Tuesday, July 02, 2013
"...a trail of drift and debris..."
I misspoke (jargon-y word, but apt nonetheless) in the comments section of my last post when I said I hadn't been reading lots of great books lately. Not lots, but one, truly great. Because I've been carrying Leaves of Grass from room to room, upstairs and down, for a few weeks now. Over twenty years ago, when I had my first real job after college - in a bookstore, did you have to ask? - and I had no car, I'd ride the bus every day to and from work, and holy crackers did I get a lot of reading done. Walt Whitman was one such travel companion, riding along with me time and again. His inundation of cascading lines was perfect when taken in small doses, administered daily like an old-fashioned tincture meant to scour us out and cure what ails us. And his lines remain perfect medicine. So I return to him, over the years.
This time around I've been reading and re-reading the section called Sea-Drift - the sea as great mother and father, as holder of all life, a metaphor for the universe itself, for the unknowable. So many wonderful poems and lines within these fourteen pages. Here are a few.
"As I Ebb'd with the Ocean of Life"
"...Nature here in sight of the sea taking advantage of me to dart upon me and sting me,
Because I have dared to open my mouth to sing at all.
You oceans both, I close with you,
We murmur alike reproachfully rolling sands and drift, knowing not why,
These little shreds indeed standing for you and me and all.
You friable shore with trails of debris,
You fish-shaped island...
I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island.
...We, capricious, brought hither we know not whence, spread out before you,
You up there walking or sitting,
Whoever you are, we too lie in drifts at your feet."
I recently returned from a small fish-shaped island myself, where I spent many days and nights sitting by the edge of the ocean, observing, and wondering (you know, the usual) what it all means (life, I mean really, LIFE...), if anything. And Whitman reassures us that meaning is there, even if we cannot comprehend it. At his simplest and most comforting, he says, straightforwardly, Don't cry. It's all right. In the middle of the great poem "On the Beach at Night" :
"From the beach the child holding the hand of her father,
Those burial-clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all,
Watching, silently weeps.
Weep not, child,
Weep not, my darling..."
And this wonderful poem's final stanza:
"Something there is,
(With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper,
I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,)
Something there is more immortal even than the stars,
(Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,)
Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter,
Longer than sun or any revolving satellite,
Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades."
One final bit, from "Aboard at a Ship's Helm", ostensibly about the steersman and his tasks, but in truth about everything (again, LIFE...), written in Whitman's inimitable way:
"But O the ship, the immortal ship! O ship aboard the ship!
Ship of the body, ship of the soul, voyaging, voyaging, voyaging."
After a rocky few weeks, full of shoals and reefs both figurative and literal, I feel as if I am sailing free once again. With some equanimity and even optimism, on loan from Walt Whitman. I mean, reading him is like having a library book on loan from God. You know?
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