Friday, June 27, 2008

Walt Whitman, the American Rumi

Leaves of Grass is one of the original works of American metaphysical literature, equal to the great ecstatic spiritual poetry of Rumi. I often wonder why it has not been used as source material in the same way that Rumi's poetry has inspired the creation of music, or how the Dances of Universal Peace groups have made dances based on his poetry.

Now don't get me wrong. I love Rumi. I have several books of his poetry and have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Coleman Barks and attending his readings of Rumi. I just think that another original contributor to spiritual and metaphysical literature who made a giant contribution to our culture has been overlooked.

Leaves of Grass is brimming with the exuberance of one who clearly appreciates and celebrates all of life, from the titular blades of grass to the admiration of people doing their work, to the joy of sharing food, drink, dancing and singing with friends and acquaintances. You could say that Whitman's landmark work, was in a way, the spiritual grandfather to contemporary classics like Be Here Now by Ram Dass and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle. Every salient point you can find in these more recent works can also be found in Leaves of Grass.

Here is a small taste of the poet's wisdom to ponder. Whitman's poetry is peppered with phrases such as these:

"Of Life immense in passion, pulse and power,
Cheerful, for freest action form'd under the laws divine,
The Modern Man I sing."

"I sing the body electric."

"I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown
The clock indicates the moment --- but what does eternity indicate?"

"But now I think there is no unreturn'd love,
The pay is certain, one way or another."

"Was somebody asking to see the soul?
See your own shape and countenance, persons, substances, beasts, the trees, the running rivers, the rocks and sands.
All hold spiritual joys and afterwards loosen them;
How can the real body ever die and be buried?"

"I have perceive'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.

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."

"My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths,
Enclosing worship ancient and modern and all between ancient and modern."

"Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self."

Isn't this worth another look?

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