[ Walt Whitman (1819-1892)]
[Allen's July 26, 1976 Naropa lecture (Spontaneous and Improvised Poetics) continues.
Today, he moves the subject on to Walt Whitman]
AG: But I was getting up to what happens to the bard when.. or, what happened to the bard. You still had a bardic function, even in the 19th century, with Walt Whitman.
So I want to jump now from Blues Come All Ye’s to Walt Whitman, or from Australian Aborigine Songmen, up through Blues, to Walt Whitman. We began..Philip was..Philip (Whalen) in the first sessions, was talking about the sacred function, original functions, and the communal functions, of poetry (and) so I’m still somewhat following that theme..
I want to read through a little Whitman and see what that sounds like here, now. [Allen begins by reading, consecutively, the first five sections of "Song of Myself" (followed by
Sections 7, 11, 16, 17, 21, 24, 25, 31, 38, 44 and, ("I'll go to the end"), 50, 51 and 52.]
[Leaves of Grass, 1855 first edition (later issue) - courtesy University of Delaware, Special Collections]
Well, what does all that boil down to, or what does that love boil down to? Is this an authentic record of a natural perception (such as might belong to any man or any woman in any clime, or any of us)? Now, obviously it does tally with our own imaginations of ourselves, because everybody has felt, at one time or another, like this. Everybody (has) identified, as Whitman has identified, with the whole creation, and found himself identifying with the prisoner on the line waiting for food (not the handsome strong prisoner, but the cowardly one with the moustache and a droop of sweat coming from the moustache, or, as Frank O'Hara identified (it), [the citation is from Whitman] - "looking in at the shop-windows of Broadway the whole forenoon, flatting the flesh of my nose on the thick plate glass"... ) So there's that much universal self that's recognizable in Whitman's statement, but the question that (a)rises, to anybody, grown more old and experienced than (some) youthful pantheistic identification with the entire cosmos, is, (is) this an attitude, or an empathy, or a movement of feeling, that would be appropriate on, (say) the cancer death-bed? Would you still feel so confident and sure that your self is immortalized and (all-inclusive and) granite.
(So), if you turn to his later life, actually, and in (the) late, late poems, you'll find out how he felt when he died (or when he was so old that some of the ebullience and insistency of the early enthusiasm and emotional passion and large self-hood were beginning to be dissolved by a veritable cosmos of diseases). There's a funny little poem by Jonathan Williams describing Walt Whitman, literally, as a cosmos, because, (during) his autoposy it was found that he had problems with a cancer, an enlarged prostate, and kidney trouble, and emphysema, and nodules in his lungs, and innumerable lists of Whitmanic diseases
(Here's late Whitman) - "As I sit writing here" - "As I sit writing here sick and grown old/Not my least burden is that dulness of the years, querilities,/Ungracious glooms, aches, lethargy, constipation, whimpering, ennui/ May filter into my daily songs" - Not my least burden is that dulness...may filter into my daily songs" - he's worried - [Allen continues reading (late Whitman) - "Queries to My Seventieth Year" - "Approaching, nearing curious,/ Thou dim, uncertain spectre - bringest thou life or death?/ Strength, weakness, blindness, more paralysis and heavier?/ Or placid skies and sun? Wilt stir the waters yet?/ Or haply cut me short for good? Or leave me here as now,/Dull, parrot-like and old, with crack'd voice harping, screeching?" - What time is it?
Student: It's ten past.
AG: Oh, I'm sorry, I've run on, Okay, I'll answer questions as to whether Whitman's psychological cosmos is a viable one or not, (in the next few days), in several days....
[Audio for the above may be found here - the reading from "Song of Myself" beginning at approximately six minutes in, and running through to approximately forty minutes in]
to be continued..
to be continued..