Spontaneous Poetics – (Whitman – 6)

Carte-de-visit portrait of Walt Whitman, 1864 via Library of Congress

Student: So a lot of this (late Whitman) was influenced by the Civil War, and a lot of his…?

AG: Yeah. I read (to you from) the early Leaves of Grass, but I didn’t read “Drum Taps“, or the many poems of the Civil War – love poems to soldiers whom he took care of in hospitals. Actually, what I presented was his early universal-love, adhesiveness. identification-with-all, empathy, proposition, and then turned to his old age to see how he fared with that kind of footing, with that kind of psyche. Yes?

Student: Did he read the Bhagavad Gita too?

AG: Yes he did. Yeah?…

Student: Does this correlate back to the Beatniks after the Korean War, and (Ezra) Pound after World War I? – the whole thing of, like, the first war years (for) Whitman.. for that kind of a search, as (to) where (exactly) we are.. and we had the political thinking, (and the) social (thinking)…

AG: Well the Leaves of Grass (even down to the metaphor of the title) does refer to some sort of“Flower Power”, and does propose a kind of “flower power”, or would be a kind of Bible for ‘Fifties, ‘Forties-‘Fifties-‘Sixties, flower power (including the egotism of flower power within the universal egotism). So I’m making a post-War critique of that thing – of my own behavior, of my own interpretation of Whitman, at the moment. Yeah?

Student: How old was he when Edward Carpenter came to visit him?

AG: Yeah. I don’t know how old he was when Carpenter came, but I guess he was in his fifties or sixties (early sixties)

Student: Carpenter was in his thirties

AG: Twenties or thirties, yeah. He was visited…

Student: Was that as significant relationship for Whitman as it was for Carpenter?

AG: Probably not, no. Because Carpenter was not as great a poet. I read some of Carpenter’s poetry here (recently), actually. I read (you) “The Secret of Time and Satan” in the first session this summer (so some of you hold-overs will (already) know (that) Edward Carpenter was a British Theosophist who came to visit Whitman, slept with him, and Whitman sent him off to India, actually

Student: (You mentioned) that conversation (you had) with Gavin Arthur. Gavin Arthur’s sense of that.. his sense of it was (that) Carpenter came to Whitman, and that Whitman, then, when the relationship ended.. the implication was that he was sending him to (the) East as a Whitman representative of (from) the West…

AG: Yeah

Student: So do you think he thought of himself as a (specifically) Western mind?

AG: I don’t think he had that division. I don’t know, but I don’t think he thought of it in those terms. Because that ‘s a later argument – “the East is the East and the West is the West”. The East was probably, at that point, a great mysterious unfolding drama that would be explored and understood later on. I think that was probably their view of it. As it is now being explored and understood, in the sense that the secrets of the East are all supposedly located in tantric Tibetan..remote Tibetan..secret teachings of Tibet, and they’re all being taught in this building (at Naropa) now! – So that’s actually history unrolling in a very clear, intelligent, karmic-ly-charming, form.

Student: Did Whitman ever express the desire to go to the East?

AG: Well, he did in mind..

Student: In “Passage to India”?

AG: Yeah, in “Passage to India“.

Whitman – from hand-written ms “Passage to India”, 1870 via Houghton Library, Harvard University

I want to continue on just with his last effusions – his last effusions (some of them, probably, for a critique of his own ego, or critique of his own thought, or philosophy, some, for very sensible comments on poetics). “The Commonplace” – Here’s something that will anticipate William Carlos Williams[Allen then reads Whitman’s “The Commonplace” – “The commonplace I sing,/ How cheap is health! how cheap nobility!/ Abstinence, no falsehood, no gluttony, lust,/ The open air I sing, freedom, toleration..”…”..The democratic wisdom underneath, like solid ground for all”] – which is, I suppose, equivalent in Buddhist terms to vipassana preoccupation – the “solid ground for all” – Then, a long comment on “The Rounded Catalogue Divine Complete” – ” – [Allen reads] “…Sunday – – went.. to church, and the preacher preached a sermon in which he spoke of his “rounded catalogue”… but “only esthetic things” (and) entirely ignored what I name in the following” – “The devilish and the dark, the dying and diseas’d/ The countless (nineteen-twentieths) low and evil, crude and savage,/ The crazed prisoners in jail.. (etc etc)”..”..(What is the part the wicked and the loathsome bear within earth’s orbic scheme?)”..”The barren soil, the evil men, the slag and hideous rot”] – So he had to include that, he had to put that in, as a last note to Leaves of Grass (or one of the last notes) – It’s called “The Rounded Catalogue Divine Complete”.

Then – re-thinking all his previous effort – Leaves of Grass“, or “L of G’s Purport” – “L of G’s. or Leaves of Grass‘ Purport” – [Allen reads] – “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 ..”…”Today shadowy Death dogs my steps, my seated shape, and has for years/ – draws sometimes close to me as face to face” – Then,
“The Unexpress’d” (“How dare one say it?/After the cycle, poems, singers, plays…”…”(Who knows? the best yet unexpress’d and lacking”). Then, finally, two last notes – “Unseen Buds”(“Unseen buds, infinite, hidden well..”..”Billions of billions and trillions of trillions of them waiting..”..”Urging slowly, surely forward, forming endless,/And waiting ever more, forever more behind”) – and, finally, “Good-bye My Fancy!” – (“Good-bye my Fancy!/ Farewell dear mate, dear love!/I’m going away, I know not where…”…”Good-bye – -and hail! my Fancy”) – Well, actually, he did relatively well in dealing with his fancy, throughout his life-time and until the end.

[Audio for the above is available here, at approximately forty-five minutes in, and concluding, approximately fifty-five-and-a-half minutes in]

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