THINKING OF WALT WHITMAN IN WASHINGTON, D. C., JULY 1999
I CAME TO SEE what was real and true about this city.
I came as an American neither high nor low, certainly not of the elites, nor of the
street wanderers, but of the very heart;
I did not come to divide into parts or to pass judgements, but to see what divisions
were there and what judgements had been made;
I came to see how things stand here now at the end of the second millennium.
And if I speak of America I will do it with the voice of an American.
I do not tremble to borrow what is good.
If someone calls me a slave or a disciple it is well enough with me, as it shall always
be well with us when we admit what is good and healthy for us to admit,
I cannot steal what is already mine; how can I borrow what is of myself ?
For I am to become of what I love and what I love is to become of me.
How could I shun the body and soul of American poetry ?
It has been one hundred years and more since it last breathed well but on this day I
take possession of it, and it possesses me,
And I know that it is proper and good that it should be so,
And I know that somewhere its great originator is happy with me, amused, giving me
And how is it with you now, Walt Whitman ?
Do you move in rim-shaped orbits above us ?
Are our bodies now permeated with you as you imagined ?
I look at my hands, my arms, my breast-bone, my waist, my knees, my feet; I do not
find you Walt.
I look around at the bodies and faces I see nearby and I do not see you in any of them.
Let us stroll, you and me Walt, to the Mall and laze awhile in the grass together.
Though your ghost is silent, lay by me here and we'll sing, I with your book in my
hand voice for us both.
It shall be the best of all things to be here with you on this day.
For are we not in the very middle of it ?
Doesnít the whole world come here to this city, by diplomats, dignitaries,
newscasters, spies, and tourists ?
Doesn't the entire world pass through on phone wires, television waves, radio waves,
satellite beams, and internet connections ?
Feel the thrum of the world buzzing and churning beneath us, above us, all around us !
Only this morning was I flying freely around the world on electric impulses, taking
expanded views, internalizing regions,
The hum and fervor collecting there, the moving nucleus of humanity.
I am in the midst of it here, it is all around me, creating the larger me;
How my muscles have been cramped, for too long my sinews craving to be stretched,
I am growing larger by the minute, my head and mouth expanding to enormity,
inclosing more and more the things of the world, my mind filling with prophetic
I am a son of the whole world, confused, mystified, needing something strong to
provide a midpoint, a focus of reference.
I shall make my midpoint this city, and the greatest poet of this city.
Therefore it is pleasant to be here reading with you Walt, it is the best of all things.
It's good to see that you were right about so much.
But I shall not move far if I cannot escape you, dear father; I see you knew that
You vigorously shake your bearded head and point away into the city,
You say I shall not go very far if I do not strike out on paths of my own.
Well then I will go, but I must take something from you, father, and add it to the rest.
You, Walt Whitman, forming an essence and a sway of my line;
But not you alone, Old Walt, for great is the compass of America.
Great are the voices that sing out all around us, mingling with ours here,
Ah the divine incantations !
Ah the chantings intimate,
What is America if it is not of these ?
Voices large and singular, Emerson, Thoreau, Melville, Dickinson, and beyond,
Voices of the foundations, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Paine, and still beyond,
Voices of great redeemers and justifiers of humanity, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Anthony,
Kennedy, King, and beyond,
The voices of those who sing out today, from every place on the earth, indispensable,
Voices potent and everlasting, eternally arising,
What is America if it is not of these ?
Looking at America that way is keeping to the high ground.
Let us keep our eyes on the high ground, but shall we ignore the low ?
I must tell the truth; they were originators of fine idealistic thoughts, but they are not
For if they were America, then would America be singing them now.
Which reminds me of a sudden, Walt; you will be wondering what your Leaves have
come to, I imagine.
Walt, there is news good and not so good.
Your book reached a summit with a whole generation, meant something to them,
inspired and challenged them;
Moved by your strong forms, that generation was great for a time.
They recited robust poems with that muscular and radiating character they caught from
For a time they sang of freedoms even you dared not imagine.
But though they waxed great in their time they waned just as greatly, until they were
very dim and hard to perceive.
And then the last time anyone heard of your Leaves it was when an adulterous
commander-in-chief gave them to his paramour.
But let us not speak of such things here, Walt.
Avert your eyes from the sheathed obelisk; that sharp tooth of America is hooded over
now, begirded, encased with plastic, lights all along the prophylaxis;
It has been concealed in shame.
We will not speak of the ills of the present moment, but enter into the realm eternal.
As I look out on the city I see the grandiose buildings built out of the love and trade of
America, and the architecture here looks good to me.
These forms, borrowed from around the world, from manifold ideas, from many other
times, I heard that someone called them un-original.
What is it to be un-original ?
We take whatever we like, possess it, and make it our own.
It is not shameful, but human and honest to do it.
For whoever puts a boundary around what is good to keep off the profane, the very
same is inhuman.
Those that ward off the impure and hover over their own do not possess but rather
they are possessed,
Inhabited by the spirits of luxury, acquisitiveness, conspicuousness, and materialism.
These buildings were built by the toil and life's blood of America, bought and paid
for by the labor of her own citizens.
Around the corner here is a new building rising up.
I marvel at the large slabs of marble rising up on lines into the sky, swinging into
position, workmen nudging them securely into place;
I marvel too at the workmen with their loose-fitting and begrimed blue-jeans, their
tough-woven shirts open at the collar, their easy, liberated gait.
What is America if it is not of these ?
Yet they do not work of their own design; somewhere there is a man or woman sitting
still in an office, working the phone, already making the new deal.
Somewhere there is a man or woman who has become rich from the labor of the
workmen, or from stock transactions, but one level removed from the sweat of
(There is something real behind the symbol of the American dollar, and it is the sweat
of real people.)
Somewhere there is a man or woman increasing holdings, diversifying accounts,
proposing mergers, constructing new conglomerates, or deconstructing ancient
I have heard that some were saying to own so much is not fair.
I do not know what is fair or unfair, but I know that the deal is the heart and soul of
Let us declare, then, that if there must be rich men and women who own so much, that
they shall be men and women who love their own cities,
Let them be men and women who impulsively give of themselves and their
accumulations for the use of their country;
Only such as these deserve the wealth they with the willing aid of their country have
So let it be also with the poets of America.
If there must be poets, let them make a good account of themselves !
Ugh ! Do not speak to me of 'modern' poets !
Spare me from talking of that pale incestuous society.
They love nothing more than the sounds of their own voices, the sight of their own
images in the looking glass;
I say the poets of today will change their tone !
Let them give back what has been poured upon them so profusely,
Say that they must sing the songs of their own hearts, with love for the people of
For I say that the poet without love is not fit to sing of America.
I say let the voices of hate and division be stilled and put aside, while the voices of
love take their posts.
For did you think, modern poet, that you sang of your own consent ?
Did you think to mark out a territory apart ?
You sing by taking from the songbook of your progenitors, friend,
You sing by the sufferance of your neighbors, and you sing into the ears of your
And the progenitors shall mock the poet who thinks to stand alone,
And the neighbors shall shun the poet who preaches them loathing,
And the children shall tear to shreds the poet who sings hate and division into their
These things have already been legislated, from long before,
I think they come not alone from my pen.
All these things had been made into law long before I first drew breath,
Documents were prepared, in committees they ripened, until at last the signature
awaiting they sat upon the President's desk,
And the President did sign them, and they were enacted,
And simply put the law comes down to this: that whatsoever you put out into the
world, itself will come in due time back upon you.
Have we not seen ourselves that this is so ?
The bones of the truth are coming up out of the ground and they are telling their tales.
Who was the poet that enslaved a whole race of humanity ?
Who was the poet that stole the land from the native peoples of Americaís shores ?
Who was the poet that made covert war in countries abroad without the consent of the
Who was the poet that preached antipathy and separation, covetousness and greed,
lust and exploitation ?
These things were uttered from the body poetic of all America, and unto all America
have these things now redounded, in answer to the law.
Will these things break back upon the whole no matter which part first gave them birth
Yes, for what the whole has done marks even the remotest part, and what the remotest
part does marks the whole,
Therefore think not to hold yourself aloof, poet, for you shall suffer just the same and
cause suffering just the same,
Think not to protect yourself by the bounds of your own selfhood, for you are not one
self only, but a part of the whole also.
I proclaim that the salve, the solution, and the remedy for broken hearted America is
coming, is swiftly following along the wind,
It shall come and is coming to us from across distant reaches of space and through
extraordinary realms of the soul,
It is coming from sweet songs and swelling spirits of love,
It shall come from tender generosity and grace,
It shall come and is coming from faith, freedom, maturity, responsibility.
Come, my friends, join old Walt and me.
Let us walk along the streets of the city and see if we can find evidence of the new
wave of love.
Look, how I love to see the greens of the trees and grass mixed with the vari-colored
The reds and grays of the brick, the whites of the concrete, the blacks of the asphalt,
The grays and greens of the curb with the upsprouting weeds breaking between the
Here and there the marbles of steps and columns and the granites of the buildings
advancing their hue;
I glory in the pools and fountains, the upswelling jets of liquid splashing down again
onto the rippling surface of the water,
Rolling down the steps of the Navy Memorial, where the gathering tourists snap
pictures, happy amid the colors and fountains,
They walking on the bi-colored representation of the whole earth,
Treading alike the representations of countries and seas,
Posing beside the sailor's statue, smiling.
I walk among them, smiling,
How easily I walk amid the world's bounties.
How easily too I forget the ailments of the city !
An emblem of disunity comes to my mind, brought by the sight of a subway tunnel.
How characteristically human I am in the subway tunnel, the ritual of silence, the trial
The long descent into the subway, purchasing the ticket, finding the correct line,
The waiting, the nervous glances among those waiting, avoiding contact, looking past
one another, eager for the approaching train;
Boarding silently, standing or sitting only inches apart, breathing one and the same air,
appearing to be lost in thoughts, or reading the most demanding books or
What a disconnected mass !
Where are we going ?
Pity poor mortal flesh and bones, the weaknesses daily exposed, assaulted,
What isn't calloused is flayed anew, what isnít guarded is lost.
The Navy Memorial itself resonates with its own ironies.
All is quiet and pleasant here, a lazy summer afternoon, but away in distant lands
bombs are falling and people are fleeing their homes from an advancing,
But not in America.
Here is the Saturday throng, joyful amid the plaza.
They have come, sitting in pairs in the semi-circle, eating, or strolling through the
plaza with cameras equipped.
I see many people here, from many nations, made into one nation, lazily strolling.
I watch the children play hopscotch across the inlaid map of the world.
I watch their parents standing ready with their cameras.
To one side of the plaza stands the bronze statue of a sailor, and near the statue a
marine in uniform.
I look upon the statue and the marine, thoughts of distant wars in my mind.
I am struck with a vision:
Suddenly I see the bronze sailor as a real man.
The sailor is at rest, waiting to board the ship Circumstance.
It will take him to distant regions.
It will place him in predicaments.
It will force soul-choices, for he will kill when called upon;
Not fighting hand to hand, or barrel-sight to barrel-sight, but at long range missile
He, watching the discharge, watching the plume arc across the sea;
He, awaiting the report, no one knowing what he thinks or feels as he hears it: The
target is struck, flames have overtaken it.
The admiralty settling the numbers, the collateral damage;
The sailor again taking his bunk off-watch, his thoughts his own;
Whatever he has done he has done in service to his country.
Whatever he has done is covered over with the honor that comes upon a sailor or
soldier in a time of war.
It seems that I see clearly the differences between a sailor or soldier and a poet.
To be a poet in a time of war is to be a fish in dust, goggle eyed and gasping, out of
the inherent order.
To be a poet in a time of war is to lose identity in tanks, bombs, missiles, flames, and
terror, self overthrown by watching.
To be a poet in a time of war is to be mangled and torn in spirit, unable to support any
side, tears falling uncontrollably for those in danger, and those dying and dead.
I see dignity in the shoulders, the easy stance of the bronze statue, and equal dignity in
the uniformed marine,
A terrible dignity falling upon the sleeping sailor I see, stowed in his bunk, dreaming
I know not from whence this dignity comes nor what it means,
I only know it is not the dignity of the poet.
To be a poet in a time of war is to know the appalling emptiness of words.
O Walt ! Where are you ? I have lost you.
I must bring my eyes back to where I am, for I can do nothing else.
There is enough here to occupy the eyes and mind.
I love the lazy walk along the roadways.
The many commodities of the city please me,
The street vendor his hotdogs selling, always busy and always optimistic,
The clothing salesman his merchandise hawking at low prices,
The smartly dressed men and women walking to and fro, taking of this and eschewing
that by volition,
The vagabond bluesman his harmonica playing or shouting out his husky and beautiful
singing voice by turns,
The pigeons wheeling above until they come to land in groups, partaking of the
wastage of the city, strolling and pecking amid the feet of the passersby,
Small black, tan and gray squirrels moving between the branches of the many trees,
coming down to the sidewalk to lazily take up some forgotten thing,
Dog owners taking their leashed and gladdened pups on a mid-day stroll,
The traffic cop with his face composed watching the cars in the street, waving these
by in their turn and halting these in their turn,
The policewoman in her three-wheeled cart with her face composed, some
transgressor ticketing, ignoring all complaints,
The homeless streetwanderer jingling loose change, bestowing blessings upon those
who pass without a glance as well as those who drop coins in his cup.
I stop and spend some time with a streetwanderer.
How are you doing brokentoothed old man ?
Did you know that we are brothers ?
Beggars and outcasts, both.
Let us be honest, let us not attempt to snow one another.
I drop my coins into your cup though I neither know when I will come by more.
They are yours because your service is as good as mine.
Better even, for which of these around us shall ever see one of my poems ?
Yet they shall see you, and you shall be a living poem to them, saying
"I am humanity -- slovenly, unclean, defiled,
The whim of nature is my will; if there is sun, then I am in the sun;
If there is rain then I am in the rain all wet;
When it is cold I shiver, when hot I sweat and odors rise from my body;
There is nothing artificial about me.
I hunger every day and only by providence am I fed, and if I am thirsty, then only the
waters of the streets soothe my tongue,
And there is no longer anything in me but what has been given freely or has been taken
from the refuse of the city,
And yet here I am, unrepentantly human."
We will meet again, brother, for we are not alien to one another.
We are of the same source and outline both, and beautifully ensouled both,
And we both inhabit the city-invincible of love, and we both point clearly the way.
I see the look from the eye of the old man, saying, Donít you define me; what I am is
What I am won't fit into your easy categories.
Very well, old man, I shall move away and leave you unaltered.
Take the coins and use them well, howsoever you choose.
I think I have seen something of the truth.
All things here have some relation to everything else.
There is nothing I might say but it has some relation to the world, and the world
relates itself mysteriously to me.
Therefore what I might say of old Walt is as good as said about anyone or anything
And anything old Walt said likewise means still so much more.
But who shall discern what old Walt said and what he meant ?
Surely it shall not be those who make it their business to define him.
What he was and is remains an open set of possibilities.
But see how they have attempted to draw such circumscribing outlines !
Haven't I heard some voices saying, "Oh, Walt Whitman was homosexual, and that is
why he such and such ?
Silence, critic !
Enough of your poisoned rhetoric.
Who has made sexuality the issue ?
Where do your morbid and greedy eyes continually look ?
Why cannot you leave aside the men or women he loved or how he loved them and
perceive how he meant to change us ?
O I hear Walt speaking through me to you, saying,
"Kiss me, critic ! Do not resist me,
Embrace me, for you and I are one as surely as any two were ever one,
Do not deny the blood of my veins is the blood of your own veins;
Swell that thin blood of yours into a sweat and fever for humanity, and now radiate
that hot glow outward,
For we have found that it is the glow of health, and we know that for too long we have
been cold to one another.
O critic ! Catching once the warmth of my dithyramb ever shall you view me with
love, with love !
Critic, hear the pronouncement:
You shall resist the inward falling energies, the collapse of the self upon itself,
Put by the envious glances; silently let pass the thoughts covetous,
Accepting at last your twined fates, become one with your own generator, for you are
a poet after your own sort,
You create your own fictions; they rise like boils from the body poetic of America.
You cannot be allowed to tell us what old Walt meant.
No, the true readers of old Walt, and therefore any American poet, are the simple
people from whom he arose,
And the simple readers and poets who follow in his step.
How can we stroll the streets of this city and not view it same as he did ?
For all the things that have changed, still there is lingering here his spirit.
How he mothered the low and wounded here, nor did he set himself above anyone,
(Though he clearly knew what he was and what he might one day mean to America),
How he himself strolled these very same streets, taking in this same heavy air,
sweating in the same heat;
If he did not think himself greater than another, then how can anyone think
him-or-herself greater than another ?
Now I may have a word of my own to add or subtract, but of this I alter not one jot,
For this is the same holy word that has come through the centuries, passing only
through excellent and most sensitive lips,
Of this there is no better formulation than "love one another," and of this in America
there has been no better formulation than all of the Leaves of Grass.
What can justify me now ?
Shall I always be under tutelage ?
Shall I not prove my own wings ? (Or have I already done so ?)
I cannot forever be of three minds.
If I stretch myself, keeping one hand toward the past, another toward the future, and
yet keeping both feet firmly here in the now,
Shall I not rend myself into pieces ?
Shall I not annihilate myself altogether ?
Is this, then, my end, to be nothing of myself but voices past and future ?
Saying that I am here with you in 1999, but also walking these streets with the
prophetic bard in 1863 ?
And am I not just as much here and walking these streets, in the guise of another, in
centuries far hence ?
Shall I not also take in the wonders only dreamed in the first 2000 years ?
Perhaps I will look back with indulgent eyes upon the ignorance of the 20th century,
but shall I not also look back at myself and see within myself the spark which is
of all times ?
Did I call this a beautiful city ?
O Walt what have I been saying ?
I havenít spoken yet of the filth and mire of this city.
Of the slime and foul dirt of its streets and facades, of the iniquity of its men and
women in high places and low,
Of the illicit exploitations, the drugged amoral rovings and bloodthirsty assaults,
The non-chalance of the violence, the easy taking of life, the hopelessness of the
streetwanderers, unsafe from constable or criminal,
The criminal streetwanderers themselves, with their rheumatic gaits and puerile
The insatiable lusts of diseases and contaminations;
O I see the flower of the city on one side and the hopeless squalor on another, ever
The virtuous upright walking past the sallow shades of victims without a glance;
How many evils have been done in this city? O uncountable, stretching backward,
darkening history, reaching forward to blot aftertimes.
No poem can unmake what has been done, what is real and awful about us.
For a moment I let today's hard rain stand as a symbol of cleansing,
I watched as the rain fell, collecting into pools and streams in the street,
Flowing into rivulets, carrying along ever larger heaps of filth and refuse (just as
much as I could have wished),
And I thought of how those flowing rivulets meet the mighty Potomac,
And from thence, drawing dirt and debris from the land as it goes, past the Eastern Shore and out into the Atlantic Ocean,
Out at last to the sea, and away from the land.
Now the rains have quieted, and I look out across the street, looking for signs of my
deepest thoughts, a nagging worry in my mind.
It came to me that ever does the ocean beat on the sand like a throbbing diseased
heart, so that what flows out comes back again,
And never could we escape the filth and refuse we have wrought,
And that even should all our evils be washed out from us, even so great would be the
tsunami bringing them home again.
And so it is happening now.
O how shall we ever be cleansed of it all ?
It is as I feared.
I find that once again I was nearly lulled by thinking and saying.
Begone platitudes !
Are we not here in the very city where the lives of young men and women have been
Is this not the city of unwashed bloody hands ?
What do my theories and banalities offer the young men and women, the pain they
suffered, or to the bereaved mother hearing the news, choking back sobs, Your
son, your daughter, will never come home.
My words can do nothing for her, neither assuage her grief, nor bring back her son,
O words, what good are you then !
Now I don't think the city is so lovely anymore.
I think it smells of the rotting flesh of death, and the stench of it makes me sick.
Even if I know God, I know nothing, except the sweet smell of wildflowers in the
What do I know but that I am like the flower ?
I blossom in my time and fade in my time.
O grand open system !
By you is not all reconciled ?
I have studied your ways, I know very well those twins life and death.
Are they not coursing through me at all times, even as you also saw, dear Walt ?
Am I not made up of them entirely ?
I know their names, good and evil, Christ and devil, change and stasis, order and
I know that by their twin actions are the forces of evolution generated.
I see them at work here along this street, forces barely visible, and not at all to the
I see them entwined like snakes, clasping like lovers, grappling to the finish like
You saw them, too, didnít you Walt ?
I know that you saw them, forces of the ceaseless flow, you saw and felt them as they
rushed through you, supporting and sustaining you, as they sustain me now,
nourishing the whole me.
This body that is the flower of me is not all of me.
For if a flower, what of the stalk ?
And if the stalk and flower, what of the leaves ?
And what is the stalk, leaf and flower if it have no root ?
O listen, we are dazzled by beauties !
We donít think any more about the rest of it, our spirits, our works and our bodies, are
they not rooted secure in love ?
Love is the everlasting flow, freely creating, nourishing, upholding.
Though this universe and a million others subsequent will have an end (as all must
end), there is that which will not end:
The ceaseless flow eternal.
O brother, father Walt -- didn't you confront it too, right here ?
On your first day in Washington you were greeted by a pile of gangrenous limbs
sawed from the bodies of soldiers;
You saw the ugliness of war and disease, the ravages of death, the price of politics;
Didn't you see the worst of it amongst the blood-soaked beds of the wounded young
Werenít you the old gray comforter of the last dying moans ?
The last gleam of life fading from the young eyes, fixed upon you,
How it must have torn your heart in pieces !
How did your faith survive it ?
How could you lift up your large bearded head from amid the sobbing and go on ?
I think it was the love of those simple young men that kept you going,
I think it was the sharing of the knowing look in their eyes,
And I think most of all it was the enormity of your own strong loving heart.
Almost it reconciles me to know that you were here once, Walt.
Can one loving man redeem a whole city of corruptions ?
Almost Walt Whitman does, but not he alone.
Great as he was he could not do it alone.
But he has taught us: what words cannot do we may yet do by our deeds.
Therefore let the people rise up and add their love to this city !
For what we do here shall surely spread like a wave across the whole of the earth,
Therefore we cannot be put off our quest,
Therefore set your hearts in stone,
Do not let the pusillanimous ones on the hill set your tone, for this is your city and
they but abide here by forbearance,
Let us ring the capitol with love !
Let us ring the federal buildings with love !
Let us encircle the courts with beautiful love !
Let us dance around the house of the President with holy, chaste love !
Love which has no color, nor creed, nor dogma, but purest fiery love !
What is love if it is not in the taking of the hand and the pressing of warmth from one
to another ?
What is love if it is not in the sharing of open faced curious regard ?
What is love if it is not in the laughing and singing of new-made friends ?
What is love if it is not in the trying to love ?
O now I am overcome with thoughts of vibrant love !
I shall run through the streets of D.C. and proclaim my passion !
Hear me O great and garrulous city, city of the endless spinning talkers, city of
crooked dealmaking at the eclipse of midnight,
City of circuitous discourse, city of political tongues all awag, city of declaring
loudly anything but what you intend; O hear me and receive my love !
Hear me city of untold sins, city of mad lusts, dark and disagreeable city, city of
killing and villainy; hear and receive my love !
Hear me city of humble and virtuous folks, city of the devout and hard at work, city of
optimistic grand days, city of civic treasuries,
O keeper of the constitution and the laws of the Union, hear me and receive my love !
A power of voices comes over me ! I walk goggle eyed amid the crowd.
O thou empty ! Thou soulless !
I shall plumb thy depths !
I shall expand thy horizons! It is I, the ancient bard, come again;
A miserable failed prophet, ennobled by my fallen-ness, strengthened by my faults.
I shall measure thy expanses and find them so very wide,
I shall tread out thy miles and find them long, longer still than a circuit of the earth.
For have we not paced the very moon ?
Are we not among the great discoverers and heros of science and medicine ?
What is there that we cannot do ?
Your souls are large and wondrous and ye know it not ! is my cry to the crowded
streets as I wander in my trance.
Madly now I pant my love and let my buggy eyes fall where they may,
I see the great statesmen and women, but none greater than the lowest street wanderer;
Justices, officials, Secretaries, Mr. House Speaker, Madame Attorney General, come
into the light of glorious love ! Street wanderers, Fourteenth Street callgirls,
look into the nimbus of love ! Look up into the face of love !
Hustlers and pushers, junkies, small time crack criminals and lazy good-for-nothings,
we are here in the glowy light calling you! Come with us into love !
I see the tall buildings, but none taller than the Obelisk of Washington;
O multifarious cabbies ! Lawyers and lawmakers, look out into this great city of love
! Waiters and waitresses, bartenders, busboys, come from your stations into the
gentle radiance of love !
I see the great monuments, but none greater than the city itself;
Let our President, the Vice President, their families and all the staffers, clerks,
gardeners, and White House curators come forth and join us here in the
showering of holy love !
Here am I, your own poet, sent here by love's personal grace for this alone, calling
you to come into the delicate lambency of love !
O I see now that this city for all its evils shall really come to good in the end,
O I see that this city was ordained by a higher power long ago, a power that lends to
the weak and the poor all the power of the mightiest,
A power at work by days and nights among the sick and maimed,
A power that proclaims no other government than democracy good and fit enough to
The power of love! The power of love !
The foundation of this city, and this entire land, and this entire people is really love !
And now the city is radiating its love back to me,
I perceive it was always there and ready to be sensed by whomever would respond to
I know that without a doubt this city shall raise its head above its troubles, and bear
the country with it purely on behalf of love !
You now reading this, consider well your own part.
This city cannot change without your consent and will, this country cannot change
without your exertion and agreement,
It will take many hands and voices raised up firm in the service of love to bring about
So now what are we waiting for ? We had better get started.
I am struck by a paralyzing thought.
If the city really radiates the love of two thousand years few feel it.
For this only was the long fight worth fighting, to lose it now after all this time ?
There is weakness and despair in this thinking, making my muscles go slack, my face
ashen, my eyes aimless.
I see around me that the truth is awful.
The wavy lines of incompletion that I see are gaining an ascendancy, making a new
and hideous world.
I hear howls out of a billion mouths, my mind receding to a remoteness from which I
can view the entire earth.
A chorus of dolorous laments fills my head.
O I am crushed and helpless, Walt !
You did not prepare me for this !
Stern and reproachful Walt appears before me, pointing back toward the way I have
Regaining my strength, I return at once to my task.
I cannot let the dark vision become real; yet I am but the clarion after all, the work
must be done by those called.
People of the city, it must begin with you !
Centuries of poetic effusions course through me to you,
Will you not hear my call ?
So have I called offering my love and heard the response of the city.
The cars and walkers swing in their orbits seemingly unchanged.
But I quietly remark that the will of the city is my own will.
I am the city's mouth, and I bend to plant upon this ground the kiss of an eternal
The best of humanity will ever be mingled with the worst.
What more is there to say ?
The city groans, unaware of the danger in the present moment.
I am shrinking down again, small, frail, mortal, one lost among many.
Saying is not as much as doing, but maybe it is all that can be asked of a poet.
I see Walt nodding his head, his gesture saying the fight will outlive me as it did him,
Yet every step is marked with wondrous possibilities, indescribable possibilities,
made of beautiful ideas;
Therefore I am right and just to send forth my indications of love, inviting you,
reading this, to receive them and send them forth again;
Pick up the load and carry it awhile, and then lay it down for the next pair of ready
hands and the next ample shoulders;
Brother or sister, keep it well !
Beautiful departed voices have marked clearly the way we shall be following.