Whitman, Walt (1819-1892)

John Cowper 'acquired a mania' for him in 1907, while recovering from an operation in London. Whitman was a major influence in his foreknowledge not only of America but of his own inner territories. One can indeed detect some of Whitman's subjects of predilection in Powys' own poetry.In a letter to Henry Miller he remembers: "Whitman I lived with & with him alone. His executor had given me that 2 vol early edition & for 2 years in my life I read nothing else..."(Letters to Henry Miller, Feb. 10, 1951)

In his Autobiography, he also refers to "Emerson's brave word" about Whitman. It might be necessary to shed some light on this cryptic allusion. When Leaves of Grass was published in 1855, it was a simple, slim volume of untitled poems and its author, Walter Whitman, was still a relatively unknown journalist. Emerson was impressed and immediately wrote him a Letter, which has become famous, where he greeted Whitman "at the beginning of a great career". He also wrote that he took "great joy" from Whitman's "free, brave thought" in which he found "incomparable things said incomparably well." (The Emerson Letter is to be found in the Charles E. Feinberg-Walt Whitman Collection in the Library of Congress.)

        And we learn from him how to let our human ego flow forth like a disembodied vapour through the heaps of grey stones and the dusty weeds, through the disordered scatterings of wayside rubble, through the rain-soaked palings and the broken shards, through the tidal drift and the floatsam; in fact, through all those back-waters of matter that he loves to call the measureless float'. He can isolate when he wants to — who better? — the lilac in the door-yard, the lonely bird in the sea-swamps, the solitary star above the horizon: but what he prefers to concentrate upon are the things neglected by other poets, the things that have hitherto seemed in their essential nature to be the extreme opposite of the poetic. ('Walt Whitman', The Pleasures of Literature, by John Cowper Powys)

from Walt Whitman and his poetry
H.B. Binns, London 1915
        Do you know: Mr Schuster & Dr Durant took us out in a motor-car to Walt Whitman's birth-place on Paumanok (Long Island). I enclose some grass blades (leaves of grass) that I picked for you there. It was a little old yellow wooden house with an old well & an old barn adjoining, & endless rolling, undulating hills, covered with apple-orchards now in full bloom — 'apple-blossomed earth' — as he says. (John Cowper Powys, Letters to Sea-Eagle, May 7, 1929)

His friend Emma Goldman also lectured on Walt Whitman when she went to Montreal, in the 1920s:
        Other friends added to the interest and pleasure of my stay, among them Mr. and Mrs H.M. Caiserman, enthusiastic Judaists, who gathered the Yiddish intelligentsia to attend my lecture on Walt Whitman at their home. They were proud that I was one of their race, they reiterated. It was worth coming back to Montreal to reach their Yiddish hearts by the grace of the goi Walt Whitman. (Emma Goldman, Living my Life)

Leaves of Grass, 'Song of Myself'
Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset — earth of the mountains misty topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth — rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.

Walt Whitman