TheConversation-purplebg-461666-450.jpg
Search
  • NYS Writers Institute

Event: Happy Birthday Walt Whitman!

Join us at the annual reading of “Song of Myself” in Albany's Washington Park at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 31.


Poets and community folk will gather at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at the Robert Burns statue in Albany's Washington Park to celebrate the birthday of Walt Whitman, with a reading of his poem “Song of Myself.”


Whitman, a poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist, was born on this date in 1819 in West Hills, a hamlet of Huntington on Long Island.


Persons interested in reading a section of Whitman’s poem can sign up to read at the event. The event is sponsored by the Poetry Motel Foundation and the Hudson Valley Writers Guild.


"I'm very happy with [the event]. Very happy with the success of it," said local poet Dan Wilcox, who organized the first Whitman reading in the park in 2005. "A lot of people show up people who may have read Whitman in school and remembered how accessible he is. I get a cross section of community people who don't go to poetry events."


"I've always been a fan of Whitman," he continued. "The amazing thing about that poem, it's sort of like the Bible. Every time I'm there [at the Washington Park reading] I hear something. It clicks, it registers, almost like hearing it for the first time. It's a document you can go in and out of when you're sitting there. You can just get into it."


The Robert Burns statue is located in Albany’s Washington Park, along the park road that parallels Willett St. & the intersection of Hudson Ave. Bring brings chairs or blankets to sit on.


You can read the 1892 version of "Song of Myself" -- that's the version that'll be read at the Washington Park event -- at www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45477/song-of-myself-1892-version. Called the "deathbed version," the 1892 edition was Whitman's final edition of the volume he first published in 1855. At the end of 1891, he wrote to a friend,

"L. of G. at last complete — after 33 y'rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old."

 

Notes on Walt Whitman by Rya Vallabhaneni, a student at Brown University studying English and Literary Arts.

A 2021 graduate from Guilderland High School, Rya writes for the Brown campus newspaper.


When searching the web for American poets, Walt Whitman is one of the first names to appear. Born on this day more than 200 years ago, Whitman came from modest means and little formal education. He worked as a journalist before publishing his first and most famous work, Leaves of Grass, in 1855. He then spent the majority of his career revising this collection of poems until his death in 1892.


Among American poets of the 19th century, Whitman was unique in his use of free verse. He chose to write in emphatic lists and repetitive phrases, rather than perfect meter and rhyme. These departures from fixed form allowed Whitman to communicate on behalf of the common man he believed himself to be.


He wrote of democracy and individuality, but also of a shared humanity. He wanted to see his country united, especially after witnessing its fragmentation upon Lincoln’s election to office and the Civil War. He even volunteered in medical field units during the war.


In honor of what would have been his 203rd birthday, we have reprinted a few excerpts from some of Whitman’s most famous works. The pieces below are hopeful and optimistic, cherishing our places as people on this Earth. Today, let us celebrate Whitman as he no doubt would have celebrated us.



Song of Myself - 20

I exist as I am, that is enough,

If no other in the world be aware I sit content,

And if each and all be aware I sit content.

One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself,

And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years,

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait.

I Sing the Body Electric - 6

Do you know so much yourself that you call the meanest ignorant?

Do you suppose you have a right to a good sight, and he or she has no right to a sight?

Do you think matter has cohered together from its diffuse float, and the soil is on the surface, and water runs and vegetation sprouts,

For you only, and not for him and her?

O Me! O Life!

​​Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Poetry excerpts taken from:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/walt-whitman#tab-poems