Be Thankful And Read Poetry
“To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”
With Thanksgiving upon us, it’s apropos of the season to remember and practice gratitude. Reading, reciting, and committing poetry to memory is good for the soul, for the young and old. Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was, most of all, a humanist who incorporated aspects of naturalism and realism in his work. The utmost lesson one may receive from Whitman’s verse is, most likely, that we can be transcended through nature and the realization of its majesty. Whitman wrote a great deal about gratitude, and his awe of life in all its splendor is most apparent in epic works such as Leaves of Grass. Although it was first published in 1855, Whitman diligently worked on the poems in that book until the end of his life.
“Song of Myself” is perhaps one of the most beloved and revered of all Whitman’s poems and makes up a large part of Leaves of Grass. Praised by Ralph Waldo Emerson and thought to sum up Whitman’s vision as a poet, “Song of Myself” is exactly what we should be reading in order to reach a greater understanding of gratitude. The “self” is the most important thing: to be an individual alone in nature, surviving alongside the elements. To be alive and wholly unique is something wonderful to be celebrated.
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself”
…And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
- As you can see in these passages, Whitman was in awe of and endlessly grateful for things we probably take for granted, like breathing and the wind in the trees.
“The smoke of my own breath,
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag,
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun.”
The Great Gift of Poetry
“I should say the quality of gratitude rounds the whole emotional nature; I should say love and faith would quite lack vitality without it.”
“Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems? Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems.”
Poetry is, in itself, something to be extremely thankful for. The above passage from “Song of Myself” is a wonderful one to inspire young readers, emerging poets, and lovers of life. If anything, Whitman gave his readers the inspiration to enjoy living—in all its simplicity and, by the same token, its profundity.
Whitman also wrote a poem called “Thanks in Old Age” in 1888. Instead of bemoaning the reality of aging, Uncle Walt wrote of his gratitude for life, for love, for friends and family. These are all things we should keep in mind during the holiday season.
“Thanks in old age—thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air—for life, mere
For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear
—you, father—you, brothers, sisters, friends,).”