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Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy National Poetry Month! Day One.

Dear Faithful Readers,

April 1st marks the first day of National Poetry Month, and this is no joke. As a celebration of this month-long event, I, your wonderful editor-in-chief, am going to post a poem-a-day on this blog. I also am participating in the challenge to write a poem for each day of the month -- these, though, will not be posted to this page. I prefer, for the writing part of the challenge, to write them longhand in a notebook. I also do not give myself certain prompts for each day. I have done it this way for all of the years that I've participated in the celebration of National Poetry Month, and I know that part of something I love about writing is the kinesthetics of it-- the feeling of pen to paper, the way my handwriting looks, crossing things out (as opposed to making them disappear with the backspace key).

For April 1st, our poem is "To You" by the famous late nineteenth century American poet, Walt Whitman. In the Norton Critical Edition of Leaves of Grass that I own, it begins on page 233. It is not a short poem, though I personally usually prefer short poems, but the poem earns every line. There are two other poems with the same title in the book, but this one is my favorite of the three, and perhaps my favorite Whitman poem.

I will not use my space here to showcase my favorite poets and poems all month; instead, I hope to read new poems and discover new poets. This poem, though, has become an important part of my personal canon, and I welcome the opportunity to introduce it to those who have not read it yet. Enjoy.

Note: Please click the link provided above for the "proper" formatting of the poem-- the line breaks that overflow to the next line should be indented. This is indicated in this blog's version of the poem by a lowercase letter at the beginning of a new line, but with the indents, it reads and looks better. The text provided below is all correct, but you really should look at the poem with the proper indents, as on the link I've provided. =)

To You

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,

I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands,

Even now your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners,

troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,

Your true soul and body appear before me.

They stand forth out of affairs, out of commerce, shops, work,

farms, clothes, the house, buying, selling, eating, drinking,

suffering, dying.

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem,

I whisper with my lips close to your ear.

I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.

O I have been dilatory and dumb,

I should have made my way straight to you long ago,

I should have blabb'd nothing but you, I should have chanted nothing

but you.

I will leave all and come and make the hymns of you,

None has understood you, but I understand you,

None has done justice to you, you have not done justice to yourself,

None but has found you imperfect, I only find no imperfection in you,

None but would subordinate you, I only am he who will never consent

to subordinate you,

I only am he who places over you no master, owner, better, God,

beyond what waits intrinsically in yourself.

Painters have painted their swarming groups and the centre-figure of all,

From the head of the centre-figure spreading a nimbus of gold-color'd light,

But I paint myriads of heads, but paint no head without its nimbus

of gold-color'd light,

From my hand from the brain of every man and woman it streams,

effulgently flowing forever.

O I could sing such grandeurs and glories about you!

You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon yourself

all your life,

Your eyelids have been the same as closed most of the time,

What you have done returns already in mockeries,

(Your thrift, knowledge, prayers, if they do not return in

mockeries, what is their return?)

The mockeries are not you,

Underneath them and within them I see you lurk,

I pursue you where none else has pursued you,

Silence, the desk, the flippant expression, the night, the

accustom'd routine, if these conceal you from others or from

yourself, they do not conceal you from me,

The shaved face, the unsteady eye, the impure complexion, if these

balk others they do not balk me,

The pert apparel, the deform'd attitude, drunkenness, greed,

premature death, all these I part aside.

There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you,

There is no virtue, no beauty in man or woman, but as good is in you,

No pluck, no endurance in others, but as good is in you,

No pleasure waiting for others, but an equal pleasure waits for you.

As for me, I give nothing to any one except I give the like carefully

to you,

I sing the songs of the glory of none, not God, sooner than I sing

the songs of the glory of you.

Whoever you are! claim your own at any hazard!

These shows of the East and West are tame compared to you,

These immense meadows, these interminable rivers, you are immense

and interminable as they,

These furies, elements, storms, motions of Nature, throes of apparent

dissolution, you are he or she who is master or mistress over them,

Master or mistress in your own right over Nature, elements, pain,

passion, dissolution.

The hopples fall from your ankles, you find an unfailing sufficiency,

Old or young, male or female, rude, low, rejected by the rest,

whatever you are promulges itself,

Through birth, life, death, burial, the means are provided, nothing

is scanted,

Through angers, losses, ambition, ignorance, ennui, what you are

picks its way.


By Walt Whitman

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