How I Hear Leaves of Grass
When I was in poem school, the myth–now realize poets hold myth as ultimate reality–so therefore the truth we used to tell about ourselves was according to the theory of six degrees of separation we have all at one time been intimate with Walt Whitman. I’m not quite sure how it works. His atoms into our atoms. Six degrees of sex. Looking backwards, body to body to body to body to body to the Great Ecstatic Poet.
Me and Walt.
You and Walt.
Your mom and dad and Walt. Wow.
Your great aunt Myrtle in her grave crumbling and becoming earth and Walt. (Way to go, Aunt Myrtle!)
Sex aside, when I read Whitman’s poems, they enter my body and soul. It’s poetry. It’s going to be intimate. For me, his poems are the song of us all. We are Whitman and he is us.
We imagine Whitman as the old grizzled poet, white beard and soulful eyes. What if we thought of him in terms of his voice and not his photograph. Below is a clip of the voice of Walt Whitman–well his voice as I hear it now. Listen to this young Whitman singing his song to us:
That young Whitman in the recording is my nephew in fourth grade. He’d asked to borrow my copy of Leaves of Grass. He wanted to take it school for show and tell. They were doing a unit on poetry. He wanted to show it to a girl but he would never admit that.
When I read Whitman now, that’s the voice I hear in my head. He’s young and discovering each word, exultant in the gallop of his lines, his tone like a clear bell chiming in our midst.
Here’s the text, the first page of Leaves of Grass, the 1855 edition.
I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease….observing a spear of summer grass.
Houses and rooms are full of perfumes….the shelves are crowded with perfumes,
I breathe the fragrance myself, and know it and like it,
The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.
The atmosphere is not a perfume…. it has no taste of the distillation….it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever….I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.
The smoke of my own breath,
Echos, ripples, and buzzed whispers…. loveroot, silkthread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration….the beating of my heart….the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark colored sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belched words of my voice….words loosed to the eddies of the wind,