The Howl of Virgil Whitman
Illustration by Mike Lee
Ah, dear father, graybeard,
Lonely old courage-teacher
Who bared his brains to Heaven,
What Lincoln did you drive
in the total animal soup of time?
So many were the chosen chiefs who sailed
in three-times-ten ships to the aid of Troy
and plowed the plains of Lime Barty.
O leisure! Class! Suit!
What can ever be more stately and admirable
than all your shameless unsquared nipples
popping up in everopening windows?
Were you thinking that those were the words, those
upright lines? those curves, angles, dots?
Do you give in that you are any less immortal?
Flow on, river! flow with the flood-tide,
and ebb with the ebb-tide!
You rows of houses! You window-piercd façades! You roofs!
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
O Rockland! my Rockland! our fearful trip is
stolen daily, overpriced and unknown,
yet putting down here what might be left to say
With the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered
out of our own bodies who threw
potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism
and subsequently presented themselves on the
granite steps of the madhouse.
Who is he who stands apart, one crowned
with olive boughs and bearing the durable
Samsonite gifts of Bob Eubanks,
chosen especially . . . for you?
Aeneas, son of gods, are you awake?
Be up and ease the cords! Set free the sails!
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open
our skulls and ate up our brains and imagination?
Along trails less happy than death, even, you too
have given to our coasts unending Leaves
not more shed from the trees, or trees from the
earth, than they are shed out of you.
So frolic on, dumb, beautiful ministers
of afterness unclosed and uncloseable. Relentless!
we sink our swords into a nice fresh monster
which falls slack with chills and, with a moan, flees
resentful, to hell
To the door of my Rockland cottage in the Western night.
Walt Whitman, self-published poet, Civil War army nurse, former editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the New Orleans Crescent, quietly celebrates his 181st birthday on Wednesday, May 31. Since it was Whitmans contention that planet Earth is a fairly nice place, that life here is remarkably worth living even though it doesnt rhyme, that sex is particularly more enjoyable than administrative work, and that humanship is best practiced by humans, everyones invited. Whitman was a strange one: Rather than dashing, as bright white young men of his day so often did, into the roaring slaughterhouse of American business, he spent his life writing poetry and stories half his life writing and rewriting Leaves of Grass and has thus far spent his entire death in New Jersey.
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