“Walt you contain enough, why don’t you let it out then?”


Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-2884)

On the morning of New Year’s Day, I drove out to Newbury Park to pick up my daughter from a friend’s house.  (I passed the Newbury Park library branch, which was closed, of course, but noticed that it looks like a nice one, and that it’s the anchor of a small shopping center, which must be convenient!  It’s part of the Thousand Oaks system rather than LAPL, so I don’t have a card there, but the next time I’m loitering in the area during business hours, I’ll take a peek.)

It’s a longish drive, so eventually I turned on the radio.  The first song I heard, and therefore the first song of the new year, was the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Dark Necessities,” which seems–both accurate and auspicious?  (That long tease of an intro, the song’s easy acceptance of the transience of everything–“You and I both know/Everything must go/Away”–and the strength of artistic intent: “Dark necessities are part of my design.”)

After we got home, I went to the shared workspace to write for a while.  It often happens that there’s something I need to read while I’m writing, and the first poem I read, and therefore the first poem of the new year, was Song of Myselfwhich–also accurate and auspicious–seems like exactly the right complement to the song, and to the day itself.

Here’s a piece of it.  (And by the way: almost every day of my reading and teaching life, I appreciate what the Poetry Foundation has done in putting thousands of good texts of poetry online.)

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.

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.

Urge and urge and urge,

Always the procreant urge of the world.

Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex,

Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.

To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.

Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,

I and this mystery here we stand.

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.

Lack one lacks both, and the unseen is proved by the seen,

Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn.

Showing the best and dividing it from the worst age vexes age,

Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself.

Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean,

Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.

I am satisfied—I see, dance, laugh, sing;
As the hugging and loving bed-fellow sleeps at my side through the night, and withdraws at the peep of the day with stealthy tread,
Leaving me baskets cover’d with white towels swelling the house with their plenty,
Shall I postpone my acceptation and realization and scream at my eyes,
That they turn from gazing after and down the road,
And forthwith cipher and show me to a cent,
Exactly the value of one and exactly the value of two, and which is ahead?

Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself (1892 version)

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