In our Unitarian Universalist household, we have a running joke about patron saints. Since I met my husband in graduate school for creative writing, our designated saints are poets: Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
“Uncle Walt” (as he’s known around here) wrote and re-wrote his magnum opus, Leaves of Grass, which you were probably forced to read in school.* He explored the lives of soldiers, mothers, sailors, pioneers, and astronomers, and he wrote of the length and breadth of America. He pondered what it means to be American and he grappled with the beauty and majesty of America.
At our wedding we had a reading from the preface to Leaves of Grass:
“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.”
You could do worse than follow this advice.
Walt Whitman makes a cameo appearance of sorts in Dead Poet’s Society, courtesy of Robin Williams’ portrayal of an English teacher who pushes a student to take a risk and explore his imagination:
He does resemble a sweaty-toothed madman, doesn’t he?
I’ll leave you with this verse from Song of Myself, Book III, Section 2:
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems, You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,) You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
*If you hated it then, why not give Uncle Walt another chance?