October 31, 2009

Walt Whitman's Mockingbird

Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. Photo by Back.Pack, on Flickr.

The child in us is still alive. This post is for my sister: do you remember Dr. Sharsmith reciting poetry on the way up Mount Dana? Good times, good times. Happy Pugoween to Princess Lily!

I'm embarrassed to say that I wasn't familiar with Whitman's poem Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking before reading Jonathan Rosen's terrific book Life of the Skies. It's now one of my most favorite poems ever, and my challenge for this winter is to give my brain a workout and memorize the whole thing. [In the old days, grasshopper, memorizing poetry was thought to be good for both the mind and the spirit.]

From the chapter Whitman's Mockingbird:
The title he later chose, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking," gives the news of poetry in just a few words. It is a phrase of such haunting beauty that you can chant it to yourself in times of trouble or confusion and take comfort from it, because it says the child in us is still alive, and we are still alive, and maybe we are still children rocked by an invisible hand. It says that our adulthood is also a kind of childhood, and the whole world is really a cradle, and perhaps we will grow up someday into something more, and in any event the mysteries of childhood are still close at hand and still unanswerable, so why pretend otherwise?

Here's the first part of Whitman's poem.


OUT of the cradle endlessly rocking,
Out of the mocking-bird's throat, the musical shuttle,
Out of the Ninth-month midnight,
Over the sterile sands and the fields beyond, where the child
leaving his bed wander'd alone, bareheaded, barefoot,
Down from the shower'd halo,
Up from the mystic play of shadows twining and twisting as if
they were alive,
Out from the patches of briers and blackberries,
From the memories of the bird that chanted to me,
From your memories sad brother, from the fitful risings and fall-
ings I heard,
From under that yellow half-moon late-risen and swollen as if with
From those beginning notes of yearning and love there in the mist,
From the thousand responses of my heart never to cease,
From the myriad thence-arous'd words,
From the word stronger and more delicious than any,
From such as now they start the scene revisiting,
As a flock, twittering, rising, or overhead passing,
Borne hither, ere all eludes me, hurriedly,
A man, yet by these tears a little boy again,
Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,
I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter,
Taking all hints to use them, but swiftly leaping beyond them,
A reminiscence sing.

You can read the complete poem here. It's awesome.

1 comment:

Sally said...

Thank you. You're the best.