Walt Whitman: 200 Years On

For the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national poet (May 31, 2019), here are lines from Walt Whitman's 'Song of the Universal', which Norwegian composer Ola Gjielo has selected and set for chorus and orchestra. (You can hear a performance of the work from Spain at the first link below.) Whitman was one of the first writers who made me take poetry seriously, and I'm sure there are more echoes of his verses in my own work than I will ever find.

Come, said the Muse,
Sing me a song no poet yet has chanted,
Sing me the Universal.

In this broad Earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,
Enclosed and safe within its central heart,
Nestles the seed Perfection.

By every life a share, or more or less,
None born but it is born—concealed or unconcealed, the seed is waiting.

Give me, O God, to sing that thought!
Give me—give him or her I love, this quenchless faith
In Thy ensemble. Whatever else withheld, withhold not from us
Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space;
Health, peace, salvation universal.

All, all for Immortality!
Love, like the light, silently wrapping all!
Nature’s amelioration blessing all!
The blossoms, fruits of ages—orchards divine and certain;
Forms, objects, growths, humanities, to spiritual images ripening.

Written in 1871, this poem--considerably longer than the lines Gjielo selected--appears at the head of the 'Birds of Passage' section of Leaves of Grass. Is this Whitman's most succinct expression of his artistic credo? I think it might be.

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