To Walt Whitman
Wilma Anderson, ’24
You overwhelm me, Walt Whitman,
With your gutter songs and your God songs,
With your songs without rhyme and meter,
With your triumphant audacity that ignores the fetters of classical bondage.
You are the poet of all thoughts, of all men and women, and of the inanimate things which exist for these men and women.
You are the poet of the elemental nature, the unquenchable forever living in all men.
The truth that many poets have plucked from the frail chalice of a buttercup or from the lyric cry of a bird has not been enough for me.
I have wanted to know what there is for the poor in their squalor, ignorance, and loathesome disease;
I have not known how men can desire endurance in the face of all the corruption, this knavery, thievery, blind war and injustice;
I have found no religion, no Deity in the shackling details, the petty incongruities of my existence.
I have sought for such as you, Walt Whitman,
For one who takes cognizance of all the conglomeration which is life and finds in it truth.
You have ignored nothing:
Governments, peoples, rulers, wars, passions, hatred, love, brother-hood.
Mountains, forests, rivers, blades of grass, railroads, telegraphs, machinery,
Stokers, tramps, capitalists, prostitutes—
In these you tell me to look for truth, for the pulse of the universe,
You, the poet of everything, have shown me the beauty of all.
I begin to see the world as a great, beautiful body, perhaps the body of God.
Not one vein or artery is missing, and not one is superfluous.
And most wonderful of all, every man and woman is the whole body of which he is a part.
The beauty is more than the gilded mist of the early morn which rises from pungent rivers.
It is more than warm twilights, white midnights, or the cheer of the prairie lamplights.
It is more than the swish of the surging sea or the moan of the wind in tall cypresses.
More, I say, is the beauty in you than the inward ecstasy of beholding these changeless, yet ever-changing, wonders.
White, cerulean, emerald, crimson, yellow, orange, purple cannot alone compound it.
The beauty in you is the beauty that rests deep in the eyes of men and women who have found the harmony of all life and know themselves to be part of the unity.
It is friendship.
Men have called you indecent, coarse, dangerous for youth who is molding his morals,
Because you have said what they think who are afraid to put sex thoughts into language.
These men are not poets.
Poets delight in you,
You, the embracer of all,
You who suggest a thousand thoughts,
Thoughts that breed a million other thoughts,
Of humanity everywhere, in thronging cities, in cold Eskimo iglooes, on the sun-baked trail of the desert.
Out of Manhattan,
Out of America,
Out of the world,
You have come to me, Walt Whitman,
And all that is noble lies in you, as it lies in many men and women I shall one day know.
This poem was originally published in The Taper. Rockford College. June, 1924, pp. 16-17.