On for whom to Stand Up

Walt Whitman 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass:

All beauty comes from beautiful blood and a beautiful brain. If the greatnesses are in conjunction in a man or woman it is enough … the fact will prevail through the universe … but the gaggery and gilt of a million years will not prevail. Who troubles himself about his ornaments or fluency is lost. This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…

I ran across this passage in John Leland’s Hip: the history (picked up remaindered at the MIT Press bookstore 10 days ago), and the above is one of the several bits that resonate at the moment, as I consider that which passes through the mind in an environment of yogic concentration. I came here after 8 months of involvement with yoga, sort of wondering whither this is headed. There’s lots that I have no wish to be involved with (the Spiritual trappings, mostly: “take off your hat to nothing known or unknown”). Having been NOT a student of English or American Literature (at least not since high school), though I’ve read a lot at my own speed, I’m forever finding lacunae in my experience. Leaves of Grass is one such Yawning (Yawping?) Gap in my Education, and I alternate between the pleasures of adult discovery and the regret that my adolescent self wasn’t Exposed to those specific Heresies in the passage. On sober reflection, it’s pretty clear WHY my long-ago teachers suppressed that side of Whitman (“dismiss whatever insults your own soul” ? I don’t think so…).

And as for “every motion and joint of your body”, well, that’s what I’m working on, and it’s turning out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done. The point of concentration for me personally is “have patience and indulgence toward the people”, working against what is for me the easy descent into Judgement of Others. I’m very interested to see what comes next…

One thought on “On for whom to Stand Up

  1. Gardner

    “Song of Myself” is one of my favorite literary works, but Whitman’s Blake-sized ego can get wearing after awhile. As he is the first to admit.
    Great find!

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