Walt Whitman’s Birthday

Walt Whitman (1819-1892) – Photo c.1854  by Gabriel Harrison

Walt Whitman‘s birthday today.

Allen in China in 1984, happy to be teaching Whitman to his Chinese students  (this poem is from his 1986 collection, White Shroud – Poems 1980-1985)

– Happy Birthday Walt Whitman!

I Love Old Whitman So

Youthful, caressing, boisterous, tender
Middle aged thoughtful, ten thousand noticing of short ship or street,
workbench, forest, household or office, opera –
that conning his paper book again to read aloud to those few Chinese boys & girls
who knew enough American tongue to ear his hand –
loath to select one leaf from another, loath to reject a sympathetic page
– the tavern boy’s look, a stone prisoner’s mustache-sweat, prostitute in the sun, garrulous old man waving goodbye on the stoop –
I skim Leaves beginning to end, this year in the Middle Kingdom
marvel his swimmers huffing naked on the wave
and touched by his desperado farewell, “Who touches this book touches a man”
tip the hat on my skull
to the old soldier, old sailor, old writer, old homosexual, old Christ poet journeyman,
inspired in middle age to haunt Eternity in Manhattan,
and see the speckled snake& swelling orb earth vanish
after green seasons Civil War and years of snow
white hair

Baoding, China,November 20, 1984

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