As you may have noticed from my lack of posts, I’ve been in a bit of a rut recently. Mainly 1.) I’ve been reading a lot but have been struggling to “put pen to paper” so to speak and actually write about anything, and 2.) I am trying to get “back into” poetry. I used to read poetry regularly and memorized all of my favorite verses. Recently, I’ve found myself struggling to post the painting pairings that started as such a joy because I haven’t really found any new paintings or poems that inspired me. On Sunday, as I was reading Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 on the subway, I had an Eureka! moment when I read:
Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ’em to ashes, then burn the ashes.
So I don’t want to burn Whitman (nor Millay nor Faulkner!), but I have been meaning to read Leaves of Grass from beginning to end for the longest time. I’ve had parts of my copy dog-eared since high school, so what better way to get back into writing, reading, and blogging than to read a Whitman poem a week and to discuss with all of you!
Without further adieu, the first ever Whitman Wednesday. The edition I’m reading is the 150th Anniversary Edition Signet Classics. We’ll start with a short and easy poem today, the title-page epigraph, “Come, said my Soul.” It was first published independently before Whitman moved it to the epigraph in later editions of Leaves of Grass.
Come, said my Soul Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,) That should I after death invisibly return, Or, long, long hence, in other spheres, There to some group of mates the chants resuming, (Tallying Earth’s soil, trees, winds, tumultuous waves,) Ever with pleas’d smiles I may keep on, Ever and ever yet the verses owning — as, first, I here and now, Signing for Soul and Body, set to them my name, Walt Whitman
I don’t know a lot about Walt Whitman beyond what I learned in 10th grade American Literature. From what I recall, this seems like a fitting epigraph: Whitman is rejoicing in the human soul and body as well as in nature. It seems like he’s suggesting that his spirit will live on through the verses he writes.
Poets.org shared a photograph of Whitman’s rough draft, and I have always loved seeing the different iterations of a poem before it’s deemed “finished.” The most notable change I noticed was that the first line originally started “Go, said his Soul to a Poet” but I like the final version that starts “Come, said my Soul” because it suggests to me that he (and also us) already has everything he needs within himself, he is traveling into his Soul, instead of venturing out into the world. What do you think? Am I reading too much into this?
I invite you to join along with me – I’ll post the poem or a link whenever possible. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well!