on view. This show traces Whitman’s life and explores the influence of his early life in Brooklyn as well as his experiences as a nurse during the Civil War, among others, on his development as a poet.

Taken together, these shows gave me hope that our country can withstand and overcome the onslaughts we’re currently facing.

Please be sure to visit my good friend and critique group partner, Margaret Simon, at Reflections on the Teche for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

11 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Walt Whitman

  1. “we have much more in common than not, and our strength comes from what we share.” Connection and story is everything. That video is mesmerizing; it speaks to all of America. We are the people…

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  2. on of many nations….oh, it is so good to see those words. I have an admitted hole in my knowledge of all things Whitman. This gives me a little peek at what I can learn. Thank you for this and for finding something that feels like an antidote.

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  3. It must be quite a marvelous film to see, Catherine, along with all the other parts of the celebration. Why, why can we not all proscribe to “Breathe the air but leave plenty after me”? Thank you for sharing a bit of your visits.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your antidotes to these times. What a fascinating snippet of film! I remember being so drawn to Whitman in high school and yet have not revisited his work since. You remind me that I would benefit from doing so.

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  5. Your post today is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes when I am distraught by the machinations of politicians and hate mongers, I remind myself that the world is full of good people who care about others and that this goodness is what really counts.

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  6. Thank you for the breath of hope. That video is mesmerizing. And Whitman reminds me that we as a country have come through difficult times before and poets and their poetry can speak healing and hope.

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  7. What’s so remarkable about “Song of Myself” it’s timeless, could have been written today. Loved the video, I’ve seen it before and loved it again. And isn’t the Morgan library a grand and special place, wish I lived closer so I could return there again sooner… Sounds like a rich trip, thanks for all Catherine!

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  8. I enjoyed reading your post on Whitman, Catherine. He is revered on Long Island. I find it interesting that he has been described as the first American “bard of democracy”. Digging into that title I found out that Whitman “held strong democratic values and was an outspoken proponent for the abolition of slavery, for women’s property rights, immigration and for an equitable society.” His words ring true still to today.

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