Love Poems You Wish You Had Written #4: with Walt Whitman

Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in ...
Steel engraving of Walt Whitman. Published in 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass

That’s right, Walt Whitman. He may not be as well-known for his love poems as others, and his critics might say he was too busy loving himself, but to that I counter that he loved himself no less than others, and no more. I just started going back to studying the “Calamus” section of Leaves of Grass, and I may write more on that later. Much has been written, and whether or not it matters to you whether the poet was gay or straight, I submit to you that Uncle Walt simply loved everybody. A more scholarly reader might disagree and remind me that the speaker of the poem is not always the poet. True enough, but for me, it feels like Walt means it when he says, “I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself.”

But for now, I wish to share with you a poem that I recorded on my YouTube channel two years and three days ago. The man I read it for now lives under my roof, by the way, so it’s lovely to look back on that time when I was worrying about his return home before a snow storm, and looking forward to his next visit. This is from the Calamus poems, and is called “When I Heard at the Close of Day.”

Looking back now it’s probably one of the least pretentious recordings I’ve made. There I was sitting in my pajamas in my tiny apartment, on my Acer laptop cam, just reading a poem for the sheer love of it. The comments on the video were very encouraging, and many filmed readings followed.

Sharing this poem again now seems appropriate after my last post, in which my friend Ygor was the reader. Ygor told me that this reading inspired him to do his own Walt Whitman reading, and I will share that in a future post. I cannot think of a greater compliment that anyone could give me. Friends like Ygor, and Brian and the many other artists, just a few of which I mentioned last time, have been a constant inspiration to me. I am lucky to know each of you. Thank you, friends!

44. When I heard at the Close of the Day

WHEN I heard at the close of the day how my name had been receivd with plaudits in the capitol, still it was not a happy night for me that followd;
And else, when I carousd, or when my plans were accomplishd, still I was not happy;
But the day when I rose at dawn from the bed of perfect health, refreshd, singing, inhaling the ripe breath of autumn,
When I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light,
When I wanderd alone over the beach, and undressing, bathed, laughing with the cool waters, and saw the sun rise,
And when I thought how my dear friend, my lover, was on his way coming, O then I was happy;
O then each breath tasted sweeter—and all that day my food nourishd me more—and the beautiful day passd well,
And the next came with equal joy—and with the next, at evening, came my friend;
And that night, while all was still, I heard the waters roll slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands, as directed to me, whispering, to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same cover in the cool night,
In the stillness, in the autumn moonbeams, his face was inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night I was happy.

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34 Replies to “Love Poems You Wish You Had Written #4: with Walt Whitman”

    1. Agree! SoundEagle also respects Whitman because he was not afraid to confront some of the most irksome issues and problems of his time and faced religions, alcoholism and slavery with considerable skepticism, disdain and defiance.

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  1. Well, just look how young and cute you were 🙂

    Actually, you look, and sound, very much like a man in love. Which just adds to the excellence of the reading.

    Thanks for sharing… especially since I wasn’t following you two years ago. 🙂

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    1. A happy man, a content man, is always a bit more filled out — he eats better — or, at least is happier eating, as he can share his meal with someone, sleeps better, safe in the knowledge that he is loved. It’s just your bodies way of saying it’s content.

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    2. LOL I was so proud that I didn’t have a donut for Fat Tuesday, but now I’m told that means I’ll have lice. Instead of a workout though, I took a nap. I don’t know what amount of justification is going to help, but hey, I needed the nap.

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    3. You needed the nap to be able to rest the brilliant, poetic cells of your brain.

      Genius can be tiring.

      Good luck with the lice. Should’ve had the donut.

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  2. Rilke, Whitman and Cummings… Oh my. 🙂

    Here’s another you won’t hear read in school, or studied in any class. It’s by cummings, and might be my favourite.

    ———–
    i like my body when it is with your
    body. It is so quite new a thing.
    Muscles better and nerves more.
    i like your body. i like what it does,
    i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
    of your body and its bones, and the trembling
    -firm-smooth ness and which i will
    again and again and again
    kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
    i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
    of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
    over parting flesh … And eyes big love-crumbs,

    and possibly i like the thrill

    of under me you so quite new
    ————

    And don’t get me started on Rilke, or I might have to post a lot of Rimbaud at you. 😀

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    1. hahaha. . . Well, you get me onto love poems and this is where i gravitate. And I LOVE this one by Cummings. Brilliantly mixing up the syntax to say the age old words in a totally new way.

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  3. There is a VERY good docu on YT ..1 hour longish ,on W.W…I discovered it the other day..you may have seen it..? This is my fav pic of him…way ahead of his time showing himself as a country boy rather than the ‘romantic’ head and shoulders only image of former poets. kristine

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  4. Speaking of poems not read in school, we found a volume of poetry on a trip to Ireland (over 10 years ago) called Real Cool, Poems to Grow up With, edited by Niall MacMonagle, published 1994. It is full of poems about life, love, pain, sex, discovered oneself, difficulty, joy—you get it, the gamut. And it was so refreshing to find a book of poems geared to adolescents, bravely going at the hard subjects of life and using the perfect medium—poetry—to delve into these hard subjects. I just pulled it off the shelf. When we bought it we didn’t have a daughter yet. She’s 11 now. I think it’s time to read from Real Cool at dinnertime.

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  5. Lovely lovely lovely as always. My last post on this subject tomorrow and I will miss it terribly. I am thinking of sneaking in an extra one tomorrow! So many lovely poems. Thank you 🙂

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    1. Thank you again, my dear. I fear I shall be trying to cram a few more in, and possibly late tomorrow, or not until Friday I shall add, not of the series, but companion to it, “A Love Poem I Actually Did Write.” 🙂

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    1. It tears you open and makes you like it at the same time. An old cowboy poet friend of mine calls it a velvet punch, which I think is a wonderfully apt description. Thank you for visiting. I love your blog, by the way!

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