Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

From The Whitman Archive: a recording of Walt Whitman Reading "America." Apparently only the first four lines are captured. And there is some controversy whether the voice is truly Whitman's.


Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time.


And, personally, I prefer Simon and Garfunkle's song "America:"

"Let us be lovers we'll marry our fortunes together"
"I've got some real estate here in my bag"
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And we walked off to look for America

"Kathy," I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now"
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I've gone to look for America

Laughing on the bus
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said "Be careful his bowtie is really a camera"

"Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat"
"We smoked the last one an hour ago"
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America


And while we are at it, here's something of mine from a long long time ago . . .

On First Hearing a Newly-Discovered Recording Believed To Be of Walt Whitman Reading “America”

Six lines, six long breaths:
could this be your ripe tenor
seething beneath the rhythmic thunking

of a chipped wax cylinder,
emerging from the radio's static
like a phone call from the dead?

Grandfather of American poetry,
lover-nurse of fallen soldiers,
tree hugger, imp — is it you?

We may never know
for sure, but goose-bumps
covered my flesh as I listened,

imagined your beautiful blue
eyes, your white beard, your mouth
making love to each word.

Chiron Review Winter 1992

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