Meditation and Poetics – (Whitman – 2)

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

AG: So (to) get right into “Song of Myself” and I’ll do as much of it as we can (in an hour). So he Walt Whitman< begins – as we had in (William Carlos) Williams (in “Danse Russe’] – “Who shall say I’m not the happy genius of my household”, (which was really an extension of a kind of Whitmanic empathy). So on that common ground, Whitman begins, “I…” -(this is page twenty-three of the Modern Library version or whatever page you have of whatever Whitman you got) – ”Song of Myself”

– “I celebrate… I celebrate – what? Well, he doesn’t know what to celebrate. It’s all too slippery, so the only thing he can rely on is his own nature (which is somewhat like the theory of Objectivism that I was talking about – that those elements of our own consciousness that we observe objectively are like the furniture around the room, are some solid objects which can be celebrated or dealt with in poetry), and he’s sufficiently..  See, there’s always that little ambiguity in Whitman – Is this self a solidification of ego? – or is this self some kind of porous balloon-like empty cloudy thing that, actually, is (something) he’s wittily aware of as a sort of general idea or a notion ? – Or is it some universal self that everybody partakes in (is he pointing out to  some big LSD mind, or, what is  he pointing out to? what is the self? So he’s going to determine, he’s going to examine it, and its going to turn out to be..,what? – I don’t know, we’ll find out. It’s a “song of my self [sic]” (which is a little tricky area to step on, into – you know – it freaked out everybody at the time) because..except, for the beginning of the tradition of  (William) Wordsworth (who,amazingly, began to write an epic just about his own mind, the progress of his own mind, instead of epic universal history or Iliad battles Odyssean travels  Heaven-Hell-Paradise).

Wordsworth, strangely enough, modernized poetry to begin to deal with here and now, the person and the self, in his long epic poems, “The Prelude”  and  “The Excursion (I was thinking the other day, I don’t think I said that here – that really was an enormous breakthrough that Wordsworth did, because before him there was no other great poet that wrote vast epic poems about what the poet actually knew, (which was only his own self and his own world). A poet could write about book-learning and he could write about mythological experience, but rarely did a poet ever write about his own experience directly, without attempting to nobilitate it, to elevate it to mythological (status) or disguise it. Generally… pardon me?

Student:  (What about Wordsworth’s other poems?)

AG: Well there are the great.. well, all of his longer shorter poems like “..Intimations of Immortality” and “..Tintern Abbey” are about his own experience, but he also wrote long poems – “The Excursion” and “The Prelude” – long autobiographical poems, actually, sub-titled, I think, “On the Growth of the Poet’s Mind”, [Editorial note – “Growth of A Poet’s Mind – An Autobiography”] actually So that it was actually Wordsworth who made things real, in the sense of made things personal, real in the sense of direct dealing with what the poet could really know of his own life outside of …   {tape ends in media res here}

[Audio for the above may be heard here, starting at approximately fifty-five-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at the end of the tape)

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