Expansive Poetics – (Respondez!)


AG: So I wanted to continue with (Walt) Whitman‘s children (one of them is in Russia, someone whom we’ll pick up on later on (Velimir) Khlebnikov, the Futurist writer).

But before we get to Khlenbnikov, there’s one other poem of Whitman’s which I would like to add to our anthology). In one shortened form, there’s about a five-line version of it in the regular Whitman books. Let’s see if we can find that. I have it around here somewhere. Wait a minute.. It’s called “Refusals”, in my book, it’s page 281 in a standard Whitman text – “Reversals”, rather – “Let that which stood in front, go behind, let that which was behind advance to the front/ Let bigots, fools, unclean persons, offer new propositions!/ Let the old propositions be postponed!/ Let a man seek pleasure everywhere except in himself!/ Let a woman seek happiness everywhere except in her self!”
Well, that’s a censored version of a big freak-out poem he wrote which he was so ashamed of (that) he didn’t include in Leaves of Grass and (it) is only to be found in variant editions.
[to Student] – What’s the edition you got it from? Can you give me the bibliographic?

Student: It’s Riverside.

AG: Riverside what?

Student: Riverside Editions.

AG: What company and what year? – That’s on the title-page you’ll find it. I want the bibliographic citation so people can get it if they want to look up the poem.

Student: Houghton Mifflin.

AG: Houghton Mifflin. What year?  And what city?

Student: Boston..yeah..1959

AG: And what’s the whole title?

Student: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose (by Walt Whitman)  edited by James E.Miller


AG: James Miller. Okay. So this is the full version. Apparently, it’s dated 1856-1876. I’m not sure where the text comes from or how it was first published – “Respondez” – Now the Whitman we’ve been reading so far has been a happy, healthy, affirmative, yeah-saying, expansive, sanguine, charming, balanced, even-tempered Whitman. This is Whitman freaking out

[Allen reads Whitman’s poem, “Respondez” in its entirety] – (“Respondez!  Respondez!/(The war is completed – the price is paid – the title is settled beyond recall!/Let every one answer! let those who sleep be waked! let none evade!/..”..””Let the limited years of life do nothing for the limitless years of death/ (What do you suppose death will do, then?)”)

So that was , I suppose, 18.. right after the war, the Civil War. But apparently he didn’t feel that that was healthy. He didn’t want to expose this in public. He didn’t..

Student: I would guess, then, that that’s probably in the “Drum Taps” edition..following the Civil War (1865 – incorporated in) the two-volume (1876) edition.. of Leaves of Grass.

AG: That would have..

Student:  Yeah, there were two…

AG: Regular sized?

Student: I think so, yes. Two editions came out in two volumes… “Drum Taps”…

Student: (Did he read out loud at all?)

AG: Yes, he did. He read quite a bit and gave lectures.

Student: So it’s possible that a poem like that could have been read right after the Civil War…

AG: Well, sure. [to Student]  Could you check it in that book of yours where the provenance of that is? Does somebody know how to look it up in the book? Would there be any way of consulting the acknowlegements? (in the rear, generally, they sometimes have scholarly  reference). You might look it up. If you can figure out where it came from. I’ll try and…

Student: Whitman did quite a bit of that to Leaves of Grass?

AG: Yeah

Student: His editing days

AG: He was constantly changing it.

Student: Right.

AG: What I had originally here was called the 1890 edition. What I think we will do is I’ll get this thing xeroxed up for everybody. It’s a good addition to the Whitman canon, because it’s one of his freak-out revelatory poems

[“Respondez!” originally appeared as “Poem of the Propositions of Nakedness” in the 1856 edition of Leaves of Grass. Lines 2 and 17-19 were added in 1871, the same year as Democratic Vistas. The poem appeared in all editions until 1881, when he eliminated it but transposed lines into the poems “Reversals” and “Transpositions“.]

[Audio for the above can be heard here (starting at approximately nine-and-a-half minutes in – (Allen’s reading of “Respondez” begins appproximately  twelve-and-three-quarter minutes in)  – through to approximately twenty-one-and three-quarter minutes in]

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