Walt Whitman

Veterans Day: Selected Poems

The Gift Outright
 Robert Frost

The land was ours before we were the land's.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia,
But we were England's, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

 

I Have a Rendezvous With Death
Alan Seeger

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade,
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath--
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

 

It is the Soldier
Father Dennis Edward O'Brien
 
It is the Soldier,
not the reporter, who has given us freedom of press.

It is the Soldier,
not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the Soldier,
not the campus organizer, who gives us freedom to demonstrate.

It is the Soldier
who salutes the flag,
who serves beneath the flag,
and whose coffin is draped by the flag,
who allows the protester to burn the flag.

 
 
A Nation's Strength
Walt Whitman
 
Not gold, but only man can make
     A people great and strong;
Men who, for truth and honor's sake,
     Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
     Who dare while others fly --
They build a nation's pillars deep
     And lift them to the sky.

 

 
The Things That Make a Soldier Great
 Edgar Guest
 
The things that make a soldier great and send him out to die,
To face the flaming cannon's mouth nor ever question why,
Are lilacs by a little porch, the row of tulips red,
The peonies and pansies, too, the old petunia bed,
The grass plot where his children play, the roses on the wall:
'Tis these that make a soldier great.
He's fighting for them all.

'Tis not the pomp and pride of kings that make a soldier brave;
'Tis not allegiance to the flag that over him may wave;
For soldiers never fight so well on land or on the foam
As when behind the cause they see the little place called home.
Endanger but that humble street whereon his children run,
You make a soldier of the man who never bore a gun.
What is it through the battle smoke the valiant soldier sees?

The little garden far away, the budding apple trees,
The little patch of ground back there, the children at their play,
Perhaps a tiny mound behind the simple church of gray.
The golden thread of courage isn't linked to castle dome
But to the spot, where'er it be — the humblest spot called home.
And now the lilacs bud again and all is lovely there
And homesick soldiers far away know spring is in the air;
The tulips come to bloom again, the grass once more is green,
And every man can see the spot where all his joys have been.

He sees his children smile at him, he hears the bugle call,
And only death can stop him now -- he's fighting for them all.

 

Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers

Tomb of the Unknown, Rome, Italy

Tombs of Unknown Soldiers are exist around the world. Tombs of the Unknown refers to  graves in which the unidentifiable remains of a soldier are interred. Such tombs can be found in many nations and are usually high-profile national monuments. Throughout history, many soldiers have died in wars without their remains being identified. Following the First World War, a movement arose to commemorate these soldiers with a single tomb, containing the body of one such unidentified soldier.

The idea was first conceived by Walt Whitman during his first hand experience in the Civil War, where he reflects in Specimen Days on "the Bravest Soldier crumbles in mother earth, unburied and unknown." In 1916 by Reverend David Railton, who, while serving in the British Army as a chaplain on the Western Front, had seen a grave marked by a rough cross, which bore the pencil-written legend 'An Unknown British Soldier'. He proposed that a similar grave should exist in Britain as a national monument. The idea received the support of the Dean of Westminster and later from King George V, responding to a wave of public support. At the same time, there was a similar undertaking in France, where the idea was debated and agreed upon in Parliament.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada

The United Kingdom and France unveiled their monuments on Armistice Day, 1920. In Britain, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was created at Westminster Abbey, while in France La tombe du soldat inconnu was placed in the Arc de Triomphe.

The idea of a symbolic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier spread rapidly to other countries. In 1921, the following year, such tombs were unveiled in the United States, Portugal and Italy. Since then, many other nations have followed the practice and installed their own tombs.

In the United States, further tombs have subsequently been created in order to represent different wars seen as key in its history. In Ukraine, a second tomb was unveiled to commemorate The Unknown Sailor. The United States Army has 9 unknown Medal of Honor recipients. The tombs typically contain the remains of a dead soldier who is unidentified (or "known but to God" as the stone is sometimes inscribed) and thought to be impossible ever to identify, so that he might serve as a symbol for all of the unknown dead wherever they fell.

 

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_the_Unknown_Soldier

 

 

 

Unknown Soldier Identified

On Memorial Day (which honors U.S. service people who died in action) in 1958, two more unidentified American war dead, one from World War II and the other from the Korean War, were buried next the unknown soldier of World War I. 

A law was passed in 1973 providing interment of an unknown American from the Vietnam War, but because of the improved technology to identify the dead, it was not until 1984 that an unidentified soldier was buried in the tomb.

In 1998, however, the Vietnam soldier was identified through DNA tests as Michael Blassie, a 24-year-old Air Force pilot who was shot down in May of 1972 near the Cambodian border. His body was disinterred and reburied by his family in St. Louis, Missouri.

 

 

Truth: Walt Whitman

 

Walt Whitman
 
American Poet
(1819-1892)

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown.” (Preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass)

  

Additional Quotes by Walt Whitman

  • "A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books."
  • "After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains."
  • "And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud." "And your very flesh shall be a great poem."
  • "Be curious, not judgmental." "Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself."
  • "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."
  • "Every moment of light and dark is a miracle."
  • "Have you heard that it was good to gain the day? I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won."
  • "Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?"
  • "Henceforth I ask not good fortune. I myself am good fortune."
  • "I accept reality and dare not question it."
  • "I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best."
  • "I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars."
  • "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 celebrate myself, and sing myself."
  • "I celebrate myself, and what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease... observing a spear of summer grass."
  • "I dote on myself, there is that lot of me and all so luscious."
  • "I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones."
  • "I have learned that to be with those I like is enough."
  • "I heard what was said of the universe, heard it and heard it of several thousand years; it is middling well as far as it goes - but is that all?"
  • "I no doubt deserved my enemies, but I don't believe I deserved my friends."
  • "I say that democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil, until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, poems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past, under opposite influences."
  • "I say to mankind, Be not curious about God. For I, who am curious about each, am not curious about God - I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least."
  • "I see great things in baseball. It's our game - the American game."
  • "If any thing is sacred, the human body is sacred."
  • "If you done it, it ain't bragging."
  • "Judging from the main portions of the history of the world, so far, justice is always in jeopardy."
  • "Let that which stood in front go behind, let that which was behind advance to the front, let bigots, fools, unclean persons, offer new propositions, let the old propositions be postponed."
  • "Nothing can happen more beautiful than death."
  • "Nothing endures but personal qualities."
  • "Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth."
  • "O lands! O all so dear to me - what you are, I become part of that, whatever it is."
  • "O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you, you express me better than I can express myself."
  • "O the joy of the strong-brawn'd fighter, towering in the arena in perfect condition, conscious of power, thirsting to meet his opponent."
  • "Oh while I live, to be the ruler of life, not a slave, to meet life as a powerful conqueror, and nothing exterior to me will ever take command of me."
  • "Other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but we have it in the bulk of our people."
  • "Press close bare-bosomed night - press close magnetic nourishing night! Night of south winds! night of the large few stars! Still nodding night! mad naked summer night."
  • "Produce great men, the rest follows." "Re-examine all that you have been told... dismiss that which insults your soul."
  • "Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle."
  • "Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to measure itself, it provokes me forever, it says sarcastically, Walt you contain enough, why don't you let it out then?"
  • "The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity."
  • "The beautiful uncut hair of graves."
  • "The beauty of independence, departure, actions that rely on themselves."
  • "The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul."
  • "The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book."
  • "The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors, but always most in the common people."
  •  "The great city is that which has the greatest man or woman: if it be a few ragged huts, it is still the greatest city in the whole world."
  • "The shallow consider liberty a release from all law, from every constraint. The wise man sees in it, on the contrary, the potent Law of Laws."
  • "The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem."
  • "The whole theory of the universe is directed unerringly to one single individual."
  • "The words of my book nothing, the drift of it everything."
  • "There is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheeled universe."
  • "There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country, if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance."
  • "There is that indescribable freshness and unconsciousness about an illiterate person that humbles and mocks the power of the noblest expressive genius."
  • "To have great poets, there must be great audiences."
  • "To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle."
  • "To the real artist in humanity, what are called bad manners are often the most picturesque and significant of all."
  • "We convince by our presence."
  • "Whatever satisfies the soul is truth."
  • "When I give, I give myself."
  • "Wisdom is not finally tested in the schools, Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it to another not having it. Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof."

 

 Biography

“I had pinned this credo of Walt Whitman to my studio wall many years ago because it represented to me the essential democratic impulse, something I liked to keep in mind while painting. Overwhelmed by anger at the attitude and manner that our government adopted after 9/11, I wanted to honor Whitman's words by painting his portrait. It was an effort to invoke his ghost in order to define to myself what was honest, humane and necessary for the survival of us all. It was an effort to define America's heart in terms of compassion, not aggression. Whitman was the first portrait” (Robert Shetterly).

Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island (near Huntington), New York, and moved to Brooklyn four years later. This self-described “mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself” (Song of Myself) knew a variety of occupations during his formative years: drifter, printer, teacher, reporter, editor, novelist. The celebrated “melting pot” of New York during the turbulent 1840's provided him an education in diversity and democratic values. When he was 36 he published Leaves of Grass, consisting of 12 long, untitled poems, which he revised and expanded throughout his life. During the Civil War he helped to nurse and comfort the wounded. His elegy for Abraham Lincoln, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, is but one of several enduring masterpieces. Whitman died in Camden, New Jersey in 1892.

No subject was off limits to Whitman. He celebrated the body and all its functions as exuberantly as he did the spirit, and his human subjects were not the lofty beings of myth and romance but flesh-and-blood men and women of the humblest kind. He also broke the formal constraints of poetry in his time by writing in unrhymed, unmetrical verse. Ralph Waldo Emerson acknowledged Whitman's new poetic voice as “the most wonderful gift…the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.”

 

 

Martín Espada

Called “the Latino poet of his generation” and “the Pablo Neruda of North American authors,” Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published seventeen books in all as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. Two more books are forthcoming: The Trouble Ball (Norton, 2011), a collection of poems, and The Lover of a Subversive is Also a Subversive (Michigan, 2010), a collection of essays. The Republic of Poetry, a collection of poems published by Norton in 2006, received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Another collection, Imagine the Angels of Bread (Norton, 1996), won an American Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Other books of poetry include Crucifixion in the Plaza de Armas (Smokestack, 2008), Alabanza: New and Selected Poems (Norton, 2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (Norton, 2000), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (Norton, 1993), and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (Curbstone, 1990). He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Robert Creeley Award, the Charity Randall Citation, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, the Premio Fronterizo, two NEA Fellowships, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. His poems have appeared in the The New YorkerThe New York Times Book Review, Harper’s, The Nation and The Best American Poetry.  He has also published a collection of essays ,Zapata’s Disciple (South End, 1998); edited two anthologies, Poetry Like Bread: Poets of the Political Imagination from Curbstone Press (Curbstone, 1994) and El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry (University of Massachusetts, 1997); and released an audiobook of poetry called Now the Dead will Dance the Mambo (Leapfrog, 2004). His work has been translated into ten languages; collections of poems have recently been published in Spain, Puerto Rico and Chile. A former tenant lawyer, Espada is now a professor in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he teaches creative writing and the work of Pablo Neruda.

 

Poetry

My Name is Espada
 
Espada: the word for sword in Spain
wrought by fire and the hammer's chime,
name for the warrior reeling helmut-hooded
through the pandemonium of horses in mud,
or the face dreaming on a sarcophagus,
hands folded across the hilt of stone.
  
Espada: sword in el Caribe,
rapier tested sharp across the bellies of indios, steel tongue
lapping blood like a mastiff gorged on a runaway slave,
god gleaming brighter than the god nailed to the cross,
forged at the anvil with chains by the millions
tangled and red as the entrails of demons.
 
Espada: baptizing Taíno or Congolese,
name they stuttered in the barking language
of priests and overseers, slave's finger pressed to the blade
with the pulsing revelation that a Spaniard's throat
could seep blood like a fingertip, sabers for the uprising
smuggled in the hay, slave of the upraised saber
beheaded even as the servants and fieldhands
murmured he is not dead, he rides a white horse at night,
his sword is a torch, the master cannot sleep,
there is a dagger under the pillow.
  
Espada: cousin to the machete, peasant cutlass
splitting the cane like a peasant's backbone,
cousin to the kitchen knife skinning a plátano.
Swords at rest, the machetero or cook
studied their blisters as if planets
to glimpse the hands of their father the horseman,
map the hands of their mother the serf.
 
Espada: sword in Puerto Rico, family name of bricklayers
who swore their trowels fell as leaves from iron trees;
teachers who wrote poems in galloping calligraphy;
saintcarvers who whittled a slave's gaze and a conqueror's beard;
shoemaker spitting tuberculosis, madwoman
dangling a lantern to listen for the cough;
gambler in a straw hat inhabited by mathematical angels;
preacher who first heard the savior's voice
bleeding through the plaster of the jailhouse;
dreadlocked sculptor stunned by visions of birds,
sprouting wings from his forehead, earthen wings in the fire.
 
So the face dreaming on a sarcophagus,
the slave of the saber riding a white horse by night
breathe my name, tell me to taste my name: Espada.
 
from A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen

General Pinochet at the Bookstore

                        Santiago, Chile, July 2004

 

The general's limo parked at the corner of San Diego street
and his bodyguards escorted him to the bookstore
called La Oportunidad, so he could browse
for rare works of history.
 
There were no bloody fingerprints left on the pages.
No books turned to ash at his touch.
He did not track the soil of mass graves on his shoes,
nor did his eyes glow red with a demon's heat.
 
Worse: His hands were scrubbed, and his eyes were blue,
and the dementia that raged in his head like a demon,
making the general's trial impossible, had disappeared.
 
Desaparecido: like thousands dead but not dead,
as the crowd reminded the general,
gathered outside the bookstore to jeer
when he scurried away with his bodyguards,
so much smaller in person.
 
  

from The Republic of Poetry



 
The Republic of Poetry
                   For Chile
 
In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic,
shaking every hand.
 
In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens  in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.
 
In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.
 
In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.
 
In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.
 

from The Republic of Poetry

  



A Reading and Talk

Martín Espada
University of Washington, May 29, 2007
 
First of all, thank you to everyone involved in the Reed/Osheroff lecture. I am honored to be here.
 
Tonight I will be reading my work, but also the work of others. These are poems that reflect on specific political struggles, particularly the Spanish Civil War, but also on the nature of political commitment in general.
 
The title of my reading and talk is indeed “The Poetry of the Good Fight.”  This title has a double meaning. “The Poetry of the Good Fight” refers to the poems and poets that emerge from political struggle, but it also refers to the ways in which political activism makes life poetic. There are politics in the poetry; there is also poetry in the politics.
 
Let’s begin with the second meaning: life as a poem. Walt Whitman said it best, in his preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass:
 
“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all that you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…”
 
Whitman loved to give advice. It’s good advice, though, and the essence of his advice is this: live by the principle of compassion, be an activist, and “your very flesh shall be a great poem.” You are your own greatest creation; your very life can be poetry. This is not an aesthetic statement; it is a political statement. No one better embodies these words of Whitman than my friend and compañero, Abe Osheroff. More about him later.
 
Poets have always embraced and articulated what I would call a “culture of conscience.” Edna St. Vincent Millay, best known for her love poetry, was in fact a political activist who spoke out on everything from the Sacco and Vanzetti case to the Spanish Civil War.
Here is her poem,

Consciousness Objector
 
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; I hear the clatter
     on the barn floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans,
     many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he cinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: I will not give him a leg up.
 
Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell
     him which the way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where the black
     boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on
     his pay-roll….
 
I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me shall you be overcome.
 
That poem was published in 1931. By 1936, the poets of the world had turned their attention to the Spanish Civil War. Foremost among them was Pablo Neruda.
 
Neruda was appointed as Chilean consul to Spain in 1934. He organized the community of poets in Madrid. His house, La Casa de las Flores (the House of the Flowers) became a gathering place. His closest friend was Federico García Lorca. He was also close to Rafael Alberti; Miguel Hernández, the poet-shepherd from Orihuela, was his protégé. Neruda became the editor of Caballo verde para la poesía (or Green Horse for Poetry). Others wanted a more political stance. Alberti demanded to know: "Why not a Red Horse?" Neruda responded that he was not political--just a diplomat. That was about to change.
 
In July 1936, General Francisco Franco led an army uprising from Morocco into Spain, aiming to overthrow the democratically elected Republican government and triggering the Spanish Civil War. Neruda knew something was wrong when Lorca went missing a month later. In his memoirs, Neruda recalled that he and Lorca had plans to attend a professional wrestling match in Madrid, to watch "the Abyssinian Strangler, the Masked Troglodyte, and the Sinister Orangutan,” but Lorca did not show up. As Neruda put it: "He had an appointment with another strangler. “ Neruda soon found out about the killing of his friend by a fascist firing squad outside Granada. Neruda’s house was bombed; other friends were killed, imprisoned or exiled.
 
Neruda announced, "the world has changed and my poetry has changed." He underwent a total artistic and political transformation.España en el corazón (Spain in the Heart) was unlike anything he had ever written. The book was published simultaneously in Spain and Chile in 1938.  Neruda recalls the birth of the Spanish edition in his memoirs: The book was printed at a monastery in Catalonia, since the monks had a printing press. The paper was manufactured at an abandoned paper mill, from rags, bandages, an enemy flag, and a Moorish tunic. The book was set in type and printed by soldiers of the Republican Army. No copies are known to exist; the last were apparently burned by the fascists after the war.
           
There is a landmark poem in this book called Explico algunos cosas (I Explain a Few Things), where the poet declares his conversion.  This is the translation by Donald Walsh (with a few changes):
 
I Explain a Few Things
 
You will ask: And where are the lilacs?
And the metaphysical blanket of poppies?
And the rain that often struck
your words, filling them
with holes and birds?
 
I am going to tell you all that is happening to me.
 
I lived in a quarter
of Madrid, with bells,
with clocks, with trees.
 
From there you could see
the lean face of Spain
like an ocean of leather.
 
                             My house was called
the house of flowers, because it was bursting
everywhere with geraniums: it was
a fine house
with dogs and children.
                             Raúl, do you remember?
Do you remember, Rafael?
                             Federico, do you remember
under the ground,
do you remember my house with balconies where
June light smothered the flowers in your mouth?
                             Brother, brother!
 
Everything
was great shouting, salty goods,
heaps of throbbing bread,
markets of my Argüelles quarter with its statue
like a pale inkwell among the haddock:
the olive oil reached the ladles,
a deep throbbing
of feet and hands filled the streets,
meters, liters, sharp
essence of life,
                   fish piled up,
pattern of roofs with cold sun where
the weathervane grows weary,
frenzied fine ivory of potatoes,
tomatoes, more tomatoes, all the way to the sea.
 
And one morning it was all burning,
and one morning the fires
came out of the earth
devouring people,
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
 
Bandits with airplanes and with Moors,
bandits with rings and duchesses,
bandits with black-robed friars blessing
came through the air to kill children,
and through the streets the blood of children
ran simply, like children’s blood.
 
Jackals that the jackal would spurn,
stones that the dry thistle would bite spitting,
vipers that vipers would abominate!
 
Facing you I have seen the blood
of Spain rise up
to drown you in a single wave
of pride and knives!
 
Treacherous
generals:
look at my dead house,
look at Spain broken;
but from each dead house comes burning metal
instead of flowers,
but from each hollow of Spain
Spain comes forth,
but from each dead child comes a gun with eyes,
but from each crime are born bullets
that will one day seek out in you
the site of the heart.
 
You will ask: why does your poetry
not speak to us of sleep, of the leaves,
of the great volcanoes of your native land?
 
Come and see the blood in the streets,
come and see
the blood in the streets,
come and see the blood
in the streets!
 
After the war, Neruda continued in his involvement with the Republican cause. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled from Spain in 1939, many facing imprisonment or execution. Thousands found themselves in French internment camps. Neruda helped buy a ship called the Winnipeg, and organized the evacuation of three thousand Spanish refugees from France to Chile. Neruda called the Winnipeg “my greatest poem.” Listen to the echoes of Whitman here. Neruda considered this political action more poetic than any poem he ever committed to paper.
 
Neruda’s protégé, Miguel Hernández, whom he affectionately called “potato-face,” fought on the Republican side during the war. He also read his poems at the front, and passed them out on postcards to the troops. He attempted to escape Spain after the war, but was arrested and incarcerated. Hernández died of tuberculosis in prison at the age of 32.  This is a short poem he wrote behind the walls. I’ll read it both in Spanish and English, with the translation by Donald Share:
 
Guerra
 
La vejez en los pueblos.
El corazón sin dueño.
El amor sin objeto.
La hierba, el polvo, el cuervo.
¿Y la juventud?
En el ataúd.
 
El árbol solo y seco.
La mujer como un leno
de viudez sobre el lecho.
El odio sin remedio.
¿Y la juventud?
En el ataúd.
 
 
War
 
Old age in the villages.
The heart with no master.
Love with no object.
Grass, dust, crow.
And children?
In the coffin.
 
The tree alone and dry.
Woman like a log
of widowhood lying on the bed.
Incurable hatred.
And children?
In the coffin.
 
This is the poetry of the Good Fight in both senses of the term. The poet writes from the experience of a profound political struggle; the poet makes of his life—and death—a poem.
 
César Vallejo of Perú was living in Spain when the monarchy fell and the Republic was declared in 1931. Despite poverty and illness—he wrote, “I will die in Paris on a rainy day,” and he did, in 1938—he wrote some of the most powerful poems of the Spanish Civil War. His collection, España, aparta de mí este cáliz (Spain, Take This Chalice From Me) was published posthumously in 1939. The following poem, written in Vallejo’s dreamlike, surrealist idiom, is called “Masa” or “Masses.”  The translation is my own.
 
Masses
 
After the battle,
when the fighter was dead, a man came toward him
and said: “Don’t die! I love you so much!”
But oh! The dead man just kept dying.
 
Two more approached him, repeating:
“Don’t leave us! Have courage! Come back to life!”
But oh! The dead man just kept dying.
 
Twenty, a hundred, a thousand, five hundred thousand went to him,
clamoring: “So much love, powerless against death!”
But oh! The dead man just kept dying.
 
Millions surrounded him
with a common plea: “Stay, brother!”
But oh! The dead man just kept dying.
 
Then all the people of the earth
surrounded him; the dead man looked at them sadly, overwhelmed;
sat up slowly,
embraced the first man; began to walk…
 
The common assumption, even on the left, is that such political poetry is commonplace in Latin America and virtually extinct in this country. In fact, the United States has a long traditional of political poetry, beginning with Whitman and continuing to the present day.
 
Most of the political poets who flourished in the 1930 and 40s were censored and obliterated from the collective memory by McCarthyism, which was, of course, not only a political but a cultural counter-revolution. Edwin Rolfe was one such poet. Rolfe was the best of the so-called “proletarian poets” in the 1930s;  he would come to be known as “the Poet Laureate of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” While his earlier work was well-received, Rolfe was blacklisted after the Second World War and published his collection of Spanish Civil War poems, First Love, to thunderous silence in 1951. He remained a lost poet for forty years, till his rediscovery by scholar Cary Nelson, who edited and published Rolfe’s Collected Poems in 1993.
 
Rolfe’s best-known poem, “First Love,” glances back at the Spanish Civil War from the perspective of World War II. (Rolfe was drafted into that war.) Here it is:
 
First Love
 
Again I am summoned to the eternal field
green with the blood still fresh at the root of flowers,
green through the dust-rimmed memory of faces
that moved among the trees there for the last time
before the final shock, the glazed eye, the hasty mound.
 
But why are my thoughts in another country?
Why do I always return to the sunken road through corroded hills,
with the Moorish castle’ shadow casting ruins over my shoulder
and the black-smocked girl approaching, her hands laden with grapes?
 
I am eager to enter it, eager to end it.
Perhaps this one will be the last one.
And men afterward will study our arms in museums
and nod their heads, and frown, and name the inadequate dates
and stumble with infant tongues over the strange place-names.
 
But my heart is forever captive of that other war
that taught me first the meaning of peace and of comradeship,
 
and always I think of my friend who amid the apparition of bombs
saw on the lyric lake the single perfect swan.
 
The bombs are real bombs, and the swan is a a real swan; yet this is also a metaphorical swan, representing the poet’s vision of universal justice, inseparable from his love for Spain. Rolfe uses the word “love” very deliberately. For him, being a fighter for justice, a member of the Lincoln Brigade, was an act of love, as lyrical as any romantic ideal. Here is Whitman’s “great poem” made flesh.
 
Genevieve Taggard was another radical poet of the 1930s consigned to obscurity. She left us a moving tribute to the Lincoln Brigade, originally published in the March 1941 issue of  The Volunteer for Liberty:
 
To the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
 
Say of them
They knew no Spanish
At first, and nothing of the arts of war
At first:
 how to shoot, how to attack, how to retreat
How to kill, how to meet killing
At first,
Say they kept the air blue
Grousing and griping,
Arid words and harsh faces. Say
They were young;
The haggard in a trench, the dead on the olive slope
All young. And the thin, the ill and the shattered,
Sightless, in hospitals, all young.
 
Say of them they were young, there was much they did not know,
They were human. Say it all; it is true. Now say
When the eminent, the great, the easy, the old,
And the men on the make
Were busy bickering and selling,
Betraying, conniving, transacting, splitting hairs,
Writing bad articles, signing bad papers,
Passing bad bills, 
Bribing, blackmailing,
Whimpering, meaching, garroting, -- they
Knew and acted
  understood and died.
Or if they did not die came home to peace
That is not peace. Say of them
They are no longer young, they never learned
The arts, the stealth of peace, this peace, the tricks of fear;
And what they knew, they know.
And what they dared, they dare.
 
 Fifty-seven years after Genevieve Taggard published this poem in The Volunteer for Liberty, I too published a poem in the journal of the Lincoln Brigade, now called simply The Volunteer. It was a poem about Abe Osheroff.
 
I met Abe in the spring of 1998, when he spoke at Mount Holyoke College in conjunction with the “Shouts From the Wall” traveling exhibit of Spanish Civil War posters. There I heard him tell the story of how he arrived in Spain to join the Good Fight.
 
The Carpenter Swam to Spain
          for Abe Osheroff and the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade
 
The ship hushed the waves to sleep at midnight:
Ciudad de Barcelona, Ciudad de Barcelona.
 
In the name of the aristocrat strolling through his garden
Franco's tanks crawled like a plague of smoldering beetles;
in the name of the bishop and his cathedrals
the firing squads sang a stuttering mass with smoke in their throats;
in the name of the exiled king and blueshirts on the march
bombers with swastika fins sowed an inferno
in village marketplaces and the ribs of the dead.
At Guernica an ancient woman in black stumbled
across a corpse and clawed her hair;
at Víznar, where the spring bubbles, a poet in white shoes
coughed the bullets' blood onto his white shirt,
gypsy sobbing in the cave of his mouth.
 
Ciudad de Barcelona: The ship plowed the ocean,
and the ocean was a wheatfield thinking of bread.
And the faces at the portholes thinking: Spain.
 
In España, the carpenters and miners kneeled with rifles
behind a barricade of killed horses,
the peasant boys cradled grenades like pomegranates
to fling against the plague of tanks, the hive of helmets.
Elsewhere on the earth, thousands more laid hammers
in toolboxes, holstered drills, promised letters home,
and crowded onto ships for Spain:
volunteers for the Republic, congregation of berets,
fedoras and fist-salutes for the camera, cigarettes and union songs.
The handle of the hammer became the stock of the rifle.
 
The ship called Ciudad de Barcelona steamed
across the thumping tide, hull bearded with foam,
the body of Spain slumbering on the horizon.
                                               
Another carpenter read the newspapers
by the tunnel-light of the subway in Brooklyn.
Abe Osheroff sailed for Spain. Because Franco's mustache
was stiff as a paintbrush with his cousins' blood;
because Hitler's iron maw would be a bulldozer,
heaving a downpour of cadavers into common graves.
 
The ship of volunteers was Ciudad de Barcelona,
Abe the carpenter among them, and for them
the word Barcelona tingled like the aftertaste of a kiss.
Two miles from shore, they saw the prop plane hover
as if a spectre from the last war,
the pilot's hand jab untranslated warning.
Then the thud, a heart kicking in spasm,
the breastbone of the ship punctured
by a torpedo from Mussolini's submarine.
In seven minutes, the ship called Ciudad de Barcelona
tilted and slid into the gushing sea,
at every porthole a face trapped,
mouth round and silent like the porthole.
 
Eighty mouths round in the high note of silence.
Schultz, captain of the Brooklyn College swim team,
pinned below deck and drowned,
his champion's breaststroke flailing.
Other hands that could swim burst through the wave-walls
and reached for the hands that could not. The boats
of a fishing village crystallized from the foam,
a fleet of saints with salt glistening in their beards,
blankets and rum on the shore.
 
Abe swam two miles to Spain,
made trowels of his hands
to cleave the thickening water.
His fingers learned the rifle's trigger
as they knew the hammer's claw.
At Fuentes de Ebro, armageddon
babbled and wailed above the trenches;
when he bled there, an ocean of shipwreck
surged through his body. Today, his white beard
is a garland of clouds and sea-foam,
and he remembers Schultz, the swimmer.
 
Now, for Abe, I tap these words
like a telegraph operator
with news of survivors:
Ciudad de Barcelona, Ciudad de Barcelona.
 
Anyone who would swim two miles to shore from a torpedoed ship so he could fight against fascism in Spain has lived a life more poetic than the most lyrical poem.  Whitman said it:  “your very flesh shall be a great poem… in every motion and joint of your body…” The poet could have been describing this moment in 1937, or this life after seven decades of activism.

 

 
Abe Osheroff dates his political activism back to 1930, with the anti-eviction movement in the Brooklyn of his youth. He became part of a radical tradition that flourished in the twentieth-  century: socialist, communist, anarchist, reds all. This next poem pays homage to that tradition. It refers to Sacco and Vanzetti, the fight for the independence of Puerto Rico, the Spanish Civil War, and Wobbly labor organizers, insisting on remembrance. It’s called “All the People Who are Now Red Trees.”
 
All the People Who are Now Red Trees
 
When I see the red maple,
I think of a shoemaker
and a fish peddler
red as the leaves,
electrocuted by the state
of Massachusetts.
 
When I see the red maple,
I think of flamboyán's red flower,
two poets like flamboyán
chained at the wrist
for visions of San Juan Bay
without Navy gunboats.
 
When I see the flamboyán,
I think of my grandmother
and her name, Catalán for red,
a war in Spain
and nameless laborers
marching with broken rifles.
 
When I see my grandmother
and her name, Catalán for red,
I think of union organizers
in graves without headstones,
feeding the roots
of red trees.
 
When I stand on a mountain
I can see the red trees of a century,
I think red leaves are the hands
of condemned anarchists, red flowers
the eyes and mouths of poets in chains,
red wreaths in the treetops to remember,
 
I see them raising branches
like broken rifles, all the people
who are now red trees.
 
Abe Osheroff’s commitment to the Good Fight did not end with the Spanish Civil War. There were other Good Fights. Abe had a hand in the civil rights movement, using his skills as a carpenter to build housing for the Black community during Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964. His car was firebombed by the Klan. Abe kept on hammering.
 
In 1949, my father, Frank Espada, was stationed at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. He took a Trailways bus through the South on his way home to New York, where he would spend Christmas furlough with his family. The bus stopped in Biloxi, Mississippi, and there, in December 1949, my father was arrested for not going to the back of the bus. He was sentenced to a week in jail, and figured out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Like Abe, he joined the civil rights movement.
 
The next poem tells that story. It’s the story of all the anonymous, unsung activists of the civil rights movement---jailed, beaten, fired, even killed—who are never mentioned by name in the newspapers or the history books.  Ultimately, this is a poem against historical amnesia.
 
Sleeping on the Bus
 
How we drift in the twilight of bus stations,
how we shrink in overcoats as we sit,
how we wait for the loudspeaker
to tell us when the bus is leaving,
how we bang on soda machines
for lost silver, how bewildered we are
at the vision of our own faces
in white-lit bathroom mirrors.
 
How we forget the bus stations of Alabama,
Birmingham to Montgomery,
how the Freedom Riders were abandoned
to the beckoning mob, how afterwards
their faces were tender and lopsided as spoiled fruit,
fingers searching the mouth for lost teeth,
and how the riders, descendants
of Africa and Europe both, kept riding
even as the mob with pleading hands wept fiercely
for the ancient laws of segregation.
 
How we forget Biloxi, Mississippi, a decade before,
where no witnesses spoke to cameras,
how a brown man in military uniform
was pulled from the bus by police
when he sneered at the custom of the back seat,
how the magistrate proclaimed a week in jail
and went back to bed with a shot of whiskey,
how the brownskinned soldier could not sleep
as he listened for the prowling of his jailers,
the muttering and cardplaying of the hangmen
they might become.
His name is not in the index;
he did not tell his family for years.
How he told me, and still I forget.
 
How we doze upright on buses,
how the night overtakes us
in the babble of headphones,
how the singing and clapping
of another generation
fade like distant radio
as we ride, forehead
heavy on the window,
how we sleep, how we sleep.
 
I belong to the next generation of activists. I was born in the East New York section of Brooklyn in 1957, not far from Abe’s old neighborhood,.  By 1964, at the age of seven, I had become aware of my father’s political activism. It began when he disappeared. This poem is called, “The Sign in My Father’s Hands.”
 
The Sign in My Father’s Hands
for Frank Espada
 
The beer company
did not hire Blacks or Puerto Ricans,
so my father joined the picket line
at the Schaefer Beer Pavilion, New York World's Fair,
amid the crowds glaring with canine hostility.
But the cops brandished nightsticks
and handcuffs to protect the beer,
and my father disappeared.
 
In 1964, I had never tasted beer,
and no one told me about the picket signs
torn in two by the cops of brewery.
I knew what dead was: dead was a cat
overrun with parasites and dumped
in the hallway incinerator.
I knew my father was dead.
I went mute and filmy-eyed, the slow boy
who did not hear the question in school.
I sat studying his framed photograph
like a mirror, my darker face.
 
Days later, he appeared in the doorway
grinning with his gilded tooth.
Not dead, though I would come to learn
that sometimes Puerto Ricans die
in jail, with bruises no one can explain
swelling their eyes shut.
I would learn too that "boycott"
is not a boy's haircut,
that I could sketch a picket line
on the blank side of a leaflet.                                           
 
That day my father returned
from the netherworld
easily as riding the elevator to apartment 14F,
and the brewery cops could only watch
in drunken disappointment.
I searched my father's hands
for a sign of the miracle.
 
I grew up in a working-class activist household, with an ethos of resistance all around me. I also grew up in a household where art was inseparable from politics. My father, who worked as a draftsman for an electric contracting company when I was born, was also a photographer. He documented the conditions of the community, and went on to create the Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project, a photo-documentary and oral history of the Puerto Rican migration.
 
The proverbial torch had been passed. By 1982, I found myself in revolutionary Nicaragua, producing radio documentaries for WORT-FM back in Madison, Wisconsin. I ended up digging latrines. (A revolution is labor, after all.) Not by coincidence, three years later Abe Osheroff visited Nicaragua to build cooperative housing in that country.
 
I wrote the following poem:
 
The Meaning of the Shovel
                   Barrio René Cisneros
                   Managua, Nicaragua, June-July 1982
 
This was the dictator's land
before the revolution.
Now the dictator is exiled to necropolis,
his army brooding in camps on the border,
and the congregation of the landless
stipples the earth with a thousand shacks,
every weatherbeaten carpenter
planting a fistful of nails.
 
Here I dig latrines. I dig because last week
I saw a funeral in the streets of Managua,
the coffin swaddled in a red and black flag,
hoisted by a procession so silent
that even their feet seemed
to leave no sound on the gravel.
He was eighteen, with the border patrol,
when a sharpshooter from the dictator's army
took aim at the back of his head.
 
I dig because yesterday
I saw four walls of photographs:
the faces of volunteers
in high school uniforms
who taught campesinos to read,
bringing an alphabet
sandwiched in notebooks
to places where the mist never rises
from the trees. All dead,
by malaria or the greedy river
or the dictator's army
swarming the illiterate villages
like a sky full of corn-plundering birds.
 
I dig because today, in this barrio
without plumbing, I saw a woman
wearing a yellow dress
climb into a barrel of water
to wash herself and the dress
at the same time,
her cupped hands spilling.
 
I dig because today I stopped digging
to drink an orange soda. In a country
with no glass, the boy kept the treasured bottle
and poured the liquid into a plastic bag
full of ice, then poked a hole with a straw.
 
I dig because today my shovel
struck a clay bowl centuries old,
the art of ancient fingers
moist with this same earth,
perfect but for one crack in the lip.
 
I dig because I have hauled garbage
and pumped gas and cut paper
and sold encyclopedias door to door.
I dig, digging until the passport
in my back pocket saturates with dirt,
because here I work for nothing
and for everything.
 
In the documentary film about the Lincoln Brigade called “The Good Fight,” Abe Osheroff, with characteristic honesty, wonders aloud if the fight can ever be won.  “We fought the Good Fight,” he says. “And we lost.”
 
I have also heard him say that we do not fight the Good Fight because we know the fight will be won. We fight the Good Fight because it is the right thing to do, because our lives will be immeasurably richer for it.
 
The same holds true for the poetry of the Good Fight. We write these poems because we must, regardless of consequences. We are driven to create a record of human suffering—and resistance to suffering--without the luxury of measuring our impact on the world, which cannot be weighed, measured or otherwise quantified. We do not write such poems because we necessarily believe that our side will win, and that conditions will change; we write them because there is an ethical compulsion to do so.  Whitman, again, said it: “I am the man, I suffered, I was there.”
 
This final poem is about the Good Fight in its broadest sense.  It is a poem of the political imagination, an essential element of political action, and tonight I dedicate it to my friend and compañero, Abe Osheroff:
 
Imagine the Angels of Bread
                                     
This is the year that squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands in praise
of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.
 
This is the year that those
who swim the border's undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;
this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.
                                                                            
If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.
 
So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.
 

 

Walt Whitman

Peace is always beautiful.

 

Born on May 31, 1819, Walt Whitman was the second son of Walter Whitman, a housebuilder, and Louisa Van Velsor. The family, which consisted of nine children, lived in Brooklyn and Long Island in the 1820s and 1830s.

At the age of twelve, Whitman began to learn the printer's trade, and fell in love with the written word. Largely self-taught, he read voraciously, becoming acquainted with the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and the Bible.

Whitman worked as a printer in New York City until a devastating fire in the printing district demolished the industry. In 1836, at the age of 17, he began his career as teacher in the one-room school houses of Long Island. He continued to teach until 1841, when he turned to journalism as a full-time career.

He founded a weekly newspaper, Long-Islander, and later edited a number of Brooklyn and New York papers. In 1848, Whitman left the Brooklyn Daily Eagle to become editor of the New Orleans Crescent. It was in New Orleans that he experienced at first hand the viciousness of slavery in the slave markets of that city. On his return to Brooklyn in the fall of 1848, he founded a "free soil" newspaper, the Brooklyn Freeman, and continued to develop the unique style of poetry that later so astonished Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In 1855, Whitman took out a copyright on the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which consisted of twelve untitled poems and a preface. He published the volume himself, and sent a copy to Emerson in July of 1855. Whitman released a second edition of the book in 1856, containing thirty-three poems, a letter from Emerson praising the first edition, and a long open letter by Whitman in response. During his subsequent career, Whitman continued to refine the volume, publishing several more editions of the book.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Whitman vowed to live a "purged" and "cleansed" life. He wrote freelance journalism and visited the wounded at New York-area hospitals. He then traveled to Washington, D.C. in December 1862 to care for his brother who had been wounded in the war.

Overcome by the suffering of the many wounded in Washington, Whitman decided to stay and work in the hospitals and stayed in the city for eleven years. He took a job as a clerk for the Department of the Interior, which ended when the Secretary of the Interior, James Harlan, discovered that Whitman was the author of Leaves of Grass, which Harlan found offensive. Harlan fired the poet.

Whitman struggled to support himself through most of his life. In Washington, he lived on a clerk's salary and modest royalties, and spent any excess money, including gifts from friends, to buy supplies for the patients he nursed. He had also been sending money to his widowed mother and an invalid brother. From time to time writers both in the states and in England sent him "purses" of money so that he could get by.

In the early 1870s, Whitman settled in Camden, NJ, where he had come to visit his dying mother at his brother's house. However, after suffering a stroke, Whitman found it impossible to return to Washington. He stayed with his brother until the 1882 publication of Leaves of Grass gave Whitman enough money to buy a home in Camden.

In the simple two-story clapboard house, Whitman spent his declining years working on additions and revisions to a new edition of the book and preparing his final volume of poems and prose, Good-Bye, My Fancy (1891). After his death on March 26, 1892, Whitman was buried in a tomb he designed and had built on a lot in Harleigh Cemetery.

Source: Poets.org; http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/126

 

Wax recoding of Whitman reading from his poem America

 

Quotes by Walt Whitman

  • Be curious, not judgmental.
  • Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, When I give I give myself.
  • Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
  • Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.
  • Freedom - to walk free and own no superior.
  • Have you heard that it was good to gain the day? I also say it is good to fall, battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.
  • Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?
  • Henceforth I ask not good fortune. I myself am good fortune.
  • I celebrate myself, and sing myself.
  • I may be as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best.
  • Judging from the main portions of the history of the world, so far, justice is always in jeopardy.
  • Let that which stood in front go behind, let that which was behind advance to the front, let bigots, fools, unclean persons, offer new propositions, let the old propositions be postponed.
  • Produce great men, the rest follows.

 

Walt Whitman's Peace Poems

Look Down Fair Moon

Look down fair moon and
    bathe this scene,
Pour softly down night's
    nimbus floods on
    faces ghastly,
    swollen, purple,
On the dead on their
    backs with arms
    toss'd wide,
Pour down your unstinted
    nimbus sacred moon.


Reconciliation


Word over all, beautiful as the sky,
Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost,
That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again
    and ever again, this soiled world;
For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is dead,
I look where he lies white-faced and still in the coffin— I draw near,
Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white face in the coffin.


Spirit Whose Work is Done

Spirit whose work is done! spirit of dreadful hours!
Ere, departing, fade from my eyes your forests of bayonets;
Spirit of gloomiest fears and doubts, (yet onward ever unfaltering pressing;)
Spirit of many a solemn day, and many a savage scene! Electric spirit!
That with muttering voice, through the war now closed, like a tireless phantom flitted,
Rousing the land with breath of flame, while you beat and beat the drum;
—Now, as the sound of the drum, hollow and harsh to the last, reverberates round me;
As your ranks, your immortal ranks, return, return from the battles;
While the muskets of the young men yet lean over their shoulders;
While I look on the bayonets bristling over their shoulders;
While those slanted bayonets, whole forests of them, appearing in the distance,
    approach and pass on, returning homeward,
Moving with steady motion, swaying to and fro, to the right and left,
Evenly, lightly rising and falling, as the steps keep time;
—Spirit of hours I knew, all hectic red one day, but pale as death next day;
Touch my mouth, ere you depart— press my lips close!
Leave me your pulses of rage! bequeath them to me! fill me with currents convulsive!
Let them scorch and blister out of my chants, when you are gone;
Let them identify you to the future, in these songs.


Sun of Real Peace


O Sun of real peace! O hastening light!
O free and extatic! O what I here, preparing, warble for!
O the sun of the world will ascend, dazzling, and take his height—
and you too, O my Ideal, will surely ascend!
O so amazing and broad— up there resplendent, darting and burning!
O vision prophetic, stagger'd with weight of light! with pouring glories!
O lips of my soul, already becoming powerless!
O ample and grand Presidentiads! Now the war, the war is over!
New history! new heroes! I project you!
Visions of poets! only you really last! sweep on! sweep on!
O heights too swift and dizzy yet!
O purged and luminous! you threaten me more than I can stand!
(I must not venture— the ground under my feet menaces me—
it will not support me: O future too immense,)—
O present, I return, while yet I may, to you.


 

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