MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Walt Whitman at 200

walt-whitman

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.

–Song of Myself, V

Born two hundred years ago in the town of West Hills on Long Island, Walt Whitman embodies a voice that Americans are in dire need of hearing and heeding again.

Mark Edmundson has written a perceptive reflection on Whitman’s legacy in this month’s Atlantic:
“Whitman speaks to our moment in many ways. One of them is quite simple: At a time when Americans hate one another across partisan lines as intensely perhaps as they have since the Civil War, Whitman’s message is that hate is not compatible with true democracy, spiritual democracy.”

His poetry has inspired a remarkable range of composers. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:

–George Walker, Lilacs

–Ralph Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony

–Frederick Delius, Sea Drift

–John Adams/The Wound-Dresser

–Paul Hindemith/When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

Please share your own favorites!

Filed under: poetry, Walt Whitman

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