Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On life, words and singing the body electric

When I am going through valleys, I turn inward to myself and my known comforts - warmth, quiet, words, books - those ageless friends of my girlhood and shapers of my self.

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In particular, the last month I've been reflecting on my sage Walt Whitman. I met him late, but at the right time. He is a frequent and welcome visitor. In fact, I picture him a literary precursor to my childhood neighbour Tom, who lived next to our farm in his trapper's cabin, who came by for dinner and enjoyed it so well he licked his pie plate. And who gave out full-sized chocolate bars at Hallowe'en, and threw beaver skulls in his back yard where we could find and collect the dagger-like yellow teeth. Only in this case Tom's quaint stories and anachronistic mannerisms have been turned by Walt into rhythmic phrases of vivid life. The 'barbaric yawp,' leaning and loafing and adoring all.

I have a Walt Whitman project I've begun. And while it comes to be, I'm enjoying being re-immersed in the words I find simultaneously expansive and comforting. This Leaves of Grass excerpt is from "I Sing the Body Electric" (which, coincidentally, was also a song that still moves me to tears from the original Fame, one of the most important movies of my teenage years):
I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them, or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly round his or her neck for a moment—what is this, then?
I do not ask any more delight—I swim in it, as in a sea.

There is something in staying close to men and women, and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well;
All things please the soul—but these please the soul well.

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