It is a bit long, and, if read one way, a bit… intimate. Still, Whitman is considered by many the Yankee Doodle Dandy of American poetry. Our Shakespeare, and important and baffling and… American as that implies.
I tend to stay away from longer poems, but Whitman’s strength is how he weaves ideas and images into a cloth that becomes a central idea of wonderful complexity and clarity. To tease out a bit is to reduce poetry into a quote; a sound bite. So, I hesitate. You should pick what you will, for your purposes.
Each section stands alone. Each would be fun to read aloud and tease out meaning with middle school students.
It was “4” that drew me to posting it. An article in “The New Republic” on what we lose from new social media quotes a few lines. The author Rochelle Gurstein makes a weak argument against new social media (there are great articles to be found!) and of being a critic in these go-go days. In quoting Whitman–and taking the second half of section “4” out–she actually nips her point about passion. Read those last lines and you might be uncomfortable. Whitman is writing of the intimacy between writers and reader, and how, in the end, there is a person in those pages. For those with students to giggle when you say the world “love” those last lines will test them, and allow you to push them into why one might think about fingers and breaths and connect them to… READING.
Perhaps it is more than they can handle. That immaturity, unchecked, is why students grow up to be dullards who don’t read or think. Resist it. Push them. Don’t lose your job, though.
182. So Long
From: Leaves of Grass
TO conclude—I announce what comes after me;
I announce mightier offspring, orators, days, and then, for the present, depart.
I remember I said, before my leaves sprang at all,
I would raise my voice jocund and strong, with reference to consummations.
When America does what was promis’d,
When there are plentiful athletic bards, inland and seaboard,
When through These States walk a hundred millions of superb persons,
When the rest part away for superb persons, and contribute to them,
When breeds of the most perfect mothers denote America,
Then to me and mine our due fruition.
I have press’d through in my own right,
I have sung the Body and the Soul—War and Peace have I sung,
And the songs of Life and of Birth—and shown that there are many births:
I have offer’d my style to everyone—I have journey’d with confident step;
While my pleasure is yet at the full, I whisper, So long!
And take the young woman’s hand, and the young man’s hand, for the last time.
I announce natural persons to arise;
I announce justice triumphant;
I announce uncompromising liberty and equality;
I announce the justification of candor, and the justification of pride.
I announce that the identity of These States is a single identity only;
I announce the Union more and more compact, indissoluble;
I announce splendors and majesties to make all the previous politics of the earth insignificant.
I announce adhesiveness—I say it shall be limitless, unloosen’d;
I say you shall yet find the friend you were looking for.
I announce a man or woman coming—perhaps you are the one, (So long!)
I announce the great individual, fluid as Nature, chaste, affectionate, compassionate, fully armed.
I announce a life that shall be copious, vehement, spiritual, bold;
I announce an end that shall lightly and joyfully meet its translation;
I announce myriads of youths, beautiful, gigantic, sweet-blooded;
I announce a race of splendid and savage old men.
O thicker and faster! (So long!)
O crowding too close upon me;
I foresee too much—it means more than I thought;
It appears to me I am dying.
Hasten throat, and sound your last!
Salute me—salute the days once more. Peal the old cry once more.
Screaming electric, the atmosphere using,
At random glancing, each as I notice absorbing,
Swiftly on, but a little while alighting,
Curious envelop’d messages delivering,
Sparkles hot, seed ethereal, down in the dirt dropping,
Myself unknowing, my commission obeying, to question it never daring,
To ages, and ages yet, the growth of the seed leaving,
To troops out of me, out of the army, the war arising—they the tasks I have set promulging,
To women certain whispers of myself bequeathing—their affection me more clearly explaining,
To young men my problems offering—no dallier I—I the muscle of their brains trying,
So I pass—a little time vocal, visible, contrary;
Afterward, a melodious echo, passionately bent for—(death making me really undying;)
The best of me then when no longer visible—for toward that I have been incessantly preparing. 50
What is there more, that I lag and pause, and crouch extended with unshut mouth?
Is there a single final farewell?
My songs cease—I abandon them;
From behind the screen where I hid I advance personally, solely to you.
Camerado! This is no book;
Who touches this, touches a man;
(Is it night? Are we here alone?)
It is I you hold, and who holds you;
I spring from the pages into your arms—decease calls me forth.
O how your fingers drowse me!
Your breath falls around me like dew—your pulse lulls the tympans of my ears;
I feel immerged from head to foot;
Enough, O deed impromptu and secret!
Enough, O gliding present! Enough, O summ’d-up past!
Dear friend, whoever you are, take this kiss,
I give it especially to you—Do not forget me;
I feel like one who has done work for the day, to retire awhile;
I receive now again of my many translations—from my avataras ascending—while others doubtless await me;
An unknown sphere, more real than I dream’d, more direct, darts awakening rays about me—So long!
Remember my words—I may again return,
I love you—I depart from materials;
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.