I walked across Canal Street today in the steam and crush of tourists. I walked with my son’s sweetheart, Frieda, taking her to the Fung Wah bus. She was back to Boston after the reunion weekend. And on the way home I began in earnest to learn whatever I can of Whitman’s amazing poem.
He rolls the words calm and actual faces and the faces of an entire world scroll by me. I often think that Canal Street is like the Bosporus in Istanbul, it separates two continents: Asia and Europe. But unlike Istanbul there is no bridge just a massive ebb and flow of language, vegetables, and oh so varied faces. One can never be complacent on Canal Street. The street requires vigilance. And so thus focused, I under take my poem.
In the book my husband purchased for our daughter in DC, Walt Whitman: Selected Poems Edited by Harold Bloom. Bloom discourses on Whitman taking many different tangents, but one struck me as particularly trenchant for my summer struggle to learn and parse merely a small portion of Leaves of Grass. Here it is:
Whitman, demands and rewards, preternaturally close reading the kind that I believe is allied to possession-by-memory. You have to know, his major poems intimately to render them justice, or for them to alter you, at least as a reader.
Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
I NEED no assurances-
I am a man who is preoccupied of his own soul;
I do not doubt that whatever I know at a given time, there waits for me more which I do not know:
I do not doubt that from under the feet and beside the hands and face
I am cognizant of, are
now looking faces I am not cognizant of –
Calm and actual faces;
I do not doubt the majesty
And beauty of the world is latent in any iota of the world;
I do not doubt there are
Realizations I have
No idea of, waiting for me
Through time and through the universes –also upon this earth;
I do not doubt I am limitless, and that the universes are limitless –
In vain I try to think how limitless: