Walt Whitman’s Thursday Love Poem

Time for a Thursday Love Poem. Since it’s been a while, take a moment to skip back to the poem that started it all: “Thursday,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. That first Thursday Love Poem feature was posted almost five years ago, and you can check it out with my reading of that little piece by clicking here. An excerpt:

AND if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday–
So much is true.

And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday,–yes–but what
Is that to me?

For our purposes, a Thursday Love Poem is not what you expect from a “love poem,” and today’s piece, while a bit different from the other poems we have shared in this category, certainly fits. Is it a statement to a partner in the midst of a torrid tryst? No, wait, it’s a message to a future reader . . . why not both?

This first video is a unique one, played on an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape player. The actor reading it does such a splendid job, I had to share it with you. You can read the whole text below the video from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the book said-reader would be presumably “holding . . . now in hand.” The video below that is much shorter, but also unique, a delightful and cheeky way of portraying the old poet’s words in a modern setting.

Whoever You Are Holding Me Now in Hand

Whoever you are holding me now in hand,
Without one thing all will be useless,
I give you fair warning before you attempt me further,
I am not what you supposed, but far different.

Who is he that would become my follower?
Who would sign himself a candidate for my affections?

The way is suspicious, the result uncertain, perhaps destructive,
You would have to give up all else, I alone would expect to be your sole and exclusive standard,
Your novitiate would even then be long and exhausting,
The whole past theory of your life and all conformity to the lives around you would have to be abandon’d,
Therefore release me now before troubling yourself any further, let go your hand from my shoulders,
Put me down and depart on your way.

Or else by stealth in some wood for trial,
Or back of a rock in the open air,
(For in any roof’d room of a house I emerge not, nor in company,
And in libraries I lie as one dumb, a gawk, or unborn, or dead,)
But just possibly with you on a high hill, first watching lest any person for miles around approach unawares,
Or possibly with you sailing at sea, or on the beach of the sea or some quiet island,
Here to put your lips upon mine I permit you,
With the comrade’s long-dwelling kiss or the new husband’s kiss,
For I am the new husband and I am the comrade.

Or if you will, thrusting me beneath your clothing,
Where I may feel the throbs of your heart or rest upon your hip,
Carry me when you go forth over land or sea;
For thus merely touching you is enough, is best,
And thus touching you would I silently sleep and be carried eternally.

But these leaves conning you con at peril,
For these leaves and me you will not understand,
They will elude you at first and still more afterward, I will certainly elude you,
Even while you should think you had unquestionably caught me, behold!
Already you see I have escaped from you.

For it is not for what I have put into it that I have written this book,
Nor is it by reading it you will acquire it,
Nor do those know me best who admire me and vauntingly praise me,
Nor will the candidates for my love (unless at most a very few) prove victorious,
Nor will my poems do good only, they will do just as much evil, perhaps more,
For all is useless without that which you may guess at many times and not hit, that which I hinted at;
Therefore release me and depart on your way.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. keatsbabe says:

    I love this poem. It makes me consider my love for a particular poet, and when one thinks one grasps something, or understands a phrase and then it slips away. Or one finds oneself trying to defend a line in a poem that is pretty awful really… Thanks for sharing it. I have to find a way to get your posts in my inbox instead of stuck in ‘social’!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I hate that Gmail division of categories. If you figure it out, please let me know! And thanks for checking in here! I hope all is well in your adventures!


  3. Brian Dean Powers says:

    There is a sadness in this poem: Walt hinting at his love for men and yet knowing that saying it directly would be dangerous. Even today, many of us go through a period of our lives feeling exactly that way before we open up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, yes. That’s a good observation, Brian.


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