I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
I’d never read the poem before.
Good thing my beloved Poetry Foundation had the full text. I read the work aloud to myself — more like whispered because a louder reading would have slowed me and I wanted to consume it quickly, for myself and for Whitman, whom one can’t imagine in his lists and exclamations recited slowly. I had a suspicion the wedding passage was the poem’s conclusion, and it was. But my suspicion and minimal surprise at such were rooted in similar reasons, so I wasn’t disappointed. On the open road, as so often in Whitman as he’s always on an open road of some kind, the journey is more important. Let’s see that case at a wedding.
No, really, let’s see it. Read us the hard road, prime us for celebration. There are more difficult, unread sections in the poem, parts where you have to keep moving and not let the world’s demands get hold of you.
Bring it. Early in the poem, the start of the second section:
You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.
Where the life-car is drawn on the slipnoose . . . . where the heat hatches pale-green eggs in the dented sand,
Where the she-whale swims with her calves and never forsakes them,
Where the steamship trails hindways its long pennant of smoke,
Where the ground-shark’s fin cuts like a black chip out of the water,
Where the half-burned brig is riding on unknown currents,
This time of year always throws off my sleep, and my back feels bent like a pipe cleaner. Finding the energy to post here gets harder. But I’ve had some conversations recently that have sent my mind leaping. One has kept me wondering about the train whistles I heard from my bed when I was little. I keep Whitman on my table for times like these when I can’t string together sentences. Walt always manages. Those lines above come from a page I’ve now lost in setting the book down. From two pages prior, before I lost my place, that passage begins…
Swift wind! Space! My Soul! Now I know it is true what I guessed at;
What I guessed when I loafed on the grass,
What I guessed while I lay alone in my bed . . . . and again as I walked the beach under the paling stars of the morning.
My ties and ballasts leave me . . . . I travel . . . . I sail . . . . my elbows rest in the sea-gaps,
I skirt the sierras . . . . my palms cover continents,
I am afoot with my vision.
And this is coming from a guy who swore off Wrangler’s the second they used the Fantasy Records-licensed cut of Fortunate Son. Levi’s meets a wax cylinder recording of Walt Whitman reading his America. From Slate’s Ad Report Card this week:
Whitman is an involuntary spokes-celebrity here, and perhaps you deem this ad a desecration of all he stood for. I can’t say I blame you. But were you forced to choose a clothing line for our favorite barbaric yawper to rep, you might choose this one. Levi’s is the rare American brand that was actually around when Whitman was alive. And there’s logic to this match between a quintessentially American poet and a quintessentially American product. Whitman’s verse allows Levi’s to evoke not only its proud history but a forward-looking present — the pioneering, American mindset that Whitman captured and that Levi’s hopes to embody.