Dinner with Walt

all things Walt Whitman

Dinner with Walt - all things Walt Whitman

Whitman in the Redwoods!

Just returned from a trip to the redwood forests in California, those amazing forests are such a spiritually-magnificent place!

Of course I took along my Leaves of Grass, I always take Whitman’s advice, he said in the preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass…

…read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life…

I want to share one my favorite images from this trip, reading in the redwoods. Look at how the light radiates off Leaves of Grass, Whitman was definitely with me in those redwoods!


We Two Boys Together Clinging

We Two Boys Together Clinging

We two boys together clinging,
One the other never leaving,
Up and down the roads going, North and South excursions making,
Power enjoying, elbows stretching, fingers clutching,
Arm’d and fearless, eating, drinking, sleeping, loving,
No law less than ourselves owning, sailing, soldiering, thieving, threatening,
Misers, menials, priests alarming, air breathing, water drinking, on the turf or the sea-beach dancing,
Cities wrenching, ease scorning, statues mocking, feebleness chasing,
Fulfilling our foray.


“Terrible Reviews of Great Authors” Huffington Post Article Dec. 2012

Leaves of Grass was included in a photo-article on The Huffington Post, titled “Terrible Reviews of Great Authors” posted on December 4, 2012.


Writing for The Criterion, in 1855, Rufus Wilmot Griswold writes of the newly published Leaves of Grass“… it is impossible to imagine how any man’s fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth, unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love.”


Below is a screenshot of the post on Leaves of Grass. (Click to enlarge).



I suspect this article at some point will no longer be available, but for now, here’s the link.





The 41st Year, In Paths Untrodden


I sit alone in the peace, brilliance and grandeur of Nature,


I sit today, the end of the eighth month of 2012, at the very beginning of my 41st year,


I sit loafing, unanxious, absolved from the daily turbulence,


I sit to nurture, rejuvenate and energize my soul,


I sit observing as witness and recorder:  a dozen or more geese pass overheard in a perfect “V” formation, honking their call as they soar past. Busy, buzzing honeybee’s gather nectar from the bright yellow sun-kissed wildflowers; a gentle breeze rustles through the tree tops, loosening leaves already tinged in Fall colors. The clear cold water from the stream tickles my bare feet, impeding the ever-flowing, swirling ebb, the water slows momentarily to greet me with an exuberant, animated and splashy ‘good day’ then retreats on to the next who is due the same sparkling embrace.


I sit dreaming of a visionary, otherworldly poet who is long-dead, but who today, is very alive and is here with me. I sense his presence in the in the peacefulness and beauty of the morning, the radiant orange orb ever rising in the East, brightening the day. I sense his presence in the birds that sing, the breeze the blows and the countless insects that chirp, shrill and buzz. He is everywhere this day.


I sit and recall a befitting Whitman poem, In Paths Untrodden. The intro poem to the Calamus cluster of poems in Leaves of Grass; it’s a poem to be savored any day, but is today a gift to me.


I sit with open invitation, join us friend, cheer Whitman’s gift, In Paths Untrodden


In paths untrodden,

In the growth by margins of pond-waters,

Escaped from the life that exhibits itself,

From all the standards hitherto publish’d—from the

pleasures, profits, conformities,

Which too long I was offering to feed my Soul;

Clear to me, now, standards not yet publish’d—clear

to me that my Soul,

That the Soul of the man I speak for, feeds, rejoices

in comrades;

Here, by myself, away from the clank of the world,

Tallying and talk’d to here by tongues aromatic,

No longer abash’d—for in this secluded spot I can

respond as I would not dare elsewhere,

Strong upon me the life that does not exhibit itself,

yet contains all the rest,

Resolv’d to sing no songs to-day but those of manly


Projecting them along that substantial life,

Bequeathing, hence, types of athletic love,

Afternoon, this delicious Ninth-month, in my forty-

first year,

I proceed, for all who are, or have been, young men,

To tell the secret of my nights and days,

To celebrate the need of comrades.




1855 Leaves of Grass

Wow, I just read the Preface to the very first edition of Leaves of Grass, the 1855 edition. The Preface and entire 1855 edition can be found on the Archive. Take a look at the passage below and I’ll share a few of my observations. Whitman writes:




There are a few reasons why I find this passage so intriguing and compelling. For one, it is very bold – it jumps right off the page at me! Walt writes, “This is what you shall do:” Using the word “you” is risky, maybe even audacious. It’s a word I always use with caution. But not only does Whitman point his finger at us and say “you” – in one long sentence he actually – tells you – what you really should do! Wow, that is bold!


Another reason this stands out so daringly is that we can see that Whitman really was a radical in his day. He tells you to: “…despise riches, argue not concerning God, take off your hat to nothing, go freely…” What he says here, what he advises you to do, is to go against the grain; blaze your own trail; and be your own true self. These ideas and his suggestions are thought provoking and profound.


I also believe this intrinsic passage truly is timeless. What Whitman wrote some 150 years ago, is as relevant today as it was in his own day. Maybe I am a radical myself, but I find that this entire passage really resonates with me, I might even call it my mantra. Perhaps a point for further study, Whitman here, in my mind, is the captain of the modern era counterculture, and I find myself happy to be on-board his ship!



Plates for Leaves of Grass

Plates for 1860 Leaves of Grass, Library of Congress


The plates used for printing the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass have an interesting story. The Boston publisher’s Thayer & Eldridge first owned and used the plates for printing. However around 1877, a new publisher bought the plates and began ‘pirating’ copies of Leaves of Grass.  The Worthington editions were exactly the same as the originals, with an additional eight pages of other Worthington printed (also pirated?) books. I’ll let Walt tell you the rest:


“W. discussed the Thayer and Eldridge plates, in possession of Worthington, New York. Worthington prints edition after edition and sells them. Sometimes W. seems indignant. Sometimes he only laughs the affair away. “Worthington is a humbug – pays me nothing: yet I am averse to going to law about it:  going to law is like going to hell:  it’s too much like trouble even if we win. Worthington no doubt has a theory justifying it which puts me out of his court. In a case so obvious it would seem as though things might very easily be brought to a head in my behalf. But who knows? The law’s a tricksy thing to fool with, even for righteousness’ sake. W. laughed:   It’s a really long story. Worthington is known in the trade as ‘holy Dick’:  he combines piety with this other virtues. ‘Holy Dick’! Well – he has a lot of debris to unload before he can enter the Kingdom. Dave rails at me for not pushing Worthington – and Tom too, says” ‘You should drive him into the Wall.” I say yes, yes, yes: but when it comes to do anything I rather decide for no. Holy Dick! He’s a sour mess to me:  I don’t feel much like having any sort of encounter with him, good or bad.”



Later Walt talked to Traubel about receiving some ‘royalties’ from Worthington for the pirated copies. Walt says:


“W. alluded to Kennedy’s letter in the current Critic dealing with Worthington’s reissues of the Thayer & Eldridge volume. “I would like to rehearse the whole story – it has elements all its own. It is a long story, too. Worthington – ‘Holy Dick’ they call him – bought the plates – has done as he pleased with them ever since – never consulting me. To hell with Walt Whitman! Walt Whitman be damed! Dick wouldn’t use sue vile phrases but that’s what it all comes to. He might easily use vile phrases and be a better man. He is a pious Presbyterian – seems to be a publiserial freebooter (making no bones about it either). Jim Scovel once went to New York and frightened him into making a payment of fifty dollars, that fifty dollars being turned over to me. I think there was another twenty-five dollars paid at another time – I don’t know when. I acknowledged both, on account, as royalty. Worthington wrote to me, at St. Louis, while I was with Jeff, years ago, proposing that I should make five-years’ contract with him- he wanted a new edition, containing new matter ( I should say this was about 1877) – which proposal I turned down quick and sharp, telling him that three later editions or more had made the old plates worthless – except, I might have added, for trouble. I again prohibited his printing and selling of the old book but he went on, no doubt thinking me a ‘soft’, as in fact I have been.  Kennedy does not know about the royalty I accepted. There may be some construction of the law which would interpret my acceptance of any royalty as a consideration – I do not know. You know how Thayer & Eldridge bused during the war – how they were sold out. Worthington got the plates by purchase. He at first pretended that he has bought a big mess of loose sheets – was only using them – but that was a tale out of the whole cloth: I know the printer through whom Worthington bought the plates and he said Worthington was treating me a fish tale. I am averse to litigation – find I must not trouble or worry myself over such matters- make myself subject to the beck and call of courts. I like your suggestion that Ingersoll should be asked to look a little after Hold Dick. I was a for long time wiling to stomach it all, but Worthington has acted so hoggisly, so impertinently, I feel as though I should now shake him up. He is easily frightened, as the Scovel incident shows. Nothing would please Dave McKay better than to have me go at Worthington hammer and tongs- and Dave’s feeling in the matter is not mercenary, but simply righteous anger. If the royalty acceptance should be considered as nullifying my case I should submit to the inevitable processes of the universe.”





Image:  Library of Congress


Traubel, Horace. (1906). With Walt Whitman in Camden (March 28 – July 14, 1888). Boston: Small, Maynard & Company. pp.195, 250.