Walt Whitman’s Reply
My dear friend, I am truly flattered by your concern. But I think you should spend less of your precious time worrying about me, and more of it trying to understand yourself. Your mother is right. It is better to know a familiar patch of earth with all of one’s heart and senses than to seek blindly for something that isn’t there. I am an old man, with an old body. The temple is in decay, and the restless spirit seeks another in which to pray. This should not concern you. Stay home and take care of your mother. Ignore my feeble summertime request. It was symbolic — a failed attempt to not break your heart or mine. Instead, go visit your father at the cemetery. Talk with him there. Go on believing what he says, go on believing everything. If you do, then I will walk joyfully down to my own sweet end, and gaze up in wonder at the trees and stars. They have sustained me
all my life. It is time I returned the favor.
What bright hammer was I swinging? That is not the question. You hold the hammer now. Do not be afraid. I can hear it ringing. You are like a god standing at his forge,
with powerful arms and chest and shoulders, mad and black with soot, with eyes that see the world and all the savage joy that is in it — the coursing rivers, the wild tribes of men, the snow-covered mountains and desolate valleys vibrant and teeming with prehistoric life. It is up to you to make your vision sing. Make the sky your bride, and the earth will be your pillow. Take cosmic pride in all you say and do. Fear not your own perfection, for you come by it rightfully. Do not listen to the ministers of failure, who promise redemption for their imagined sins. They are bitter and small, unequal to living, the miller’s dross. Instead, bathe them in your sunshine. It is what they least desire.
Lift them up against their will, let them see their faces in your mirror.
Outside, the weather has turned cold again. Spring came, then frost blackened the tender growth. The vineyard is an orderly congregation of old men standing naked. Nature will clothe them a second time, but there will be no grapes this year. I might never again hold a grape upon my tongue, crush it between my teeth, and absorb its juice. When you walk the countryside in search of poems, ponder this strange truth.
Let it penetrate your being, let its wild seed take root.
The world is yours, my friend. Seize it. Suck gladly at its breast. Be a field for our slowly ripening dreams. Always give your best. As your brother, as a man victorious yet cast asunder, I exhort you to stride through the cosmos, sowing your stars. It is an act befitting the god you are.
April 15, 2005
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