My favourite book is Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. Walt, as I call him, was a poet, born in 1819, died in 1892. He was a man of his time, yet out of it. In his early pictures, he is a lanky, full bearded white man, usually dressed in slouchy woolens and a soft hat. Young Walt looks dangerous, adventuresome, the kind of man who’d pry you open without first washing his hands and then bury his mouth for a taste.
He has written poems with wonderfully suggestive titles like: One’s Self I Sing, Scented Herbage of My Breast, Holding Me now in Hand, Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances, Not Heat Flames up and Consumes, City of Orgies, Behold this Swarthy Face, This Moment, Yearning and Thoughtful.
In the poem Unfolded Out of the Folds, he wrote in 1856:
UNFOLDED out of the folds of the woman, man comes unfolded, and is always to come unfolded;
Unfolded only out of the superbest woman of the earth, is to come the superbest man of the earth;
Unfolded out of the friendliest woman, is to come the friendliest man;
Unfolded only out of the perfect body of a woman, can a man be form’d of perfect body;…
Unfolded out of the strong and arrogant woman I love, only thence can appear the strong and arrogant man I love;
Unfolded by brawny embraces from the well-muscled woman I love, only thence come the brawny embraces of the man…
A man is a great thing upon the earth, and through eternity–but every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of woman,
First the man is shaped in the woman, he can then be shaped in himself.
I find his language liquid and symmetrically sensual. He is suggestive, yet respectful. Restrained, yet daring. For who in the middle of the 19th century dared to speak so openly?
Middle-aged Walt looks, well, deep. Rakish vest, gaunt cheeks cloaked with hair. Walt was a rare, expressive thinker, the kind of man I would have liked to grow to know quite well. His poetry talks of fierceness, passion, perfection, sanctity, madness and soul. I believe in all of that.
We could have been friends, perhaps, strolling hip-to-hip in springtime along wooded paths, speaking of nothing and everything, taking loud nose-fulls of the clogging tang of new-hatched leaves and fecund earth.
Old Walt looks like a rascal. If I could, I would sit on his lap and wiggle my backside to tease him and make him long for the days when he was young, swollen and full of himself and wrote:
I am he that aches with amorous love;
Does the earth gravitate?
Does not all matter, aching, attract all matter?
So the Body of me, to all I meet, or know.
But then, I suspect that what he has under that thick woolen waistcoat might surprise me still. This man who sang songs of the self, who wrote with such energy about aching, hungering and heated couplings, lusty men and luscious women.
I would love Walt madly, however he wanted, and make him chicken soup and wash his knitted socks and not mind all that if he would share his self through words, first, with me.
Then, in mid-afternoon, surprising as always, he would flip that slouch hat onto the sideboard and be wildly passionate on the scratchy settee in the front parlour with the curtains open. I’d be the one who yelled out poems as he strummed me with those callused fingers, tuning me like a guitar.