It’s always been hard for me to describe Walt Whitman to someone who’s never read him. I think he’s different things to different people, and he most certainly contains (as per his own description) multitudes. So, instead of hamfistedly trying to explain what he’s meant to me, perhaps it’s safest to go by the man’s own description and let you get on with it:
“Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos, disorderly, fleshly, and sensual, no sentimentalist, no stander above men or women or apart from them, no more modest than immodest”
1. “The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; Be not discouraged – keep on – there are divine things, well envelop’d; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.”
2. “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?”
3. “Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”
4. “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.”
5. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large — I contain multitudes.”
6. “Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
7. “Some people are so much sunshine to the square inch.”
8. “Either define the moment or the moment will define you.”
9. “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road.
Healthy, free, the world before me.
The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose.
Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune.
Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”
11. “The question, O me! so sad, recurring –
What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here – that life
exists and identity,
that the powerful play goes on,
and you may contribute a verse.”
12. “As for me, I know nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under the trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with anyone I love,
Or sleep in bed at night with anyone I love,
Or watch honey bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon…
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown,
Or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring…
What stranger miracles are there?”