I first read Whitman as part of my high school English curriculum and it kicked me right in the gut. I couldn’t understand why “they” (the curricular powers-that-be) would even include Song of Myself or the other passionate, spiritual poetry of Walt Whitman in the accepted canon. Did they even realize what it was they were asking us to read? Surely readers of Whitman verse wouldn’t be sitting dully in classrooms when the earthy world, speaking to us in a direct, embodied voice, beckons us to all its complexity and beauty!
More recently I encountered this Whitman poem and it helped once again connect me to the important issues of life.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated.
Mark’d how to explore the vacant, vast surrounding.
It launched forth filament, filament, filament out of itself.
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.