Beautiful Writing: Part 3, Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman is one of the most important American, if not world, poets. His work changed poetry, and he has been called the Poet of Democracy. His collection Leaves of Grass, is one of the books of poetry that I recommend everyone read sometime in his or her life.

I want to offer two examples of his work: this first is a brief excerpt from his preface to the 1855 edition of Leaves of Grass as a representation of beautiful writing. This is from the preface that Whitman wrote to his work, and it is in prose, but it reads like poetry.

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and

the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that

asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your

income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not

concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward

the people, take off your hat to nothing known or

unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely

with powerful uneducated persons and with the young

and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in

the open air every season of every year of your life, re-

examine all you have been told at school or church or

in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul,

and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the

richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent

lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your

eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

 

My second Whitman offering is perhaps his most famous poem and is about the death of Abraham Lincoln: “O Captain! My Captain!”

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;

                         But O heart! heart! heart!

                            O the bleeding drops of red,

                               Where on the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

                         Here Captain! dear father!

                            This arm beneath your head!

                               It is some dream that on the deck,

                                 You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

                         Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                            But I with mournful tread,

                               Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                                  Fallen cold and dead.

 

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Quotations on Integrity

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“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters”

                                                                   Albert Einstein

 

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“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”

                                                                 Marcus Aurelius

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“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

                                                                Martin Luther King Jr.

It Can Happen Here: A Lesson from Charlottesville, Virginia

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This will not be a post about my normal subjects.

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis’ book It Can’t Happen Here spoke to the issue that many Americans held that fascism could not occur in the United States of America. His book is satirical, frightening, and, unfortunately, still applicable.

Erik Larson’s nonfiction history book In The Garden of Beasts, 2011, detailed the experience of Ambassador Dodd in Berlin in the 1930s, during the rise and solidification of Hitler’s power, and it is a terrifying read.

We must always remember that it can happen here, that bigotry and hatred can lead to terrible results. That white nationalists and neo-nazis brought their horror and bigotry to Charlottesville, VA yesterday, resulting in violence and death should make all Americans, regardless of political party, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, aware of what can happen.

We should all be frightened of the possibilities of such hatred. We should also speak to the singular lack of condemnation by President Trump of the neo-nazis and white power groups. As President, he should not have said “on many sides.” This is an issue of hatred, brought by those who worship hatred and the defeated, in World War II, obscenities of Hitler. The President should have, without equivocation, stated his condemnation of their actions and beliefs.

We must always remember that fascism, bigotry, hatred, and dictatorship can occur here as it can anywhere. As Americans, whose freedom was paid for in blood, by those who fought in World War Two, we must speak out against such injustice and horror.

There should be no place for neo-nazis, white nationialists, and bigotry in the United States of America.

 

Quotations on Strength

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“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

                                                                   Mahatma Gandhi

 

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“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”

                                                                   John Steinbeck

 

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“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot”

                                                                   Eleanor Roosevelt

Quotations on Bigotry

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I have tried to keep political discussion and commentary out of my blogposts, but there are times that demand commentary. Since World War Two, the U.S. Military has lead the way in integration, and today was a step backwards. Bigotry is justified by a fear of change, and such thinking must be challenged.

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“What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.”

                                                               Albert Einstein

 

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“There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.”

                                                   Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

 

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“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.”

                                                  John E. Lewis

 

Quotations on Reading

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“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

                                                                           Ray Bradbury

 

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“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

                                                                          Joyce Carol Oates

 

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“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.”

                                                                          Carl Sagan

Favorite Science-Fiction Films of the 1920s: Metropolis

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Metropolis is a brilliant science-fiction film (1927) directed by Fritz Lang. This movie, recently restored to its entirety, is a disturbing look at the world of the future through  the eyes of visionaries in the 1920s. It is based on the novel of the same name by Thea von Harbou (1925). The book deals with a city created on the backs of exploited workers and run by the capitalist upper-class. It is also a love story, and it is set in the year 2026.

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Metropolis offers a powerful and damning social commentary on the effects of the ruling class, the capitalist industrialists who rule the world by using and crushing the ordinary people who build and fuel their wonderland. While the workers live underground in squalor and destitution, the upper-class live literally in palaces high above the ground. There they explore and indulge in numerous amusements including those sexual and athletic. This film is not a simple polemic but drives its message through a compelling story that shows the love between the Master of Metropolis’ son Freder and Maria, who lives in the underworld and serves as a kind of saint to the oppressed.

Frankenstein, 1931, owes a cinematic debt to the mad scientist in Metropolis, Rotwang, and his equipment. There he creates a robot woman, using the life force of Maria. Clearly the novelist, Mary Shelley and her book, Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, first influenced this movie.

Lang’s cinematic vision is exquisite and deeply influential to filmmakers who followed him in exploring the idea of future cites. His soaring towers and buildings, high bridges with fast cars, and aircraft flying near the buildings are based on the designs of the modernists and futurists, and this concept is a clear model for Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Certainly an argument can be made that Metropolis is a foundation for many other science-fiction movies.

This film is extraordinary, and the full version is now available on DVD. It is an important piece of cinematic history, and I give it my highest recommendation.

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