Spontaneous Poetics – (Whitman – 4)

Walt Whitman in New York, 1887, aged 68, photograph by George C.Cox

AG: (Late Whitman) – “Songs of Parting”, now, however…

[Allen begins by reading Whitman’s “As the Time Draws Nigh” – “As the time draws nigh glooming a cloud/ A dread beyond of I know not what darkens me/ I shall go forth/I shall traverse the States awhile, but I cannot tell whither or how/long/ Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my voice will/suddenly cease./ O book, O chants! must all then amount to but this?/ Must we barely arrive at the beginning of us? – and yet it is enough,/ O soul,/ O soul, we have positively appear’d – that is enough.”] – So then he wants to make a great summing-up, so he says in a poem “So Long” (and these are, remember, “Songs of Parting”) – [Allen reads – “To conclude, I announce what comes after me./ I remember I said before my leaves sprang at all,/ I would raise my voice jocund and strong with reference to/consummations…”…. “Camerado, this is no book,/Who touches this touches a man,/ (Is it night? are we here together alone?)/ It is I you hold and who holds you,/ I spring from the pages into your arms – decrease calls me forth…”….”So long!/Remember my words, I may again return,/I love you, I depart from materials,/ I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.”

Student: Allen? – er.. I’m not following…

AG: You got the first edition?

Student: No

AG: I must have (it then). Okay..

Student: I just wondered if there were two different..

AG: No, I got sort of… “Enough O deed..” – that’s when his friend is kissing him – “Enough O deed impromptu and secret” (“Enough O deed impromptu and secret,/ Enough O gliding present – enough O summed-up Past/ Dear friend whoever you are take this kiss,/ I give it especially to you, do not forget me,/ I feel like one who has done work for the day to retire awhile/I receive now again of my many translations, from my avataras/ ascending, while others doubtless await me,/An unknown sphere, more real than I dreamed, more direct, darts/awakening rays about me…”)
Well, in a funny way.. so – “disembodied, triumphant, dead.” – well there’s a tremendous amount of self-pitying, jack-off, masturbatory, triumph there. So it’s a funny, funny, place, that you will identify with very often.

On the other hand, I was thinking (that) what he’s done from a certain Buddhist point of view (of the) Yogachara school (is that) he’s all through (with) his life (and) he’s proposed one identity, one mind (which is, I think, parallel in Buddhism to an early development, Yogacara, which said that there was one existent mind in the universe (and) everybody was a maya-ic appearance of that mind. (It’s) a very classical situation that everybody’s had, on acid, (or, perhaps, sometime in natural pantheistic reverie or ecstasy). In a sense, what he’s done is taken ego and pushed it to the outer limits of the universe. He’s identified the entire universe with his self, with his identity, he’s affirmed that identity, he’s affirmed a supreme identity and he’s identified his own self with that supreme identity, and he’s carried (it) out through the galaxies and through the changes, and says “Whoever wakes up, it’ll always be me” – “I love you, I depart from materials,/ I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead”. And, in a sense, that was Whitman’s great role to play – to take 19th Century Romanticism to its final extreme, and take it literally, and become the Universe. But then the next step would be the realization that there is no identity at all, or that there is no “one mind”. There would be a doctrine of “no-mind” to follow that, or in Buddhist history, that would be pretty much Madhyamaka theory, Nagarjuna.. All the constituents of being are transitory, so there would not even be a final entity, so..

In a sense we could see Whitman as the last final supreme egotist (which is, actually, as he’s seen, in a kind of drearier way, by most of the academic philosophers of this century [20th Century], particularly early in the century). Whitman is always put down as a great American creep-crank (actually, like some awful barbarian – (an) awkward embarrassing egotist. And I think D.H.Lawrence launched a huge attack, (a) loving attack, on Whitman.. If you ever get a chance to look up Lawrence’s essay on Whitman [in Studies In Classic American Literature], it’s sort of a very heavy macho attack. He didn’t like the femininity in Whitman, but Lawrence was also holding out for an identity, he wanted a more masculine identity with separations and individuations.

I don’t know if it occurred either to Lawrence or to Whitman that they didn’t exist – as it might occur to a meditatorSo, in a way, Whitman took that notion, or that idea, or that emotion, of empathy – sympathy/empathy – and erotic transmission, erotic desire – to the limit. I guess he had to because he was gay, and there was no other way to get satisfaction (except with, maybe Peter Doyle, the street-car-conductor friend). But there seems to have been some inhibition of direct sexual activity, although there have been other… there’s some evidence that he did make out with rough boys whom he liked, but formally and officially he didn’t, he always denied it.

Walt Whitman and Peter Doyle

Okay. So he created a great universe of adhesiveness and he predicated a nation on it, a democracy on it. He said that without that adhesiveness, without an emotional tenderness between men in the United States, there was not going to be any kind of possible survival of democracy, that democracy couldn’t survive if the men were fighting. The men had to be in love, the men had to be tender to each other, if there was going to be a democracy (which is a really interesting proposition to lay on Time magazine, because Time magazine takes just the opposite (position) – or the C.I.A., or, whoever’s running the country. The oil industry presumes competition, rivalry, rather than tender adhesiveness.

[Audio for the above is available here, beginning approximately nineteen minutes in, through to approximately thirty-one-and-a-half minutes in]

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