I have a girlfriend now, myself, which is weird, because I’m probably gay based on the way I act and behave…. I think like in heaven they build like three-quarters of a gay person, and then they forgot to flip the final switch. And they just sent me out, and it was like, “You marked that one gay, right?” and it was like, “Oh, no–was I supposed to?” and they were like, “Oh, man–well, this will be a very interesting person!”
–John Mulaney, New in Town
Mutatis mutandis (a fancy Latin phrase meaning “All appropriate changes having been made), I have sometimes thought this applies to me. Change “gay” to “ascetic” or “monk”, and it strikes me as appropriate to an extent. In heaven, someone made three-quarters of a monastic and then forgot to flip the final switch and just sent me out. I did turn out to be a very interesting person (or “eccentric as hell”–take your pick).
As regular readers know, I grew up as a non-churchgoing cultural Protestant in small-town Appalachia. The only churches I even knew existed until I was nearing my teen years were “Baptist” and “Methodist”, and I was none too sure about the differences. I remember seeing some nuns outside the Catholic hospital in the next town south from my hometown. Nuns, let alone a Catholic hospital, were anomalous there; and this random memory must be from when I was no older than six or seven (1969 or 1970), since most nuns abandoned habits by the early 70’s. In any case, aside from that one sighting, nuns–and monks–to me were mostly something you saw in Robin Hood stories or histories of the Middle Ages. I didn’t have any clear concept as to what they actually were, nor did I have more than a vague notion of what the Catholic Church was. In fact, as I grew older and learned a bit about the Middle Ages and the Reformation, I developed a mild, somewhat genteel, anti-Catholic attitude–the “I have nothing against the Church, but it’s good that the Reformation swept away all that superstitious Medieval folderol!” type. In any case, the point of all this is to note that, far from having a vocation to monastic life, I didn’t even clearly know what it was, let alone having sympathy for the church with which it is most closely associated.
That makes the following somewhat bizarre.
I’ve posted this before, back on March 28th, 2014 as part of my “Daily Whitman” series; but it’s a great poem for the Fourth of July, non-jingoistic and speaking of what makes the American project truly great. May we continue to emulate it. Enjoy, and Happy Independence Day.
I Hear America Singing
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
The above may–may–be the only existing sound recording of Walt Whitman himself. The case is complicated, and you can read about it here. Whether or not it is Walt himself, enjoy!
Yesterday I completed publishing the entire Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. It was a follow-up to my series publishing two different translations of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. Back in November of last year I bogged down on blogging and temporarily abandoned daily updates of the blog. I let the Daily Whitman series lapse, as well as the Friday music and the Sunday “Quote for the Week”. Finally, a few weeks ago, I restarted everything. I was closer to the end than I realized, and it seems like saying goodbye to an old friend to have Daily Whitman finally come to an end.
I will keep posting music on Fridays and quotes on Sundays. I have a couple of possible contenders for daily poetry to post, but I haven’t made a decision yet. I think it salutary to take a few days off and decide what I want to do, and then go from there. In the meantime, I hope all of you who may be regular, semi-regular, or sporadic readers have enjoyed the Daily Whitman, and before it, the Rubá’í of the Day series. Keep checking this space for poetry to come!
Good-Bye My Fancy
Good-bye my Fancy! Farewell dear mate, dear love! I'm going away, I know not where, Or to what fortune, or whether I may ever see you again, So Good-bye my Fancy. Now for my last—let me look back a moment; The slower fainter ticking of the clock is in me, Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping. Long have we lived, joy'd, caress'd together; Delightful!—now separation—Good-bye my Fancy. Yet let me not be too hasty, Long indeed have we lived, slept, filter'd, become really blended into one; Then if we die we die together, (yes, we'll remain one,) If we go anywhere we'll go together to meet what happens, May-be we'll be better off and blither, and learn something, May-be it is yourself now really ushering me to the true songs, (who knows?) May-be it is you the mortal knob really undoing, turning—so now finally, Good-bye—and hail! my Fancy.
Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well, Under the snow and ice, under the darkness, in every square or cubic inch, Germinal, exquisite, in delicate lace, microscopic, unborn, Like babes in wombs, latent, folded, compact, sleeping; Billions of billions, and trillions of trillions of them waiting, (On earth and in the sea—the universe—the stars there in the heavens,) Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless, And waiting ever more, forever more behind.
Grand is the Seen
Grand is the seen, the light, to me—grand are the sky and stars, Grand is the earth, and grand are lasting time and space, And grand their laws, so multiform, puzzling, evolutionary; But grander far the unseen soul of me, comprehending, endowing all those, Lighting the light, the sky and stars, delving the earth, sailing the sea, (What were all those, indeed, without thee, unseen soul? of what amount without thee?) More evolutionary, vast, puzzling, O my soul! More multiform far—more lasting thou than they.
How dare one say it? After the cycles, poems, singers, plays, Vaunted Ionia's, India's—Homer, Shakspere—the long, long times' thick dotted roads, areas, The shining clusters and the Milky Ways of stars—Nature's pulses reap'd, All retrospective passions, heroes, war, love, adoration, All ages' plummets dropt to their utmost depths, All human lives, throats, wishes, brains—all experiences' utterance; After the countless songs, or long or short, all tongues, all lands, Still something not yet told in poesy's voice or print—something lacking, (Who knows? the best yet unexpress'd and lacking.)
L. of G.’s Purport
Not to exclude or demarcate, or pick out evils from their formidable masses (even to expose them,) But add, fuse, complete, extend—and celebrate the immortal and the good. Haughty this song, its words and scope, To span vast realms of space and time, Evolution—the cumulative—growths and generations. Begun in ripen'd youth and steadily pursued, Wandering, peering, dallying with all—war, peace, day and night absorbing, Never even for one brief hour abandoning my task, I end it here in sickness, poverty, and old age. I sing of life, yet mind me well of death: To-day shadowy Death dogs my steps, my seated shape, and has for years— Draws sometimes close to me, as face to face.
More experiences and sights, stranger, than you'd think for; Times again, now mostly just after sunrise or before sunset, Sometimes in spring, oftener in autumn, perfectly clear weather, in plain sight, Camps far or near, the crowded streets of cities and the shopfronts, (Account for it or not—credit or not—it is all true, And my mate there could tell you the like—we have often confab'd about it,) People and scenes, animals, trees, colors and lines, plain as could be, Farms and dooryards of home, paths border'd with box, lilacs in corners, Weddings in churches, thanksgiving dinners, returns of long-absent sons, Glum funerals, the crape-veil'd mother and the daughters, Trials in courts, jury and judge, the accused in the box, Contestants, battles, crowds, bridges, wharves, Now and then mark'd faces of sorrow or joy, (I could pick them out this moment if I saw them again,) Show'd to me—just to the right in the sky-edge, Or plainly there to the left on the hill-tops.