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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

Walt Whitman & Mary Oliver

Two Hundred years ago today Walt Whitman was born. Whitman, whose work bridged transcendentalism and realism, is regarded as one of America's most significant poets and is thought of as the father of free verse. In his first collection of poems, Leaves of Grass (1855, 1891-2), he celebrated democracy, nature, love, and friendship, topics that never grow old or lose their resonance. He would continue to edit and add to this collection throughout his life even though Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that the first edition was “the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.” Happy Birthday Walt!

excerpt from Song of Myself

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,

I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

​These words lead me to my favorite contemporary poet, Mary Oliver. Unfortunately, this past January this amazing poet passed away and we will no longer be blessed with new works from her inspired mind. But, I am pretty certain that her works will live on much in the way Whitman's have as her message is also one of truth and insight. I invite you to explore the works of both of these wonderful poets. I think I may have to spend at least part of this day sitting in the grass.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

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