Poetry Friday: Celebrating 200 Years Of Walt Whitman

Jun 7, 2019

2019 marks two-hundred years since the birth of beloved American poet, Walt Whitman. He was known for writing from a transcendentalist perspective, believing that human reality could be understood by studying nature. In this week's Poetry Friday segment, KNAU listener Stuart Howe ventures out to a peaceful canyon south of Flagstaff to read from Whitman's most famous collection of poems, Leaves of Grass. 

American poet, Walt Whitman, 1819-1892
Credit Getty Images


SH: I see a still pond in front of us with lush, green grasses. Insects darting across the pond. It smells fresh. It smells new. It smells like the world in bloom. It’s an escape and a reset back to what I think is most important in our humanity and our connection with nature. I think we kind of lose that sometimes in city and day-to-day life, and it’s important to have that balance.

Today, I’m going to be reading Warble for Lilac-Time from Walt Whitman’s 1900 book Leaves of Grass. I read several poems in the collection and decided on this one because it has a real good theme for the recurrence of summer that we’re finally getting to experience here in Flagstaff, and it’s time to go out and play.

WARBLE me now, for joy of Lilac-time,

Sort me, O tongue and lips, for Nature's sake, and sweet life's sake,

Souvenirs of earliest summer—birds' eggs, and the first berries;

Gather the welcome signs (as children, with pebbles, or stringing shells);

Put in April and May—the hylas croaking in the ponds—the elastic air,

Bees, butterflies, the sparrow with its simple notes,

Blue-bird, and darting swallow—nor forget the high-hole flashing his golden

wings,

Leaves of Grass was Whitman's most famous book of poetry. He continued to edit and re-write the collection until his death in 1892
Credit Getty Images

The tranquil sunny haze, the clinging smoke, the vapor,

Spiritual, airy insects, humming on gossamer wings,

Shimmer of waters, with fish in them—the cerulean above;

All that is jocund and sparkling—the brooks running,

The maple woods, the crisp February days, and the sugar-making;

The robin, where he hops, bright-eyed, brown-breasted,

With musical clear call at sunrise, and again at sunset,

Or flitting among the trees of the apple-orchard, building the nest of his mate;

The melted snow of March—the willow sending forth its yellow-green sprouts;

—For spring-time is here! is here! and what is this in it and from it?

Thou, Soul, unloosen'd—the restlessness after I know not what;

KNAU listener Stuart Howe ventured into the wilderness to read for this week's Poetry Friday segment
Credit KNAU/Gillian Ferris

Come! let us lag here no longer—let us be up and away!

O for another world! O if one could but fly like a bird!

O to escape—to sail forth, as in a ship!

To glide with thee, O Soul, o'er all, in all, as a ship o'er the waters!

—Gathering these hints, these preludes—the blue sky, the grass, the morning

drops of dew;

(With additional songs—every spring will I now strike up additional songs,

Nor ever again forget, these tender days, the chants of Death as well as Life;)

The lilac-scent, the bushes, and the dark-green, heart-shaped leaves,

Wood violets, the little delicate pale blossoms called innocence,

Samples and sorts not for themselves alone, but for their atmosphere,

To tally, drench'd with them, tested by them,

Cities and artificial life, and all their sights and scenes,

My mind henceforth, and all its meditations—my recitatives,

My land, my age, my race, for once to serve, in songs,

(Sprouts, tokens ever of death indeed the same as life,)

To grace the bush I love—to sing with the birds,

A warble for joy of Lilac-time.

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.