I recently finished ‘Leaves of Grass’ by Walt Whitman. Below are some of the quotes I like:
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 for yourself.
A Child said, What is grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?….I do not know what it is any more than he.
What is grass indeed? I interpret this quote in that everything around us, the entire universe is an incredible mystery. The more science uncovers the greater this incredible mystery becomes.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.
I asked myself a very similar question back in 2011 in this post. I wondered if given the choice would I really want to be born into this world? I’ve come to believe my consciousness in this universe is just a temporary moment within an infinite something that is hidden and something we could not understand anyway with the faculties we have been given. I think the quote above is touching on birth and death just being passageways to this life and from it as well.
I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals….they are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
not one is dissatisfied….not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.
Perhaps the meaning of Zen is simply to ‘be like the animals.’ As humans we burden our minds with so many thoughts, thoughts that come to us whether we want them or not. In meditation we try to train our minds to just be in the moment, to empty the mind of thoughts. This seems to be the natural state of animals. How lucky they are!
Sermons and creeds and theology….but the human brain, and what is called reason, and what is called love, and what is called life?
I’ve found that sermons, creeds and theology are in direct contradiction to reason. Believers strain their minds performing awful feats of mental gymnastics to try to join these ancient fairy tales with the facts and reason of science.
All music is what awakens from you when you are reminded by the instruments,
It is not the violins and the cornets….it is not the oboe nor the beating drums – nor the notes of the baritone singer singing his sweet romanza….nor those of the men’s chorus, nor those of the women’s chorus,
It is nearer and farther than they.
I take this to mean all we see and experience is already within us. We are divine beings and create this illusion of life experience ourselves. Everything is one, nothing is separate from anything else.
Rapid the trot to the cemetery,
Duly rattles the death-bell….the gate is passed….the grave is halted at….the living alight….the hearse uncloses,
The coffin is lowered and settled….the whip is laid on the coffin,
The earth is swiftly shoveled in….a minute..no one moves or speaks….it is done,
He is decently put away….is there anything more?
He was a good fellow,
Free-mouthed, quick-tempered, not bad-looking, able to take his own part,
Witty, sensitive to a slight, ready with life or death for a friend,
Fond of women,..played some..eat hearty and drank hearty,
Had known what it was to be flush..grew low-spirited toward the last..sickened..was helped by a contribution,
Died aged forty-one years..and that was his funeral.
This quote reminds me of the brevity of life and how we attach so much importance to the trivial: gaining more material possessions, placing too much importance on work (what you’ve done will be forgotten in a day, a week, a year or ten; it won’t matter in corporate America), becoming easily upset over small matters. Life is short, pay attention to the beauty that is all around, it will all be over sooner than you expect.
To think how much pleasure there is!
Have you pleasure from looking at the Sky? Have you pleasure from poems? Do you enjoy yourself in the city? or engaged in business? or planning a nomination or election? or with your wife and family? Or with your mother and sisters? or in womanly housework? or the beautiful maternal cares?
These also flow onward to others….you and I flow onward;
But in due time you and I shall take less interest in them.
Your farm and profits and crops….to think how engrossed you are;
To think there will still be farms and profits and crops..yet for you of what avail?
What will be will be well-for what is is well,
To take interest is well, and not to take interest shall be well.
The sky continues beautiful….the pleasure of men with women shall never be sated..nor the pleasure of women with men..nor the pleasure from poems;
The domestic joys, the daily housework or business, the building of houses-they are not phantasms..they have weight and form and location;
The farms and profits and crops..the markets and wages and government..they also are not phantasms;
The difference between sin and goodness is no apparition;
The earth is not an echo….man and his life and all the things of his life are well-considered.
For me, I understand this to mean that the universe will continue on being what it is regardless of what we do or do not do in our lives. But that is not to say we do not have an impact even if it is only slight.
The poor Irishman lives in the simple house of his childhood, with the well-known neighbors and faces,
They warmly welcome him….he is barefoot again….he forgets he is well-off;
Being of Irish heritage I always pay particular attention to what is said about them. I have three examples now where the Irish are described as being extremely poor. The first, Angela’s Ashes was written by an Irishman and describes awful conditions where just about everyone lived in extreme poverty. I don’t remember much else about the book as I read it long ago, but the one thing I do recall was the poverty. The second is ‘Walden’ where a nearby Irish family lived in a ‘hovel,’ and thinking of the hated railroad says “a million Irish, starting up from all the shanties in the land.” And the third is the quote above from Leaves of Grass.
My ancestors too would have started out in America being extremely poor. It is incredible how quickly my own countrymen forget their own roots and turn against the desperate immigrants of today.
A slave at auction!
I help the auctioneer….the sloven does not half know his business.
Gentlemen look on this curious creature,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for him,
For him the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For him the revolving cycles truly and steadily rolled.
Every human being is precious and as Walt points out the universe spent ‘quintillions’ of years preparing. If only we could see the truth and realize how amazing this universe and everything in it really is. It seems to me a realization that only comes with a higher order of thinking, a higher consciousness if you will, which poetry has a way of stirring up in a reader.
This is not only one man….he is the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.
How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
Who might you find you have come from yourself if you could trace back through the centuries?
A woman at auction,
She too is not only herself….she is the teeming mother of mothers,
She is the bearer of them that shall grow and be mates to the mothers.
Her daughters or their daughters’ daughters..who knows who shall mate with them?
Who knows through the centuries what heroes may come from them?
In them and of them natal love….in them the divine mystery….the same old beautiful mystery.
Same thoughts as my comment just above; each one of us is precious and it is an absolute disgrace that slavery existed and still exists today.