In my college days a major surprise was being introduced to the poetry of Walt Whitman. I didn’t know that such thinking existed; a view of life so rich, so sensitive, so inclusive, so celebratory. His words were like magic to my ears and my original, dog-eared copy of Leaves of Grass still occupies my bookshelf, it having been my companion at various time in my life. I recommend everyone to read his epic Song of Myself. A new diversity of friends and thinking, questions about the human condition, philosophy, psychology, critical thinking, sociology, the arts, literature, a bigger worldview - these were the real gifts of college well beyond any practical training, and the words of Whitman played no smallpart in bringing about changes in my life.
Not until many years did I begin to understand and appreciate the spiritual depth of Whitman's writings. His prophetic words appeared in the lines: "I will not make a poem nor the least part of a poem but has reference to the soul. Because having look'd at the objects of the universe, I find there is no one nor any particle of one but has reference to the soul." And true to his understanding every poem has a spiritual underpinning, often unseen and sometimes misunderstood or ridiculed.
Favorite selections from Leaves. of Grass
I do not think seventy years is the time of a man or woman,
Nor that seventy millions of years is the time of a man or woman,
Nor that years will ever stop the existence of me, or any one else.
Is it wonderful that I should be immortal? as every one is immortal;
I know it is wonderful—but my eyesight is equally wonderful, and how I was conceived in my mother's womb is equally wonderful;
And passed from a babe, in the creeping trance of a couple of summers and winters, to articulate and walk—All this is equally wonderful.
And that my Soul embraces you this hour, and we affect each other without ever seeing each other, and never perhaps to see each other, is every bit as wonderful.
And that I can think such thoughts as these is just as wonderful;
And that I can remind you, and you think them and know them to be true, is just as wonderful.
And that the moon spins round the earth, and on with the earth, is equally wonderful;
And that they balance themselves with the sun and stars is equally wonderful.
Pleasantly and well-suited I walk: Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good;
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals! How perfect is my Soul! How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just as perfect,
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have passed on to this, and slowly and surely they yet pass on.
My Soul! if I realize you, I have satisfaction;
Animals and vegetables! if I realize you, I have satisfaction;
Laws of the earth and air! if I realize you, I have satisfaction.
I cannot define my satisfaction, yet it is so;
I cannot define my life, yet it is so. It comes to me now!
I swear I think now that everything without exception has an eternal soul!
The trees have, rooted in the ground! the weeds of the sea have! the animals!
I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is for it;
And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life and death are altogether for it!
Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.
Re-examine all you have been told
in school or church or in any book,
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem…
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Argue not concerning God, . . .
re-examine all that you have been told at church or school or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your soul…
Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land.
I think I could turn and live with animals,
they're so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied,
not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another,
nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
I cannot be awake, for nothing looks to me as it did before,
or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.
I am not contain'd between my hat and my boots.
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.
A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark,
and say Whose?
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken soon out of their mothers' laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.
This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.
O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.
. . .
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
. . .
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
There is no God any more divine than Yourself.
Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.
I am he that aches with love;
Does the earth gravitate? does not all matter, aching, attract all matter?
So the body of me to all I meet or know.