“How are you friend?”

“Every soul has its own individual language, often unspoken, or lamely feebly haltingly spoken; but a true fit for that man, and perfectly adapted to his use.—The truths I tell to you or any other may not be plain to you, because I do not translate them fully from my idiom into yours.—If I could do so, and do it well, they would be as apparent to you as they are to me; for they are truths.—No two have exactly the same language, and the great translator and joiner of the whole is the poet, He has the divine grammar of all tongues, and says indifferently and alike How are you friend? to the President in the midst of his cabinet, and Good day my brother, to Sambo, among the hoes of the sugar field and both understand him and know that his speech is right.—”

 

— Walt Whitman, Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts (New York University Press, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 60-61

 

 

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This is characteristic Whitmanesque language. So bracing. So original. So simple and straightforward. Utterly sincere and spontaneous. Utterly unaffected. It feels like language made anew in the workshop of the consciousness. It is almost childlike in its simplicity yet profound in its implications. If feels as if not only were a new poetic language and grammar being invented, but as if the world were being seen anew with fresh eyes. Yet, not pompously from on high, but from the level of a friend of yours or mine — of the president or a slave — who can be so greeted without ceremony.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 2017

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin.
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