|Friends have asked where I disappeared to, and the answer is that I have been enjoying some time with the dead white male inventor of free verse, Mr. Walt Whitman. Kerry challenged me to chose a quote from him and write a poem in respond to it. I did, and you'll read that one below.|
On Wed, 12 Sept. 2012, Kerry O'Connor wrote: “I would like to challenge you to select a quote from Walt Whitman's writing and use it as inspiration for a poem of your own." She gave me a great link for extracts from his poetry and writing, and encouraged me to use any quote I wanted. Whitman's "Song of Myself" is my favorite. In this 52-part poem, published in Leaves of Grass, he uses first-person narration to celebrate all of Nature through his power of empathy: He sees "that of God" equally in all living things and in both genders. Therefore, he places spirit, soul and faith above organized religion and personal experience above the priesthood. He shows himself as a kind of everyman coming to terms with variety in life from birth through death. However he is also a poet, and in the quote I chose from the final section of "Song of Myself," Whitman speaks as if he is dying or already gone, having left behind his poems. (His poem is below, following mine.)
|Wouldn't you know though, I reread half of "Leaves of Grass" in the process and wrote responses to a few of the little ones. Here is one of those: Whitman's poem is first and mine follows. |
A Noiseless Patient Spider
A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.
by Walt Whitman
In 1867 edition of “Leaves of Grass”
O my Soul
I would my soul were like the silent patient spider,
who spins and spins until its goal is met, and then
again sits and waits for dinner to come to him, but
I who write much about ever-teaching Nature, have
a spirit more like an angry young stream leaping
from its spring with the swagger of youth cutting
corners and taking dares all the way to the salt sea.
Soul is the stream and the spring and also
the action of the race and the goad, yea and the sea.
by Susan Chast
Copyright © 2012 S.L.Chast
Last Sunday, God asked me and I asked God: “What do we have to do to be heard?” Must we hover over all, raise our numbers? or reduce them and become endangered species?
To be half gone already like the ice in the Arctic Tundra and the Greater Himalayas
To enter the half lives of politicians and the half deaths of generals
To give up the languages of the spheres and invent new ones in the latest green profit
To give up awakening one at a time and instead preach to the converted
This is the problem with priests: they hear God in their own images and forget these are only images of spirit (much larger than self, much more than we can never know.)
This is the problem with priests: they worry about the appearance and history of God rather than the tasks and questions at hand (posed by God, who, unlike priests, has no ego. This is the least we know.)
This is the problem with priests, they take on the word to re-dictate it (rather than to show their flocks how to hear and then to listen.)
This is the problem with priests: they forget that a living God still speaks daily and nightly (through all of creation including men, women, and children)
Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student.
The student’s problem is not who to hear but who to listen to
The teacher’s danger is being heard:
Someone might listen and follow blindly
This was my fear about teaching Kindergarteners:
What if the room full of little ones listened and smiled as a group??
What if they believed me?
I sought those who would resist,
who would approach the brick walls of understanding
I sought those who would join me
who would knock on brick-blocked doors
who would wail while forcing our little writings into cracks in the surface
I sought those benevolent leaders who would be affected by the swelling paper
who would read the writing on the wall as it bled through
who would look where we suffer together
who would see that we also rejoice because we hear each other and listen
I seek those who speak and listen with hearts, arms, hands, bellies, backbones, and spirit.
I was born a teacher, but spent my life learning:
I learned that I teach people, that subjects rise and fall
I learned that I need to learn people, that I have always been more open to other species
I learn that I feel moments of triumph when people began to delight in their own voices
I learn that learning is driven by curiosity
I learn that learning to communicate well is facilitated by having something to say to another and to many, each according to need
What canst thou say? God asks me and I ask God.
I say we are already an endangered species as well as an endangering species,that I am no different from anyone else, and everyone’s voice is different
that we carry spirit, and spirit carries us
that I trust this, having faith in but no knowledge of God
that I get closer to spirits’ mediums circling with hawks
that I sound this yawp out into the world, not wanted and wanted
that I will not hide my Light, I will leave it here
I say that the life of a teacher, student, poet, singer is a life of necessityjust as is the life of a carpenter, farmer, electrician, and any other worker bee, spider, and coyote who walks the earth.
by Susan Chast
Copyright © 2012 S.L.Chast
“Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself #52”
The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.