Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reading Whitman as Sacred Literature

I picked up Leaves of Grass with the intention of reading it beginning to end. A poem a day. To try to roll that poem around under my tongue all day, really think about it, imbibe it. I have the notion that I'll glean some sort of enlightenment from it. Not anything transcendent or global necessarily, but I feel like I might learn something about myself. I've felt in the past, just from reading a poem or two of Whitman's, that we would have been kindred spirits, so I've decided to adopt him as a spiritual (I mean, actually spiritual as he's long dead) grandpa.

Yesterday I wrote a poem. It's posted below, and I wasn't really satisfied with it. I just wanted to write a poem, so I took what I was thinking about and tried to do it justice as free verse. Still, it didn't capture what I was feeling. I'm not going to delete it. It's there. It's something I did, but I'd like to do better.

Lately, I've been trying to embrace myself just the way that I am. To lay off myself. I don't think people realize that I'm my own worst critic. I read once that you should never point out your flaws to others because most people are too absorbed to notice them independently. So I don't point out my flaws to others, but because I am self-absorbed, I can't help noticing them myself.

I work in the yard, for example, planting Russian sage or basil or roses, and they die, and I assume responsibility for that. Weeds take over garden plots, and I beat myself up. I don't get the kitchen painted, the table sanded, the poem written, and I fall into a funk, feeling like I'll never get anything done.

But lately, I've really been trying to cut myself some slack. Not the way my neighbor does when he says, "Hey, you're one girl. It's a big yard. You can't do everything." More like, "OK. Y'know. I pulled some weeds today. I did something. It's not all I'd hoped to do, but I tried. I did what I could." And then I just kind of stop there and rest, which is new for me.

I did think yesterday, walking through the garden, looking at burned collard leaves, "God didn't do everything in one day. Why do I think I can?" Then I thought about the centuries, the millenia, that God has been creating, refining, striving in order to make tangible this idea of the world that he has, and I think that it's okay if I don't get everything just right today or even this week. I have an idea of what would make the world beautiful, too, and I think that he only expects me to do as much as I can. I don't think he wants me to make myself droopy and withered and burned out in pursuit of immediate perfection. He just wants me to create and refine and strive for as long as I can.

I guess reading Whitman is my way of doing that. Reading the thoughts of someone who really learned the art of loafing.

Song of Myself, Walt Whitman

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loaf and invite my soul,
I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
My tongue, every atom of my blood, formed from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.
Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back awhile sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.