Monday, August 28, 2023

Walt Whitman


I had a double major in undergraduate school, Psychology and English Literature.  The one thing that all my English professors agreed on was that Walt Whitman was the greatest American poet up to that time, and I don't think there have been any better since.  Publishing homoerotic poetry before the American Civil War was not just pioneering, it was incredibly brave.  Please take the time to read these lines from "I Sing the Body Electric" and you'll see what I mean:  

The expression of the face balks account,

But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side.

The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, seen as he swims through the transparent green-shine, or lies with his face up and rolls silently to and fro in the heave of the water,
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle,

 The young fellow hoeing corn, the sleigh-driver driving his six horses through the crowd,
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
The march of firemen in their own costumes, the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps,
The slow return from the fire, the pause when the bell strikes suddenly again, and the listening on the alert,
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.

 Those lines are pure genius and about a hundred years ahead of their time.  They went 
right over the heads of some readers, but there were those who knew their deeper 
meaning and took sustenance from them.  One of those who knew was 
Thomas Eakins who painted this portrait of Walt Whitman: 


  1. I'd never read that poem before, but I'll be reading it again... and again. This is a really good series. Thanks for posting. By the way, a series featuring real cowboys and their facial hair would be interesting.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and for the excellent suggestion for a future series. Look for something in October.

  2. I Saw in Louisiana A Live-Oak Growing
    I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
    All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
    Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
    And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
    But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
    And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
    And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
    It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
    (For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
    Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
    For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat space,
    Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
    I know very well I could not.

  3. That poem has poignancy for both of us, does it not ?-Dee Exx

  4. Speaking of beards...Whitman was a nurse in Washington, D.C. during part of the Civil War and had a big crush on Abe Lincoln.-Dee Exx

    1. Hard to imagine anyone with a crush on Lincoln, but to each his own.

  5. What a pleasure this set was! Art, music, history, poetry and men with beards! Thanks Jerry this was wonderful.

    1. You're welcome, Pat! This one was pure pleasure to put together, and of course I had Debussy playing while working on it.

  6. I really, really enjoyed this series, Jerry. I can only echo "Pat", who captures my sentiments exactly,
    Oh, and happy anniversary!