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.