Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

a letter from Walt Whitman

 

 

 

What interests me about the letter of Walt Whitman posted here (text below) is his feelings about his native city, New York. They are similar to mine.

Whitman, then working as government clerk and a volunteer in hospitals in Washington, DC, was visiting New York at the time the letter was written. He was staying at his mother’ s house on Portland Avenue in Brooklyn.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2019

 

 

 

 

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Monday forenoon November 9 [1863]

 

Dear comrades, as I did not finish my letter yesterday afternoon, as I had many friends come to see me, I will finish it now—the news this morning is that Meade is shoving Lee back upon Richmond, & that we have already given the rebs some hard knocks, there on the old Rappahannock fighting ground. O I do hope the Anny of the Potomac will at last gain a first-class victory, for they have had to retreat often enough, &: yet I believe a better Army never trod the earth than they are & have been for over a year.

Well, dear comrades, it looks so different here in all this mighty city, every thing going with a big rush & so gay, as if there was neither war nor hospitals in the land. New York &: Brooklyn appear nothing but prosperity & plenty. Every where carts & trucks & carriages & vehicles on the go, loaded with goods, express-wagons, omnibuses, cars, &c—thousands of ships along the wharves, & the piers piled high, where they are loading or unloading the cargoes—all the stores crammed with every thing you can think of, & the markets with all sorts of provisions—tens & hundreds of thousands of people every where, (the population is 1,500,000) , almost every body well-drest, & appearing to have enough—then the splendid river & Harbor here, full of ships, steamers, sloops, &c—then the great street, Broadway, for four miles, one continual jam of people, & the great magnificent stores all along on each side, & the show windows filled with beautiful & costly goods—I never saw the crowd thicker, nor such goings on & such prosperity [italics added]—& as I passed through Baltimore.& Philadelphia it seemed to be just the same.

I am quite fond of crossing on the Fulton ferry, or South ferry, between Brooklyn & New York, on the big handsome boats. They run continually day & night. I know most of the pilots, & I go up on deck & stay as long as I choose. The scene is very curious, & full of variety. The shipping along the wharves looks like a forest of bare trees. Then there are all classes of sailing vessels & steamers, some of the grandest & most beautiful steamships in the world, going or coming from Europe, or on the California route, all these on the move. [italics added] As I sit up there in the pilot house, I can see every thing, & the distant scenery, & away down toward the sea, & Fort Lafayette &c. The ferry boat has to pick its way through the crowd. Often they hit each other, then there is a time—

My loving comrades I am scribbling this in my room in my Mother’s house. …

 

 

— Walt Whitman, The Correspondence: Volume I: 1842-1867, edited by Edwin Haviland Miller (New York University Press, 1961), pp. 180-181

Walt Whitman … profoundly a New Yorker

 

 

In his sprawl, his vaunting ambition, and his humanity, Walt Whitman was profoundly a New Yorker. His poetry bore no little resemblance to the “mettlesome, mad, extravagant city” that he called home, and to the end of his life, he remained “a Manhattanese, free, friendly and proud.”

Whitman was born in the small community of West Hills in Suffolk County, and he returned often to the rural scenes of “fish-shape Paumanok,” as he called Long Island. But he grew up in Brooklyn, at a time when it was growing explosively, and proudly called himself a “Brooklyn boy.” Like his father, he found occasional work in carpentry and contracting, and that may have affected the way he thought about his poetry–with “the preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising, the hoist-up of beams the push of them in their places, laying them regular.”

New York’s expansion resembled Whitman’s own during the “seed-time years” that preceded Leaves of Grass. He later claimed that the poems “arose out of my life in Brooklyn and New York from 1838 to 1853, absorbing a million people, for fifteen years, with an intimacy, an eagerness, and an abandon, probably never equaled.” Although he moved to Washington during the Civil War and then to Camden, New Jersey, he never stopped revisiting the New York of his imagination. In a letter from 1868, he wrote, “I sometimes think I am the particular man who enjoys the shows of all these things in New York more than any other mortal–as if it was all got up just for me to observe and study.” [italics added]

 

– exhibit label, “Walt Whitman: Bard of Democracy”; exhibition at the Morgan Library, New York, NY

 

 

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CITY OF SHIPS.

 

CITY of ships!
(O the black ships! O the fierce ships!
O the beautiful sharp-bow’d steam-ships and sail-ships!)
City of the world! (for all races are here,
All the lands of the earth make contributions here;)
City of the sea! city of hurried and glittering tides!
City whose gleeful tides continually rush or recede, whirling in and out with eddies and foam!
City of wharves and stores—city of tall façades of marble and iron!
Proud and passionate city—mettlesome, mad, extravagant city!
Spring up O city—not for peace alone, but be indeed yourself, warlike!
Fear not—submit to no models but your own O city!
Behold me—incarnate me as I have incarnated you!
I have rejected nothing you offer’d me—whom you adopted I have adopted,
Good or bad I never question you— love all—I do not condemn any thing,
I chant and celebrate all that is yours—yet peace no more,
In peace I chanted peace, but now the drum of war is mine,
War, red war is my song through your streets, O city!

 

Leaves of Grass (1881-1882)

 

 

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But I was a Manhattanese, free, friendly, and proud
I was called by my nighest name by clear loud voices
of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Played the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old rôle, the rôle that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” (excerpt)

 

 

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The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places,
laying them regular

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (excerpt)

 

 

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The exhibit label is vague about where Whitman actually lived during his years in what now comprises New York City. (Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate municipalities when Whitman lived there. Jamaica, Queens, where Whitman was a schoolteacher briefly, was then part of Long Island, where Whitman was born.) He grew up in Brooklyn; and, in the years of his adulthood prior to the Civil War, he resided in both Brooklyn and Manhattan at various times. When in Manhattan, he lived downtown in boarding houses in or near what is now the Financial District. When he was residing in Brooklyn, he often took the ferry to Manhattan. He was a regular at Pfaff’s beer cellar in Manhattan, which was located on Broadway near Bleecker Street.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 2019

 

 

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Addendum:

In 2017, University of Iowa Press published a lost Whitman novel (its existence was unknown to scholars):  Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, which was originally published by Whitman in 1852 under a pseudonym and was serialized in a New York newspaper, the Sunday Dispatch. Zachary Turpin, who wrote an introduction to the 2017 edition, made this remarkable discovery.

If one reads the novel, which is set in Manhattan at around the time of Whitman’s boyhood — i.e., the early nineteenth century —  one can readily perceive Whitman’s familiarity with the City, which provides a setting and backdrop for the events and gives the story verisimilitude.

on photography (MINE; an exchange of emails, with apologies to Susan Sontag)

 

 

The following is an exchange of emails I had within the past day with my friend Ewa from the Bronx. Her email from yesterday evening contained what I regard as very insightful comments.

 

 

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May 29, 2019

 

Dear Roger,

I appreciate all the pictures you send me. Sometimes I have no time to give them the right amount of attention, but when I do, I go over all of them carefully.

They are very nice and show different and sometimes surprising City views.

It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures, making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th). I sometimes get surprised by unusual framing like with the photo where the Statue of Liberty peaks from between the trunks, or fronds of greens in the park. Frozen crowds and some of the places that I have never been to make the pictures distant, but knowing the fact that I could experience them on my day off makes looking at them like at goods at the store that I could afford.

I don’t have time to walk around the city, but it gives me an insight into New York City’s architecture and landscapes and life of the city in general.

I admire the style and cropping. Once again, thank you, Roger.

 

 

 

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May 30, 2019

 

Thanks for your emails from last night, Ewa.

Thanks for complimenting my photos

I have never been good at hardly any technical, hands on skill. I never seemed to have any aptitude for photography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that several people seem to like my photos a lot.

I have gotten a little bit adept at things like cropping and tweaking photos, but I am far from being a pro.

I appreciated your email because it showed an awareness of certain key things.

My photos are a sort of paean to Manhattan, my city. My feelings about it are similar to what Walt Whitman’s were.

Your comment “It’s interesting how people play suggestive roles in the pictures making natural gestures look theatrical (like the one from May 19th)” is very much on target. I find that a photo of, say, Central Park or Fifth Avenue is enhanced by having people in it.

I have acquaintances who have much more expertise in photography than I do and who own expensive cameras. Often their photos do not engage me. A splendid photo of the Taj Mahal in the evening; a photo of whales taken from a whale watching expedition or of a moose in a national park often leave me sort of detached. I feel that if I wanted to see such photos, I could find them on an internet site for tourists or in National Geographic.

A further thought: A relative of mine, noticing that I not infrequently include photos of myself (on my City walks) in Facebook posts, posted a critical comment about this on Facebook a while ago. When I complained to the relative, the relative replied: “Don’t understand why you post a picture of yourself almost every day in the same pose.”

Well, my hero Walt Whitman loved to have his photo taken — he was fascinated by the new invention of photography — often in a photo studio on lower Broadway. Posting pictures of myself may be a form of self-flattery, but the intent is also to show myself as being part of the scene: that I was at such and such a spot in the City on a particular date and time. In different parks, on the Brooklyn Bridge, on the steps of the New York Public Library, in front of some famous Manhattan building, and so on. I think it adds verisimilitude to a sort of photographic travelogue or diary of a City walker (me).

 

Roger

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 30, 2019

 

 

 

Central Park 2-47 p.m. 5-19-2019

Central Park, May 19, 2019; photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Walt Whitman (3)

Walt Whitman

how could she omit the dates? (Whitman scholars won’t be happy)

 

 

 

 

'Walt Whitman Speaks' -book cover

 

 

I purchased yesterday at the Stand Bookstore the following slim book:

 

Walt Whitman Speaks: His Final Thoughts on Life, Writing, Spirituality, and the Promise of America

as told to Horace Traubel

edited and with an introduction by Brenda Wineapple

New York: Library of America, 2019

 

 

Whitman’s remarks are grouped, arranged, by topic.

They are all taken from With Walt Whitman in Camden by Whitman’s friend and acolyte Horace Traubel. Nowhere in the present volume is there any indication of on what DATE the conversation with Traubel occurred (all of which is fully indicted in the nine volumes of Traubel’s).

In James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, the date on which a conversation with Johnson occurred is an important consideration, and was duly noted by Boswell. Same thing here (regarding the importance of dating when the remark was made).

What was Brenda Wineapple thinking? She is an accomplished and well known American literary scholar. I blame her, and also the Library of America.

Whitman scholars will be disappointed.

 

 
— Roger W. Smith

May 2019

another Manhattan jaunt

 

 

“A City Walk-Just a list of all that is seen in a walk through the streets of Brooklyn and New York and crossing the Ferry.”

 

— Walt Whitman, idea for a poem (published in Walt Whitman: Notebooks and Unpublished Prose Manuscripts, Volume IV: Notes, edited by Edward F. Grier, New York University Press 1984, pg. 1292)

 

 

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On Friday, April 12, I walked from one end of Manhattan to the another — from bottom to top — and another five miles back downtown before getting tired and giving up.

The photos below were taken by me during different stages of my walk, beginning in Battery Park in the early morning, continuing to 218 Street at midday, and ending in the Columbia University neighborhood in the early evening.

I would like to make a few points about walking that have occurred to me from time to time, and which seemed to be confirmed by this long walk of between twenty and twenty-five miles.

 

 
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First, contrary to what one might expect, walking, counterintuitively, seems to decrease appetite. I had eaten very lightly the day before; I woke up hungry. I walked about three miles before having a light breakfast at around 8:30 a.m., two and a half hours after I had started.

At around five-thirty, I stopped to eat a late afternoon, early evening lunch/dinner. I felt very hungry. But I quickly got filled up and couldn’t finish.

Secondly, walking seems (as I have stated before) to be a perfect form of exercise which does not unduly tax the body while contributing to wellbeing. I have not walked as much as usual lately — this was true in the winter months. Yet, on Sunday, April 7, I walked something like fifteen or sixteen miles, and on April 12, as noted above, I walked another eight miles or so further than on my previous jaunt. I experienced little tiredness at different stages of my walk, did not need to warm up or feel the need to take breaks.

Without being an expert, I would be inclined to say that we are made for walking, evolutionarily speaking. For most of human existence, until recently, people were accustomed to walk constantly, and it is undoubtable that they walked on average a lot more than we do now.

Thirdly, I have noticed that, when I start walking frequently, my “brother body” (a term used by the sociologist Pitirim A. Sorokin, apparently adopting the phrase from words of St. Francis) seems to want more and more of the same. I will wake up a day or two later feeling, I want to do that again. Today!

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

 

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Battery Park 6-11 a.m. 4-12-2019

Battery Park, 6:11 a.m.

 

 

New York Harbor 6-39 a.m. 4-12-2019

New York Harbor viewed from Hudson River Park, 6:39 a.m.

 

 

 

Hudson River Park 8-12 a.m. 4-12-2019

Hudson River Park, 8:12 a.m.

 

 

coffee shop.jpg

coffeehouse, Ninth Avenue and 44th Street, 8:51 a.m.

 

 

Broadway and 103rd St 10-55 a.m. 4-12-2019

Broadway and 103rd Street, 10:55 a.m.

 

 

IMG_3667.JPG

Broadway near 155th Street, 11:52 a.m.

 

 

 

Broadway near 195 St 12-48 p.m. 4-12-2019

Broadway near 195th Street, 12:48 p.m.

 

 

 

IMG_3736.JPG

Inwood Hill Park, 2:08 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Inwood Hill Park 2-23 p.m. 4-12-2019.JPG

Inwood Hil Park, 2:23 p.m.

 

 

 

218th Street and Broadway.JPG

218 Street (the last in Manhattan) and Broadway

 

 

 

 

IMG_3815.JPG

Broadway, Inwood, 3:15 p.m.

 

 

 

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See also my posts:

 

on walking (and exercise)

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/02/26/on-walking-and-exercise-2/

 

Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/07/22/manhattan-island-from-bottom-to-top-walking-as-exercise/

Walt Whitman: simplicity and complexity

 

 

 

“No one makes craft, carefully wrought, seem more casual than Walt Whitman.”

 

— Richard Rhodes, How to Write: Advice and Reflections (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1995), pg. 12

 

 

A former friend of mine, the poet Charles Pierre, made a comment to me — I wish I could remember exactly what he said — to the effect that Walt Whitman is actually very difficult. Difficult for the reader, that is. That he presents a level of difficulty that requires acute understanding of? I think Pierre would have said: an understanding of what Whitman is doing; of his poetic technique, of his originality, poetic genius, and ingenuity. That Whitman, who seems on the surface so simple, is not really simple.

And yet, I find Whitman to be easy to become acquainted with and comprehend without necessarily being (as in the case of myself) expert at poetry. I “got” his poetry almost right away.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   February 2019

I heard the flute in the Andante.

 

 

 

At the end of the second movement (Andante) of Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G Minor.

In a splendid performance this evening at Carnegie Hall.

It induced a feeling of serenity, of gladness. Of being lulled into peacefulness.

In such a state, I thought — with such pleasure — who can hurt me? Let them try. I have music. Literature.

I have nature — yes, here in the City. I was walking all afternoon today. There was a slight hint of spring in the air.

I love my City. I am in daily intercourse with city dwellers — either in earnest; or transitorily, casually, in a ceaseless intermingling and flux best described by Walt Whitman. I receive (in Whitman’s words) love and return it:

 

“If you meet some stranger in the streets, and love him or her, do I not often meet strangers in the street, and love them?”

— Walt Whitman, Chants Democratic

 

“I am in love … with all my fellows upon the earth.”

— Walt Whitman, Chants Democratic

 

 

I have a loving and supportive wife who is devoted to me and makes it her business day in and day out to make me as happy as possible and to see me fulfilled.

 

 

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My love of such things, both tangible and ethereal, and of people who share and reciprocate such feelings, cannot be destroyed by petty persons who envy me.

 

See my post

 

“Cruelty has a human heart.”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2019/02/13/cruelty-has-a-human-heart/

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   Valentine’s Day

   February 14, 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

I read in today’s New York Times the following:

Where will El Chapo most likely go to jail?

We won’t know until sentencing, but it’s probable that Mr. Guzmán will be sent to the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., more commonly known as the ADX.

The ADX can house up to 500 prisoners in its eight units. Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls and double sets of sliding metal doors (with solid exteriors, so prisoners can’t see one another). A single window, about three feet high but only four inches wide, offers a notched glimpse of sky and little else. Each cell has a sink-toilet combo and an automated shower, and prisoners sleep on concrete slabs topped with thin mattresses. Most cells also have televisions (with built-in radios), and inmates have access to books and periodicals, as well as certain arts-and-craft materials.

Drug lord Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) was certainly guilty, and he is not a nice guy. He was a brutal criminal who murdered — or ordered and witnessed the killings of — opponents and underlings viciously and sadistically without compunction. A psychopath.

But reflecting upon my blessings today, I felt, why must the maximum amount of suffering and deprivation be inflicted upon criminals locked up? It’s another kind of cruelty; organized, state sanctioned cruelty.

I am not trying to find reasons to extenuate El Chapo’s crimes. Except, perhaps, to say that the worst psychopaths seem to have been doomed to be what they became from the start. Deprivation of the worst sort, not solely or primarily economic, must have resulted in their growing up without the normal, so called human, feelings that bind us together.