Around the world with Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg
Today was Walt Whitman's birthday.
A look at how Walt became a poet at all shows the truth of what Robert said:
[Whitman] was working as a carpenter, his father's trade, and living with his mother in Brooklyn, when he read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "The Poet," which claimed the new United States needed a poet to properly capture its spirit. Whitman decided he was that poet. "I was simmering, simmering, simmering," Whitman later said. "Emerson brought me to a boil."
Whitman began work on his collection Leaves of Grass, crafting an American epic that celebrated the common man. He did most of the typesetting for the book himself, and he made sure the edition was small enough to fit in a pocket, later explaining, "I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air." He was 37 years old when he paid for the publication of 795 copies out of his own pocket.
Many of Whitman's poems were criticized for being openly erotic. One of Whitman's earliest reviews had called the book "a mass of stupid filth," accusing Whitman of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians." But rather than censoring himself, Whitman added 146 poems to his third edition.
Of course, many of Whitman's poems were openly erotic, but Whitman's most famous line ever, arguably, is his tribute to his mentor, which is also the simplest and best encapsulation of Emerson's philosophy:
"Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
up into Sierras oak leaves blown down by fall cold chills
over peaktops snowy gales beginning,
a breath of prayer down on Kitkitdizze's horngreen leaves close to ground,
over Gary's roof, over temple pillar, tens and manazanita arbors in Sierra
a breath falls over Sacramento Valley, roar of wind down the sixland freeway
across Bay Bridge
uproar of papers floating over Montgomery Street, pigons flutter down
before sunset from Washington Park's white churchsteeple —
Golden Gate waters whitecapped scoudding out to Pacific spreads…