8 months ago


Walt Whitman, sporting a

Walt Whitman, sporting a patriarchal beard, found himself at the head of a cultural youth movement in the New World. It happened when the media of the United States refused to recognize him, ridiculed and denounced him. It took America - or, rather, its most advanced strata - as many as fifty years to become aware of its own celebrated bard. A genius is always modern, so far as coming generations are concerned, and almost invariably he pays a bitter price to his contemporaries for his supremacy. Philistines. coexists with the past - which is precisely the reason why anyone prophesying the future is feared and opposed by the Philistines. Almost all those whom Walt Whitman had sent or given his Leaves of Grass returned it to him. Ralph W. Emerson was the only one to sincerely congratulate the author (later, he was sorry he had done so). In his book, Walt Whitman exposed himself to thousands of eyes and none as much as gave him a sympathetic look. Instead, gossips about him were spread, his friends passed him by, looked away, and his parents felt scandalized by him. His own country, America, which would before long pride itself on his name as its glorious son, refused to accept him. One of the greatest humanists of the New World, the poet was destined to live through an inhuman period in the history of his native land. Leaves of Grass must be read poem after poem, line after line. Quoted at random it says very little, because it is truly a book of verse in which poems are like stones put together to form a neat and everlasting structure. The form is dictated by the content, it is superimposed on the content and is inseparable from it. This book is extremely difficult to translate into other languages. It is simply unprecedented. Whitman's followers would subsequently unite into a separate poetic school which would take decades to grow mature, reaching outside the United States. Only true talents would survive within its framework, those like Carl Sandbag (US) and Vladimir Mayakovsky, a prominent Soviet poet, born one year after Whitman's death, who would subsequently regard the brilliant American as one of his teachers. Whitman professed his love for all of mankind. He sought to fill the entire planet with the kindness of his heart, because moral wretchedness was to him the gravest ailment of spirit. His poetic school taught not only the ability to write for all, but also the ability to love. Once again, Whitman should not be quoted in order to be understood. Quoting simply doesn't suffice. However, what is said above concerning his emotional revelations and his moral criteria might well be used as an epigraph for each essay on humanism. Whitman thought in the categories of millions. Writing about a group of people, he singled out each individual. He himself was always a part of this group and constantly regarded himself from the side. Whitman fanatically believed in progress and was pained immensely by the realization that thousands and thousands of people followed those who didn't believe in humanity. He searched every human soul for kindness and virtues and was pathetically Quixotic in striving to change the surrounding world.

Others did their best to ridicule him. His first poetic collection was considered not worth reading at all. Later, when Walt Whitman had added to it poems about Adam's children, a remarkably affectionate piece of lyrics, he was branded as an immoral character. But the poet remained tender and tranquil all through his ordeals, subsequently to become known as "the good gray poet." His kindness of heart was so unusual that it could survive even under the pressure of the surrounding unrestrained cruelty and hatred. The Civil War was raging in America. The country was writhing, choking in its vain efforts to perform self-purification. The slaves and their holders, people who had come from all countries, had clashed on a battlefield where the only line dividing the hostile parties was one's attitude to the status of an individual and to the country's future. In a conversation with Horace L. Traubel, Walt Whitman formulated his credo when he said that he couldn't bring himself to love America and wish it prosperity at the expense of any other people. These thoughts were not only his own. When the poet voiced them, he found himself in the camp of Lincoln, the camp of that same Abraham Lincoln whose first steps in politics had coincided with the appearance, in print, of Whitman's Leaves of Grass and whose death inspired the poet to write his famous 0 Captain My Captain! - a requiem which is today known by every American student. Whitman could not be placed on a par with prominent U.S. politicians, but each of his poetic lines seems to be prompted by the battles fought during his lifetime. As for his prophecies, he proved to possess a much greater foresight than many US. presidents. In 1862, Whitman made a trip to Virginia in search of his brother George. He found him in, a hospital bed, suffering from a wound he had received from the Southerners. The hospital was in Washington, small verdant town on the Potomac-the river marking the boundary with the Southern states. The patients had been jammed into the available apartment buildings and the functioning of the personnel left much to be desired. Having considered the situation, Walt Whitman saw the only solution to the problem in getting himself employed, right on the spot, as an office clerk. He would thus make enough money to sustain his brother and other wounded soldiers of the North. He bought them bread, grapes, roasted meat and spent his leisure time by their beds. Ever sensitive to human tragedy, Whitman felt himself bend under the weight of the suffering of others. He wrote letters for the illiterate and read them messages from their relatives. He also read them the Bible -a book reminiscent of his childhood, a book to which the sick and those about to die often looked. The great American poet reached the point when he felt he was merging into his country's very life. He no longer had his name, his former habits and sympathies, It was then he felt that what he did could well be called a sanitation job. And still, his new life had not begun from nowhere. It was a continuation of the daily existence of a young fellow from Long Island, a poet whose book of verse had made its debut in Brooklyn. Walt Whitman was going up the stairway of life, where each flight looked so very different. His experience as an employee at several hospitals in Washington