From New Hampshire, where I am teaching a seminar on the poetry and prose of Walt Whitman, to Brooklyn for a weekend arts festival on Governor’s Island with L and D. The Figment festivities are a ferry ride away and so, I am indeed crossing (though across to a different island) by ferry and thinking about the good fortune of finding myself here with Whitman muttering in my head. “The crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes,” how curious they would be to Whitman today, with painted faces and fairy wings. (A write up appears in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.) But of course Whitman was a step ahead, for as he put it, “And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are / more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.”
This coming week we will be reading the “Calamus” and “Children of Adam” poems and thinking together about what Whitman called “fervid comradeship,” the “adhesive love” Whitman contrasts with the “amative love” that he describes (in his 1871 essay “Democratic Vistas” as “the counterbalance and offset of our materialistic and vulgar American democracy, and for the spiritualization therof.” But I am here, on a ferry, and I keep hearing Whitman.
Others will watch the run of the flood-tide,
Others will see the shipping of Manhattan north and west, and
the heights of Brooklyn to the south and east,
Others will see the islands large and small;
Fifty years hence, others will see them as they cross, the sun half
an hour high,
A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence,
others will see them,
Will enjoy the sunset, the pouring-in of the flood- tide, the falling-
back to the sea of the ebb-tide.
Sure enough, we are watching and seeing.
If only Whitman could wander among the crowds on these rainy June days in 2009. “Not those — but, as I pass, O Manhattan! Your frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love, / Offering me the response of my own — these repay me.” Indeed.