Quotes n’ Notes: Walt Whitman* # We and poetry
“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering…these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.” # Walt Whitman
Why do we read and write poetry? Is it because it is cute? Walt Whitman explores deeper and attributes that to a refiner dimension of the human race. Poetry, in fact, is specific to human race. Other living beings are alien to such finer and evolved aspects of life.
Then the question arises, what makes poetry so human specific?Whitman’s answer is – passion! While all other animals are confined to mere base activities, related to food and baby making, human mind is engineered for higher activities of mind. Besides the body, man has many other aspects of life like – thoughts, emotions and energy. Passion arises from mind and emotions both. It arises in the mind and and is nurtured by the emotion.In other words, passion alone is the heart and soul of poetry.
Whitman acknowledges that many other noble pursuits, like medicine, law, business and engineering are pretty helpful to the humans and necessary to life, but…; But all pursuits are just instruments, means to support life and sustain it. They are certainly not ‘what we stay alive for’.
Then, what is it we really stay alive for? Our real pursuit is joy, not material and short-lived but of the soul, i.e., perennial. Poetry, according to him, is an instrument and means for that. Members of the human species are blessed to have it, through reading and writing poetry.
*Walt Whitman, (1819 –1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. He is among the most influential poets in the American literature, often called the ‘Father of the Free Verse.’ Whitman’s influence on American poetry remains quite strong till date. Whitman wrote in the preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass, “The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it.”Mary Whitall Smith Costelloe affirms, “You cannot really understand America without Walt Whitman, without Leaves of Grass ….” Modernist poet Ezra Pound goes one step farther and emphatically calls Whitman – “America’s poet …He is America.”
# Ashok Misra