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Posted September 27, 2010
A Great Book!
Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT Author of "Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul" C. K. Williams has written a wonderful book, "On Whitman," which may go down in history as one of the best studies on the poet, not because of its exceptional brilliance, but because of its remarkable attunement to Walt's music. The only book that equals Williams' ear for selection is F. O Matthiessen's 1941 masterpiece American Renaissance. "How could all this have come to pass?" Williams asks: "This stupendous, relentless surge of poetic music with its intricate and constantly surprising combinations of sound?" Williams fells that Whitman's embodiment and embedding of his visions and metaphysical speculations in poetry is what makes his spirituality more sonorous, for some, than "any religious texts" (ix). He says that there is no question in his mind of influence: with Whitman we are dealing with a phenomenon that is without question more "primitive" than influence (x). He argues adds that in Walt's poetry after 1860 the American Bard "diluted and diffused his first brilliant inspiration" (xiv). For this reason the author quotes only from the 1855, 1856, and 1860 editions of Leaves of Grass and ends with a few lines from his Civil War poems. In doing so, he unfortunately misses much of Whitman's later brilliance, inspiration, and final grand symphonies. The best thinking Williams does is in his repeated return to his thesis: "there was no place where he could have `learned' his craft: it evolved with his identity, with his very self." Whitman's new way of composing must have come all at once, he says, like a conversion experience (2). The leitmotif keeps repeating: "we don't know where his music came from" (3). Really? What might analytical psychology tells us that poetry cannot? (I have written about this elsewhere.) He repeats: "When and how Whitman first heard his music is a mystery still, perhaps the mystery" (5). Hs says it could only have taken a few instants, or a few months at most, for Whitman to realize that he had discovered a "musical system" and within this system all the earlier influences and other "singings" were somehow encompassed (17). The poet was surely in a state of "bliss" that lasted for years. Williams continues: Whitman lived in it, exulted in it, swam in the delight of it, and because he was so close to the source of bliss, "his rhythms, and his diction" is "sometimes almost primitive" (13). For all the book's virtues, in conveying a feeling for the early music, to say that the only original music is in the 1855-1860 period, with a couple of Civil War chants thrown in, is tragic. Neither "Passage to India," nor "Proud Music of the Storm," two of Whitman's most musical compositions, masterpieces of pure beautiful verse, are not even mentioned. These late poems are not Williams' concern, so much as his first "brilliant conjunctions" (14). Conjunctions! Here his theme is gaining on him. "Was he homosexual" Williams asks. "Surely," he replies. What about sex with women? No, he answers: "it's finally very unlikely" (25). "Something happened, some utterly mysterious thing happened in the psyche of the poet which still remains the unlikeliest miracle, and he discovered, created his meWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 8, 2010
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