Monday, July 30, 2012

Uncle Walt

I read a lot. There are a lot of books, poems, and other combinations of letters and punctuation that I like and love. But there are a chosen few that I hold sacred to me, words that have actually become a part of who I am. "Song of the Open Road" found within the pages of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman is one of these few, so much so that I almost always, and sometimes embarrassingly so, refer to Mr. Whitman as Uncle Walt. A wise, and yes sometimes even a little eccentric, uncle spewing forth bits of wisdom mixed in with adventure.

Full text of the poem can be found here.  Uncle Walt was revising Leaves of Grass until shortly before he died, so some versions may be a little different. Below are some of the passages that you might hear me softly repeating to myself in darken subway stations,  humidity steamed streets and smooth sandy beaches alike: 
AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and woman, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.)


From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,  
Listening to others, and considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space;
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.  
I am larger, better than I thought;
I did not know I held so much goodness.


Listen! I will be honest with you;
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes;
These are the days that must happen to you

Of the progress of the souls of men and women along the grand roads of the universe, all other progress is the needed emblem and sustenance.
Forever alive, forever forward,
Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied,
Desperate, proud, fond, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go;
But I know that they go toward the best—toward something great.

 The bolded line, "These are the days that must happen to you," has become a battle cry for me. The belief, the survival mechanism, the peace of mind, that everything we go through, the good and the bad, is preparing us for the good and bad of the future.  No scraped knee or ridiculously goofy smile is a waste. To become the people that we are capable of becoming we must go through these days;  the painful good-byes and heartaches, the dance on the tables victories;  the lessons that can only be taught by living. 

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