In the form of his complete poetry and prose, Walt Whitman has been a daily companion of mine for the last three months. Today I opened and closed the uncommon-common book of his life for the last time — but not, if I am granted the necessary health and a similar span of years, for ever or for all time.
Clearly, there is much about our time that would not surprise him and which he warned against, try as he faithfully and beautifully did to encourage a better future. But he did not fool himself, nor did he mince words when it came to the rampant political corruption that led this country to the nightmare of its Civil War, and which continued unabated afterward, and is its tragic inheritance today.
Walt Whitman was a great poet — widely read, informed, engaged, and as wild as the land he loved. He lived and suffered for a grand vision of democracy he himself embodied. He was not perfect; he had his weaknesses and blind spots; he readily admitted as much. But throughout his career, his words consistently showed that he wanted the best for everyone, even while the worst was being done to them, and the so-called leaders of this country relentlessly pursued a policy of thievery and cruelty, lining their pockets with the spoils every step of the way.
Tending the Civil War dying and wounded; bearing witness; celebrating nature and the common man; being true to himself and his gift through pain and hardship to the very end of his life — what more can a poet do in this world?
January 25, 2020. Evening.
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