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.

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 Thinking (Revisited)

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“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

                                                                             Socrates

 

 

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

                                                                              Albert Einstein

 

 

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“Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man”

                           (Russell, Bertrand. Why Men Fight 178-9).

 

 

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“All good writing is inherently subversive.”

                                                                          Charles F. French

Quotations on Education

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“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”

                                                                      Margaret Mead

 

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“The mind once enlightened cannot again become dark.”

                                                                     Thomas Paine

 

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“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

                                                                     Plutarch

 

Quotations on Compassion

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“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

                                                                  Plato

 

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“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

                                                                Dalai Lama XIV

 

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“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. ”

                                                               Martin Luther King Jr.

Quotations on Justice

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“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

                                                                      Elie Wiesel

 

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“No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency.”

                                                                      Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

                                                                       Eleanor Roosevelt