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WALT WHITMAN, ILLUMINATED BY THE MESSAGE

Compiled and introduced by Norbert Krapf

 

 LITERARY PORTALS TO PRAYER

Classic Literature Illuminated by THE MESSAGE

ACTA Publications

 

ISBN 978-0-87946-598-8

Price: $10.95

Publication date: August, 2017

   



Walt Whitman—free-verse avant-gardist, prophetic visionary, bohemian, nature-lover, spokesperson for the common man and woman. In this latest volume of Literary Portals to Prayer, former Indiana Poet Laurate Norbert Krapf explores another dimension of the great American writer—”devotee of the life of the soul, of the universal Spirit with­in and beyond all things.” Fifty excerpts (from a total of 33 poems), or the whole text, include the following poems, as well as others, from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass: “There Was a Child Went Forth,” “Starting from Paumanok,” “Song of Myself,” “Look Down Fair Moon,” “Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun,” “Passage to India,” “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer,” “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” “The Mystic Trumpeter,” “Recon­ciliation,” “Transpositions,”  “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” and “A Clear Midnight.” 124 pages, paperback, $10.95, 978-0-87946-598-8, #1162.

 

Here is an excerpt from Norbert Krapf’s Introduction,  © 2017 Norbert Krapf:

            In revisiting the so-called “deathbed edition” (1891-1892), of Leaves of Grass, I have discovered another less celebrated poet. After graduate seminars I taught on his work and selected poems in decades of survey and poetry classes at Long Island University, not far from the historic Birthplace in West Hills, as well as a Whitman seminar in Germany, I have, in my seventies, discovered another quieter poet engaged in an archetypal spiritual quest. The Walt Whitman at the center of this book brings us along on the spiritual journey of his evolving self. The biblical passages from The Message, also in the American vernacular, deepen our appreciation of the presence of a seeker exploring the life of the spirit.

 

            The Whitman who speaks as a joiner of all people and things is conjoined at his spiritual center to Whitman the loner. Walt the loner gives us the most memorable lines and visionary poems, such as the “dark patches” and concluding lines in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” and the “outsetting bard” who finds his voice and mission on the Paumanok (Long Island) seashore in confronting the pain of loss in “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” Related is the grieving lover of the assassinated President Lincoln who descends into the dark recesses of the swamp in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” to hear and “tally” the cry of the kindred hermit thrush. Somewhat different is the man in “Song of Myself” who says he could turn and live with the animals because “They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.” “Logic and sermons never convince,” this visionary voice proclaims. “The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul.”

 

            In the poems that came of the Civil War, the great “Lilacs” elegy, the powerful “Drum Taps” cluster, and the shorter late poems, Whitman is more spirit-haunted. Learning that his brother George was among the wounded at Fredericksburg, he travels to Virginia and finds him alive, but the human devastation he describes in Specimen Days moves him to become a nurse’s aide in tent hospitals. After his stroke and aging, we meet a more prayerful Whitman who looks back and into the beyond. Gone is the buoyant optimism of his and our country’s youth; present are sober reflections on final things, the “Invisible World”….

                                                                                                © 2017 Norbert Krapf

 

   

Below is a pairing of a passage from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and a passage from
“Song of Songs” from The Message version of the Bible translated by Eugene Peterson,
with the heading for the two: “Come to Me.” There are fifty such pairings with one heading,
on facing pages in the book. 

            COME TO ME

            Urge and urge and urge,
            Always the procreant urge of the world.
            Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always
                 substance and increase, always sex,
            Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed
                of life.
            To elaborate is no avail, learn’d and unlearn’d feel that it is so.
            Sure as the most certain sure, plumb in the uprights, well
                 entretied, braced in the beams,
            Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
                 I and this mystery here we stand.

            FROM “SONG OF MYSELF”

 

            COME TO ME

            Get up, my dear friend,
            fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
            Look around you: Winter is over;
            the winter rains are over, gone!
            Spring flowers are in blossom all over.
            The whole world’s a choir—and singing!
            Spring warblers are filling the forest
            with sweet arpeggios.
            Lilacs are exuberantly purple and perfumed,
            and cherry trees fragrant with blossoms.
            Oh, get up, dear friend,
            my fair and beautiful lover—come to me!
            Come, my shy and modest dove—
            leave your seclusion, come out in the open.
            Let me see your face,
            let me hear your voice.
            For your voice is soothing
            and your face is ravishing.

            SONG OF SONGS 2:10-14

 


 

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