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National Educational radio takes pleasure in introducing one in a series of recorded lectures and readings from the Library of Congress in Washington. The lectures were given in cooperation with the Gertrude Clark quit all poetry and literature are fond of the library today. The noted actor Alexander Scorpio will give a dramatic reading entitled Walt Whitman's America with emphasis on the Lincoln theme in Whitman's writing unscrew the locks from the doors. Unscrew the doors themselves from their javelins. Well mine are cars most of Manhattan the sun turbulent fleshy sensual eating drinking and breeding no sentimentalized
no stand or above men and women are apart from them. No more modest than him modest. Whoever degrades another degrades me and whatever is done or said returns at last to me. I speak the password primeval I give the sign of democracy. By God I will accept nothing which all cannot have that counterpart of on the same terms. As if it harmed me giving others the same chances and rights as myself. As if it were not indispensable to my own rights that others pose as the say. I have no wish to lift myself of breathing air and be
specially and or attractive. I'm not quite such a fool as that. I remain with people on average. I'm too great to be a mere leader. Each of us inevitable. Each of us is limitless. Each of us with his or her right up on the earth each of us here as divinely as any is here. We consider Bibles and religions divine. I do not say that they're not divine. I say they've all grown out of you and may grow out of you still. It is not they who give the life it is you who give them life. Leaves are not more shed from the trees or trees from the earth then they are shed out of you. I hear it was charged against me that I sought to destroy
institutions. But really I mean the foreigner against the institution. What indeed have I in common with them or what with the destruction of them. Only I will establish in the man I had. And in every city of these states in the land of the seaboard and in the fields and woods and above every keel little or large that dense the water. Without. And if this is all rules or trust or any argument the institution of the dear love of comrades. Asking strangers you do not know how longingly I look upon you. You must be here I was thinking or she I was seeking it comes to me as of a dream I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you all is recalled as we flit by each other fluid affectionate
Jase matured you grew up with me were no boy with me or a girl with me. I ate with you and slept with you. Your body has become not yours only now left my body mine only you give me the pleasure of your eyes. Face flesh as we pass you take of my beard breast hands and return. I'm not to speak to you. I'm to think of you when I sit alone or wait at night alone. I'm to wait. I do not doubt I'm to meet you again. I'm just see to it that I do not believe you. And I say train your if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me why should you not speak to me and why should I not speak to you. Let us twain walk aside from the rest. Now we're together privately.
Do you discard ceremony come vouchsafe to me what is yet been vouchsafed to not tell me the whole story. Tell me what you would not tell your brother wife husband or physician. Whoever you are now I place my hand upon you that you will be my poem. I whisper with my lips close to your ears. I have loved many women and men. But I love none better than you. Oh I could sing such grand years and glories about you. You have not known what you are. You slumbered upon yourself or your life. Your eyelids have been the same as clothes most of the time. What you have done returns already in mockeries your thrift knowledge prayers. If they do not return in mockery what is their return.
The mockeries are not you. Underneath them and within them I see you will lurk. I promise you you where nothing else has pursued you. There is no endowment in man or woman that is not tallied in you. There is no overt you know beauty in man no woman but is good is in you. As for me I give nothing to anyone except I give the like carefully to you. I sing the songs of the glory of Naam not God sooner than I sing the songs of love Glory of you. CAMILE. Migrate from Greece and Ione up. Cross out please those immensely overpaid accounts that matter of Troy and Achilles wrath and in need as is odious uses wanderings placard removed and Colette
on the rocks of your snowy Pointe ACIS for no a better fresh air busier sphere are wide untried domain awaits demands you. Comes at them you sing me a song no poet yet has chanted sing me a universal. I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. I celebrate myself. Who is this arrogant young man who proclaims himself the poet of the tie and who roots like a pig among a rotten garbage of licentious thoughts. The New York Times 1856. The most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed I have great
joy in it. It has the best merits namely of fortifying and encouraging Ralph Waldo Emerson Walt Whitman calls his free speech the true utterance of a man we who may have been mis directed by civilization call it the expression of a beast. The London critic 1856 it has done me more good than any reading for a long time. We ought to rejoice greatly in the rude and sometimes ineffectual is a great primitive poem and alarum or trumpet note ringing through the American camp and read David the author should be kicked from all decent society as below the level of the brute.
There is neither wit nor method in his disjointed babbling and it seems to us he must be some escaped lunatic raving in pitiable delirium. The Boston Intelligencer 1856. A sound as of a sweeping wind a prospect as over adorning continents at the fiery instant of a sudden sunrise of splendor now of stars and now of storms and resilient and reflective love of liberty in all times and in all things. Algernon childs Swinburne 1868 1887 Mr. Whitman's. He is a drunken apple woman indecently sprawling in the slush and garbage of the gutter amid the rotten refuse of her overturned fruit stall. Mr. Whitman's Venus is a hopping top wench under the influence
of canned Saturdays and adulterated rum. Al Jean and Charles win. Nine years later he strongly fortifies the doctrine of Madame psychosis. But it is impossible to imagine how any man's fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid failed unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love. A publication called the criterion 1855. And some other little tidbits here and there nastiness and insensibility to shame the apotheosis of sweat. Of all writers he is the most silly the most blasphemous and the most disgusting and my favorite by far. Whitman is the poet who brought the slop pail into the
Pala. Whitman as a classic. Curious that America should be the only country in which this is not as obvious as the sun in the heavens. Joy to the knowledge. An American at last. Self-reliant with haughty eyes assuming to himself all the attributes of his country steps Walt Whitman into literature. No snip or skulk or ot tea drinking poet or puny person or prude. He will bring poems to fill the days and nights fit men and women with the attributes of robbing blood and flesh. You have come in good time. Walt Whitman. That is from the United States review an unsigned article obviously written by Walt Whitman.
And I'm not joking. He wrote a number of his reviews they were very many good ones but it was a practice of the day and what could be make more sense in the day when you didn't have press agents who had people interview you and so you could tell them what you had done in your book to write your own review. Make sure that the people who read it knew what you were getting at in your work and get some friend on a newspaper to publish it. Or if you don't have a friend pay a little something and have it printed. That would be nice to know what say another great American poet Emily Dickinson thought of him but unfortunately she never read it because as she put it she had been told that his book was disgraceful. No book ever published in America was received with more vituperation or with as much hysteria as Leaves of Grass was in 1855 when it first came out. Now this is what it looked like.
Not the very first printing but this is the first edition. A facsimile of the first edition of 1855 in its third printing which included certain material that was not in the first printing what he did was to collect some reviews the good reviews of course and publish them print them in the back of the book and in the front of the book. The letter that I quoted from Amazon. In which he praised the work Whitman had sent one of the paper by the little pamphlet copies of Leaves of Grass to Amazon and Amazon had immediately responded with this wonderful letter which any young writer would have given both of his arms for from the leading man of letters of his country. This letter incidentally Whitman without asking emmissions permission I had printed in The New York Tribune which helped a lot but it also created a furor because most of the people had
rejected it with the exception of a few of the leading transcendentalists like amorous and thorough and browns and a few others so that all of the other writers and literary men of the country were absolutely amazed and horrified that somebody as important as Emerson should say that this piece of filth and trash was a great piece of work. It got about five good reviews or so and about three of them were written by Walt. It was almost universally rejected and reviled. And not only was it a shocking book because of its content because of its outspoken sexuality and because of its use of. Ungenteel an absolutely forbidden language. And because of its seeming denial of the existence of evil. But it was also a book to bewilder the mid 19th century mind and
taste which was accustomed to the conventional forms with their meter and their rhythm. Neither of which they found in this book. And he was never really at home with the conventional forms his few essays into that into that field of experiments with verse and Meta with rhyme and meter when not particularly successful. And I would like to state at the outset if this is the outset I think I've been going for 15 minutes I would like to state at the outset that I promise you one thing you hear an awful lot of things tonight but you're not going to hear Oh Captain My Captain. Not that it's junk but we've got other things that are better to do. The book and I say this is what it looked like the title page Leaves of Grass. You open it turn the page this is the third printing as I say after it collected the encomium. And here is the letter of Emerson which you printed in. I greet you at the beginning of a great career to quote a little more of it which yet must have had
a long foreground somewhere for such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits namely of fortifying and encouraging. Then you turn the page leaves of grass no author's name yet no author's name via Brooklyn New York 1855. Here on this side there is an engraving. And you assume that God be anybody else but the man who wrote it. No name yet. The man with a rather short faily fairly well Bob had beard growing gray. Hat cocked over on one side broad brimmed hat as he said I cocked my ad as I please indoors or out an open shirt the shirt open at the collar with a red on the shirt underneath I imagine a dog a collar and workman's pants and the stances one hand in the pocket in the other one on the hip. You know here I am.
No name get your turn you say oh yes. Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1855 by one Walt Whitman. This book consisted of twelve poems. The first one considerably longer than any of the others. None of them were titled. They were just strung together later on because this became a life with every piece of poetry that he wrote practically except some of the early examples which I will quote from in a moment went into it. It grew from a. From a volume of twelve poems as I say to you. In 56 when the second edition came out 32 in 1860 it had grown to one hundred fifty seven poems in one thousand sixty seven. When the independently produced drum taps or published drum taps which had come out in 1865 and May were included it grew to two hundred thirty
six and by the time of the deathbed edition the night the 1892 edition it a grown to three hundred nineteen or three hundred twenty some pounds. He added This became a life work as I say he added to it constantly. All of his output went into it. He revived. He lengthened poems not always to the benefit of the poem for instance in the section which find of the poem which finally got the title I Sing The Body Electric. He later added at the end of it a long anatomical catalogue which did not help the poem at all as a matter of fact it got very loquacious as he got older. And if you could say something in five words or twenty would she always chose to say it in 25. To the point where Emerson who had said in the beginning Americans abroad may come home on to was a man is born was forced to rob the plaintive Lee it seems to me to say I expected him to
make the songs of the nation. But he seems content to make the inventories. And those of you who've dabbled in Leaves of Grass and know what Amazon is talking about you get one of these lists and it goes on and on and on he never knows when to end. Now about the form or formlessness of his poems. In the 1870s the mid or late 1870s he took an extended trip into the West. At this point he was in his mid fifties and in a publication called Specimen Days in which he had listed his recollections as a young man in New York. Part of his family history and his accounts of the war years in Washington and his later years. There is a chapter or a section called egotistical find. In which he says I have found the lure of my own poems
was the unspoken but more and more decided feeling that came to me as I passed hour after hour and that all this grim yet joyous elemental abandon. And he wrote a poem written in Platte Canyon Colorado. Spirit that formed this scene. These tumbled rock piled grim and read these reckless heaven ambitious peaks these gorges turbulent clear streams this naked freshness these formless wild array for reasons of their own. I know the savage spirit. We have commune room together. Mine to such wild arrays for reasons of their own was charged against my chance they have forgotten art. To fuse within themselves its rules precise and delicate tasks the
lyricists measured beat the wrought out temples Grace columns and polished arch forgot. But thou that rebel is here a spirit that formed this scene they have remembered the. I would like to read to you a poem. It was published when he was about 21 years old. It's called the Spanish lady. On a local reclining When slowly waned the day wrapped in gentle slumber a Spanish maiden lay. O beauteous was that lady and the splendor of the place matched well her form so graceful and her sweet angelic face. But what does she lonely. Who or what in courts to reign for the
form that there lies sleeping or owns the proudest name in a does the lovely lady Inez to Castro's daughter fair who in the castle chamber slumbers so sweetly there oh no better had she laid her amid the couches of the dead or the bed she slumbered where the poisonous snake lay good for worse than deadly serpent or moldering skeleton other fierce bloody hands of man by hate and fear. Dawn. Old lady e'en as pleasant to be the thoughts that now have birth in my visions. They are last of all that thou shalt Dream on earth. No noiseless on its hinges opens the chamber door and one whose trade is blood in crime. Steel slow across the floor high gleams the assassin's dagger and by the road that it has riven the soul of that
fair lady as from earth to heaven. Well. That I say was about 20 or 21 years old when he wrote that and assuming granting that a poet of some accomplishment later in his life is entitled to write a certain amount of not very good stuff. Even assuming that I think we'll all agree that Whitman sort of abuse the privilege. Now he began to write Leaves of Grass by about eight hundred forty nine which is only nine or ten years later. I was quite a difference between what we just heard the Spanish lady and the poetry that came later. The very titles of which sometimes are enough to make you stop the titles very often the first lines of the poem but when you say out of the cradle endlessly rocking.
I sometimes choke up just saying it. Now there's quite a difference. What brought it about. What caused this transformation this most metamorphosis of a routine in an almost almost hack journalist into the inspired mystic that we know today. Well there are various reasons to which this change has been attributed. One of them and I imagine quite obviously it had some effect on him was the trip that he took in eight hundred forty eight when he was a twenty twenty nine years old to New Orleans to work on the New Orleans Crescent. The job didn't last very long it did something some reason it didn't work out it turned out some pretty undistinguished journalistic pieces and then he left and came back to New York by way this time of the Mississippi clear up the Mississippi to the great lakes along the lakes and then down into New York and Brooklyn. And that this trip and his actually seeing the
magnitude and the variety of his country and the people in it broadened is conception of America and extended his his spiritual horizons as well. Also it's pretty well accepted that he heard the call of Emerson for a really American poet and indigenous American Bard. And then he decided that Walt was going to be the man to do the job as he himself said I was simmering simmering simmering and Emerson brought me to the boil. Though later on in his later life he denied any influence on him by Emerson as he got older he also got to be got to like the idea of himself as a kind of a original on whom nobody had had any influence. He also began to think of himself in some vague way as a spiritual religious almost religious leader. All right we have the trip. We have the call of Emerson.
And we have another one. In the not too in the fairly recent years it's been pretty well agreed that he came under the influence of two novels of Joyce and the Countess of brutal Stott and I think the other one was called the journeymen joiner and that he patterned himself his appearance and his writing on a proletarian poet who was depicted in the count as a brutal stuff and a Christ like carpenter who appeared in the other. In other words that his was an assumed to deliberately assume personality because from the elegant dandy that he had been there are one or two pictures the extent in which you see Walt Whitman as a young man in his 20s and you cannot believe that this man is the man that we all remember with a long gray beard the loose fitting clothes the good gray poet sitting benignly in his chair sort of smiling at us.
Library of Congress lectures II
Episode Number
Episode 6 of 9
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WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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For series info, see Item 3701. This prog.: Alexander Scourby is heard in a dramatic presentation, "Walt Whitman's America," with particular emphasis on the Lincoln theme.
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Producer: Library of Congress
Producing Organization: WUOM (Radio station : Ann Arbor, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-40-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:06
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Chicago: “Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 6 of 9,” 1968-10-14, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 6 of 9.” 1968-10-14. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Library of Congress lectures II; Episode 6 of 9. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from