Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry Friday: Barley-Corn Thoughts

Walt Whitman - "This is the city and I am one of the citizens...."
Three weeks before an important election, and I have been thinking about participatory democracy, and about how far removed poetry feels from politics. But partly due to a recent trip to New York City (which is a poem  - a multitude of poems - in itself)  I've also been thinking about the most democratic of poets, Walt Whitman - how he embraced life, embraced people, valued them, refused to assign them "high" or "low" status, simply breathed the multitude in. And that man could BREATHE. I wonder what he would think of America in 2012?Would he have been saddened by the devisiveness? Of course, he lived through the Civil War, so he knew a bit about intransigence and combativeness. Just look at the young man in the picture above, and the Walt Whitman of later years. He still seems to have the ability, with that face, to pull you toward him. He still held multitudes. 

If you last read Whitman when you were a student in high school, read "A Song of Myself" again before you vote.

"...for every atom belonging to me, as well belongs to you...''

"In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less...

"I am large, I contain multitudes."

I'll be thinking about these words - about our deep connection to all people - "none more and not one a barley-corn less" than me -  when I cast my ballot in a few weeks.
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Irene Latham today over at her blog, Live Your Poem. Head over there to see what other people are posting.


  1. Oh, Walt... I do wonder what he would think of today's world. I bet he would find poetry in it, despite and because of the issues this generation faces. Thank you for reminding me of his work!

  2. I haven't read any Waly Whitman for quite a while and you're right - I should. Yes, these are an interesting few weeks coming up for the US...

  3. Ah, Mr. Whitman, I've missed you. Getting out my Leaves of Grass and hoping for the best.

  4. We have a street art mural with that quote "I am large, I contain multitudes". See it here:

    I love the combination of painting and quote.

  5. I'm sure you're right, Irene - Walt would find poetry any time and anywhere. My friends and I read his "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" while we rode the ferry boat through the San Juan Islands, and it felt like he was right there with us, a modern man in a modern world.

    Andromeda, I love to see poetry in public places. We need more of that!

    And Marjorie and Renee - yes, we live in interesting times. I feel like holding my breath until after the election, I'm getting so wound up about it. (A little voice says, "Breathe, Julie..." Maybe it's Mr. Whitman.)

  6. Julie, I'm finding it hard to breathe, too. And I find myself avoiding the public places (FB, TV, news, etc) where the divisiveness is most blatant. I have my head a little bit in the sand, I know. But I have done my part. I voted early. Now I'm holding my breath.

  7. the idea of reading whitman's poems in the locales they describe reminds me of when i movrd to new england a few years back and decided i ought to re-read "walden." i hadn't read it since high school, if ever completely, and about half way through i decided i had to go to the place itself. perspective shifted, and the writing became immediate and vivid.

    i know it isn't possible in all circumstances, but there's so much to be gained from both revisiting classics you *think* you know from reading in your youth and from re-reading them in, at, or near their inspiration. the only other similar experience was seeing a tennessee williams play in new orleans... the mood, the voices, the whole experience opened up, no different than hearing jazz at preservation hall sounds that much more authentic.

    and we were talking about music, weren't we? singing the body electric and all?

  8. Absolutely true, David. I re-read Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday in the Monterey/Salinas countryside, smelling the fields (dirt, onions, garlic) and the sea (salt air and creosoted pilings and dead fish) and it was like Steinbeck perfume! Filled me up. Ditto 100 Years of Solitude in Mexico, though it should actually be Colombia - still, Garcia Marquez's Macondo is a lot like the small town my husband's grandparents lived in down in Jalisco. I've always wished I could go to Cape Breton and read an Alistair MacLeod story there.

    Mary Lee, we just got our voter's pamphlets today in Washington. I hope it helps to send the marked ballot in!