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In Walt Whitman, Michael Cunningham sees a poet whose vision of humanity is ecstatic, democratic, and sensuous. Just over a hundred years ago, Whitman celebrated America as it survived the Civil War, as it endured great poverty, and as it entered the Industrial Revolution, which would make it the most powerful nation on Earth. In Specimen Days Michael Cunningham makes Whitman's verse sing across time, and in Laws for Creations he celebrates what Whitman means to him, and how he ...
In Walt Whitman, Michael Cunningham sees a poet whose vision of humanity is ecstatic, democratic, and sensuous. Just over a hundred years ago, Whitman celebrated America as it survived the Civil War, as it endured great poverty, and as it entered the Industrial Revolution, which would make it the most powerful nation on Earth. In Specimen Days Michael Cunningham makes Whitman's verse sing across time, and in Laws for Creations he celebrates what Whitman means to him, and how he appeared at the heart of his new novel.
Just as the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Hours drew on the life and work of English novelist Viriginia Woolf, Specimen Days lovingly features the work of American poet Walt Whitman. Bringing together extracts from Whitman's prodigious writings, including Leaves of Grass and his journal, Specimen Days, Michael Cunningham's Laws for Creations provides an introduction to one of America's greatest visionary poets from one of our greatest contemporary novelists.
In college, after I gave up modeling myself on Bob Dylan (I had trouble with his conversion to Christianity) and then on Genet (I just wasn't French enough), I decided to try to become as much as possible like Walt Whitman. What propelled me was not the beauty of Whitman's language (I was an undergraduate English major; I was drowning in the beautiful language of the dead) but the following passage, which I read late one night in my dormitory room as Pink Floyd seeped through the wall from the room next to mine:
Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this touches a man,
(Is it night? are we here alone together?)
It is I you hold and who holds you,
I spring from the pages into your arms. . . .
Never before had a writer leaped off the page and touched me like that: directly, personally, erotically. It was my first experience of literature's ability to telescope time—to forcefully remind the living that the no-longer-living were not only once as alive as we are now but were capable of imagining us, and a future with us in it, as vividly as we imagine them in the past. If it didn't quite tear a hole in the fabric of mortality, it stretched it a considerable distance.
Copyright © 2006 by Mare Vaporum Corp
Introduction by Michael Cunningham
Selection from Leaves of Grass, The First Edition, 1855
"I celebrate myself"
Selections from Leaves of Grass, The Final Edition, 1891-1892
Poets to Come
From "Children of Adam"
I Sing the Body Electric (first stanza)
City of Orgies To a Stranger Full of Life Now
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry Song of the Answerer (first stanza)
Song of the Broad-Axe (fourth stanza)
From "Birds of Passage"
From "Sea Drift"
Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking
Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun
From "Autumn Rivulets"
There Was a Child Went Forth Laws for Creations The Sleepers (first stanza)
From "Whispers of Heavenly Death"
Whispers of Heavenly Death O Living Always, Always Dying
From "From Noon to Starry Night"
Mannahatta As I Walk These Broad Majectic Days A Clear Midnight
From "Songs of Parting"
As the Time Draws Nigh My Legacy So Long!
Selections from Specimen Days, 1882-1883
Opening of the Secession War A Secesh Brave A Night Battle, Over a Week Since Battle of Gettysburg Death of a Hero Thoughts Under an Oak—A Dream New Senses—New Joys Nature and Democracy—Morality
Selections from Collect, 1882-1883
Monuments—The Past and the Present The Last Collective Compaction
Preface to Leaves of Grass, The Final Edition, 1891-1892: A Backward Glance O'er Travel'd Roads