“When I Heard at the Close of the Day” by Walt Whitman

When I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receiv’d with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that follow’d,
And else when I carous’d, or when my plans were accomplish’d, still I was not happy,
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refresh’d, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
When I wander’d alone over the beach, and undressing bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way coming, O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed to me whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast – and that night I was happy.

~Walt Whitman, The Complete Poems

 

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Listen to (and watch) David Bauman read Whitman’s beautiful poem. David is a long-time supporter of Words for the Year and happens to be a pretty awesome poet, too. Stop by to say hi or to read some of his work at The Dad Poet.

 

 

“Testament (Homage to Walt Whitman)” by Erica Jong

loveroot, silkthread, crotch and vine…
–WALT WHITMAN

I trust all joy.
–THEODORE ROETHKE

I, Erica Jong, in the midst of my life,
having had two parents, two sisters,
two husbands, two books of poems
& three decades of pain,

having cried for those who did not love me
& those who loved me – but not enough
& those whom I did not love –
declare myself now for joy.

There is pain enough to nourish us everywhere
it is joy that is scarce.

There are corpses piled up to the mountains,
& tears to drown in,
& bile eough to swallow all day long.

Rage is a common weed.
Anger is cheap.

Righteous indignation
is the religion of the dead
in the house of the dead
where the dead speak to each other
in creaking voices,
each arguing a more unhappy childhood
than the other.

Unhappiness is cheap.
Childhood is a universal affliction.
I say to hell with the analysts of minus & plus,
the life-shrinkers, the diminishers of joy.

I say to hell with anyone
who would suck on misery
like a pacifier
in a toothless mouth.
I say to hell with gloom.

Gloom is cheap.
Every night the earth resolves for darkness
& then breaks its resolve
in the morning.

Every night the demon lovers
come with their black penises like tongues,
with their double faces,
& their cheating mouths
& their glum religions of doom.

Doom is cheap.
If the apocalypse is coming,
let us wait for it in joy.

Let us not gnash our teeth
on the molars of corpses –
though the molars of corpses
are plentiful enough.

Let us not scorn laughter
though scorn is plentiful enough.

Let us laugh & bring plenty to the scorners –
for they scorn themselves.

I myself have been a scorner
& have chosen scornful men,
men to echo all that was narrow in myself,
men to hurt me as I hurt myself.

In my stinginess,
my friends have been stingy.
In my narrowness,
my men have been mean.

I resolve now for joy.

If that resolve means I must live alone,
I accept aloneness.

If the joy house I inhabit must be
a house of my own making,
I accept that making.

No doom-saying, death-dealing, fucker of cunts
can undo me now.

No joy-denyer can deny me now.
For what I have is undeniable.
I inhabit my own house,
the house of my joy.

~~~~~~

“Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”

~~~~~~

Dear Walt Whitman,
horny old nurse to pain,
speaker of “passwords primeval,”
merit-refuser,poet of body & soul –
I scorned you at twenty
but turn to you now
in the fourth decade of my life,
having grown straight enough
to praise your straightness,
& plain enough
to speak to you plain
& simple enough
to praise your simplicity.

The doors open.
The metaphors themselves swing open wide!

Papers fall from my desk,
my desk teeters on the edge of the cosmos,
& I commit each word to fire.

I burn!
All night I write in suns across the page.
I fuel the “body electric” with midnight oil.
I write in neon sperm across the air.

~~~~~~

You were “hankering, gross, mystical, nude.”
You astonished with the odor of your armpits.
You cocked your hat as you chose;
you cocked your cock –
but you knew “the Me myself.”

You believed in your soul
& believing, you made others
believe in theirs.

The soul is contagious.
One man catches another’s
like the plague;
& we are all patient spiders
to each other.

If we can spin the joythread
& also catch it-

if we can be sufficient to ourselves,
we need fear no entangling webs.

The loveroot will germinate.
The crotch will be a trellis for the vine,
& our threads will all be intermingled silk.

How to spin joy out of an empty heart?
The joy-egg germinates even in despair.

Orgasms of gloom convulse the world;
& the joy-seekers huddle together.

We meet on the pages of books & by beachwood fires.
We meet scrawled blackly in many-folded letters.
We know each other by free & generous hands.
We swing like spiders on each other’s souls.

~~~~~~ Erica Jong, from Loveroot

(thanks to Sarra Cannon)