Expansive Poetics – 15 – (Walt Whitman – 4)

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Walt Whitman (1819-1892), 1854 – Steel Engraving – Photograph by Samuel Hollyer of a lost Daguerrotype by Gabriel Harrison – “The engraving appeared in the 1855 and 1856 editions of “Leaves of Grass“, then again in the 1876 and 1881-82 (and following editions)..In reprinting it in the 1881 edition, Whitman insisted on its facing “Song of Myself”, because the portrait “is involved as part of the poem”

The end (of Whitman’s “Song of Myself”) is interesting. I’d like to read the last three sections (sections 50, 51 and 52) , because they really do outreach him. I mean, he really outreaches himself, and comes to something which is both literal as a statement and also elevated and generalized and ego-ic in as vast a way as anybody could proclaim – [Allen begins with section 50] – “There is that in me – I do not know what it is – but I know it is in me.” – “There is that in me..” – What was “that”? – Well, “Death”, “Corpse”, “whispering…suns”, “grass of graves”, “I ascend (from) the moon” [Allen is quoting here from the previous stanza] – “Wrench’d and sweaty – calm and cool then my body becomes,/ I sleep – I sleep long./ I do not know it – it is without name – it is a word unsaid/It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol” – So, actually, he comes to the limit of what he can imagine, and there’s still something beyond, and there is that in him, because it’s the universe (and) so therefore it must be in him – “Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on,/To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me/ Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters/ Do you see O my brothers and sisters?/It is not chaos or death – it is form, union, plan – it is eternal life – it is Happiness.” – “I plead for my brothers and sisters” – What does he mean there? Is he pleading for them to answer him? to imagine further in the next generation, (as we are)?, to drop some acid, go beyond?, or practice tantra?, or blow up the world?, or get off the planet?

Student: And then this is tantra, or tantric type of..

AG: Well, I guess,  (it’s) close..

Student: Yeah

AG: (Chogyam) Trungpa (Rinpoche) has said… I read him some (of “Song of Myself”) and he thought it was like sutras. That is, a sutra being… the Mahayana stage being the extension of sympathy, empathy, and compassion infinitely out into space – which is what Whiman does do. (The Theravadan idea, or Hinayana idea, is focusing on one spot, concentrating the mind and becoming completely at rest there, and noticing in precise detail everything around in the immediate space. The Mahayana is extending that awareness out into space, all the way out, infinitely, in every direction, in the profundity of space – which is exactly what he’s doing).

Student: Yeah

AG: The tantric would be when Whitman gets a little bit crazier than that, I would say.
And..number 51 – [Allen returns to the poem] – “The past and present wilt – I have fill’d them, emptied them/ And proceed to fill my next fold of the future./ Listener up there!..” – That’s us!  – (so he’s talking directly to us through his grave, so he wa actually able to empathize through time) – “Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?/Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening/ (Talk honestly no one else hears you and I stay only a minute longer)”  – Well, naturally, if you’re reading his book, it’s toward the end, it’s “only a minute longer” that he’s going to be breathing, through the page, in your ear. And “no one else hears you”, because most people would read this in silence, by themselves – “Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself/(I am large, I contain multitudes)” – And that’s the key. And it’s very similar to the notion, that we were talking about, (or) I introduced the other day, of “Negative Capability” – were we talking about that here?

Student: Yeah

AG: “I am large, I contain multitudes” – Well, naturally.. Everybody has opposite thoughts constantly. Because, if you empathize in every direction, that means that you empathize with both the murderer and the murdered, with the guy driving the car and with the guy that gets killed by the accidental drunken hit-and-run driver. You empathize with yourself while fucking and with the person (that) you’re fucking – both, at once – (you play both roles, otherwise you wouldn’t know which direction to pump unless you could figure out what would please the partner!). So – “”I am large, I contain multitudes” – That’s my favorite line – “Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then I contradict myself”. I mean, you can tell that to William Buckley, or Ronald Reagan, or (Adolf) Hitler, or anybody. They’re the people who say, “I never contradict myself, I’m one-hundred-percent linear rational coherent, I’m going right to one point, and I will get the truth and I will have that revolution right, I’ll run the society right, even if I have to kill everybody to do it – but I’ll never contradict myself! The nature of self-contradiction is simply the nature that one thought follows another and there’s a gap in-between. It’s as simple as that. Because one thought follows another, therefore one contradicts oneself. Because you might determine to reman faithful to a thought, and then fart and forget it the next second, or, as Don Juan found, leaning over the edge of the boat, reading a love-letter from his lady, when the sea got rough, he suddenly got nauseous and started throwing-up in the middle of a romantic, nostalgic moment, reading his girlfriend’s love-letter.
So, “I concentrate on them that are nigh” – That is, thoughts themselves, or empathies themselves, or sympathizers are people of like mind, which means all of us, of somewhat like mind – “I concentrate on them that are nigh, I wait on the door slab/  Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?/ Who wishes to walk with me?/ Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?” – (that must have been meant for his friend)
And then, the last section, “The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me” – “the spotted hawk”? “accuses me? – “..he complains of my gab and my loitering./ I too am not a bit tamed, I too..” – “spotted hawk” – “..am untranslatable” – “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” – That’s a great.. “yawp” – the word “yawp” was a tremendous invention. I don’t know if it was common when this was written around 1850 or (18)60? – do you know? when the first edition was?

Student: 1855. Second edition’s (18)56, I think, or (18)57.

AG: So, this being the end, he would have probably done it, he would have written that line between (18)52-3?-4?-5?. Were they using the word”yawp” in “New Yawk” (sic)? – Y-A-W-P?
Student: Y-A-W-P – (It was the bird..?)

AG: No, he was talking of the hawk. So it would be like a bird whoop – “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world” – And that one word really got him in trouble with every academic scholar that followed on, that one word and that one line, insisting and demanding on sounding that “barbaric yawp”, instead of writing precious poetry?. It all comes down to a “barbaric yawp”? – No fair! – they’ve been studying for so long and “monstrous sauroids” have deposited their dictionaries in libraries for millenia and it all comes down to the acme, the apices, on the steps of the the nations, of  “barbaric yawp”?

Student: Is there any relationship between this “yawp” and your “howl

AG: (Nah)…(Jack) Kerouac liked the word “yawp”. That’s how.. when I noticed.. He pointed (out)..He (Whitman) wasn’t afraid to say “yawp” – “”yawp”? what’s a “yawp”?! …yawp!
I sent him “Howl”, the text, and he wrote back, “howl”, “I got your howl”. I didn’t have a title. He just wrote back, “I got your howl” and he underlined it, you know, like signifying I should use it.

Okay –  [Allen returns to Whitman’s poem] – “The last scud of day holds back for me/ It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow’d wilds” –  true as any phantom, true as any dying creep  –  “It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk/I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun/I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags” – he’s going to dissolve, or die, naturally – “I bequeath myself  to grow from the grass I love/If you want me again lok for me under your boot-soles/You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,/But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,/And filter and fibre your blood/ Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,/Missing me one place search another,/I stop somewhere waiting for you” – That’s really great- a perfect balance of..between being aware of death (obviously), being aware of the dissolution of the ego that he’s stretched to the end of the universe, and realizing that any other ego, or any other self will also stretch the same way, and, once notified by Whitman, will realize it has that capacity for stretching, or empathizing, to the extent of the imaginable universe

[Audio for the above is available here, starting at  approximately twenty-four-and-a-half minutes in and continuing through to approximately thirty-five minutes in]

Additional material: This June 22 1981 Naropa class also contains some discussion about the hand-made “Expansive Poetics” anthology (see here and here)

AG: I was up all night going over the anthology that we were preparing to bring to the printer this afternoon at four, so it’ll be ready for the next class. So [it’s] locked in place. with [probably] lots of mistakes. And I wrote the preface (to it) at five a.m.
Those of you who didn’t…Oh, I see. I circulated a piece of paper asking how many wanted it. If any of you are unfamikliar with this, would you maybe circulate another piece of paper? You got one of those yellow pad things? That yellow thing will do. That’s the…
Student: Has everybody here signed the attendance today?
AG: Yeah. If anybody has not signed up for the book. But [a] warning in advance – the book is now 465 pages which at four-and-a-quarter cents a page is going to run something like twenty bucks. However, it’ll be worth it. It”ll be an edition of 50 copies, signed by the editors and translators, and you can take it down to Gotham Book Mart and sell it for sixty dollars tomorrow! A limited edition. It’ll be worth about two hundred in about three years. I’m going to make fifty copies, and I think twenty-five will be consumed, or thirty consumed, here in Naropa, and then one I’m sending to Anne Waldman and one to Peter [Orlovsky] I guess, and whoever gets them. So if you haven’t signed up for it, sign now, so..

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