Walt Whitman (1819-1892) self-published the first edition of his opus, Leaves of Grass in 1855. At the time, he was living in Brooklyn and working as a freelance journalist and a printer / bookseller. The book drew favorable attention from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. After the outbreak of the Civil War he volunteered as a nurse in military hospitals around Washington D.C. — an experience he drew inspiration from for his notorious memoir Specimen Days and Collect. He is considered by many to be one of the fathers of modern American poetry. This is a seasonal selection from his book-length poem Leaves of Grass…
From Leaves of Grass (1855).
Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have . . . . for the April rain has, and the mica on the side of a rock has.
Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? or the early redstart twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?
This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody but I will tell you.
Who goes there! hankering, gross, mystical, nude?
How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?
What is man anyhow? What am I? and what are you?
All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
Else it were time lost listening to me.
I do not snivel that snivel the world over,
That months are vacuums and the ground but wallow and filth,
That life is a suck and a sell, and nothing remains at the end but threadbare crape and tears.
Whimpering and truckling fold with powders for invalids
. . . . conformity goes to the fourth-removed,
I cock my hat as I please indoors or out.
Shall I pray? Shall I venerate and be ceremonious?
I have pried through the strata and analyzed to a hair,
And counseled with doctors and calculated close and found no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.
In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
And I know I am solid and sound,
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
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The library will reopen Tuesday, April 21 at 9am.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was a founding force behind the Transcendentalist movement of the mid 19th century. He was a preacher and lecturer in Concord Massachusetts who gained international notoriety through his series of essays on nature and humanity. He was closely associated with other Transcendentalist thinkers including Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau. He was also an early reader and supporter of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (1855). The “Concord Hymn” was written to be sung at the commemoration of the monument at the Concord Bridge—the second stage of the battle of Lexington and Concord, fought April 19, 1775. This was the first skirmish in the American Revolutionary War. The Bay State commemorates this battle annually with the Patriot’s Day holiday on the third Monday in April. Festivities include reenactments and parades in both Lexington and Concord and, of course, the running of the Boston Marathon. The first verse of this hymn is engraved in the base of the Concord Minuteman Statue by Daniel Chester French (erected 1875).
Sung at the Completion of the Concord Monument
April 19, 1836
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, or leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
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These apps can help you write poetry in interesting ways such as including images or beginning with writing prompts. There are also voice recording for those on the go and several rhyming dictionary apps. And check out the Poetry Daily app to get your daily requirement of poetry – Vitamin P. Click here for the complete list.
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