Friday, September 02, 2005
The Blog Electric
"Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding,
No sentimalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest."
Is it just me, or does anyone else think that Whitman was, in spirit, a blogger? That's what we do isn't it - we celebrate ourselves and sing ourselves and what we assume we want you to assume. Leaves of Grass is the quintessential blog - at once rambling and acute, bombastic yet simple, full of high sentence yet refreshingly everyday; a mix of long-winded descriptions, breathtaking images sketched with a few simple words, profound meditations on the nature of existence, evocations of death, despair and longing and clever little observations of human nature.
The key point about Whitman's poetry is that he embraces both the individual and the universal, blending them in a way that makes the distinction irrelevant. Whitman's poems are not about Whitman: they are observations of life, nature and the world, just as any good blog is. But as with any blog, they are observations coloured and enhanced by the personality of the observer. Whitman does not, like many poets before and after him, shy away from his own presence in his poems - he lets the shadow of his intellect fall across the landscape he is painting, knowing it will only make the view more realistic. In Song of myself, he writes:
These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This is the common air that bathes the globe.
What I would not give to keep a blog that lived up to that standard! It is a standard that Whitman takes to easily enough, though, sounding his barbaric yawp across the skyline of the years, his images blossoming like lilac in a long abandoned dooryard. Out of the ocean of his lines, endlessly rocking, comes a voice so fragile, so pure, so vicariously tangible, that more than a hundred years after his death his poems still have the same immediacy, the same deeply physical feel to them. The 19th century had many, many great poets, but Whitman is, perhaps, the only one you could gladly drive across the country with, a six-pack of beer in the back seat ("Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road / Healthy, free, the world before me / The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose"). 
Finally, Whitman is also the source of one of my favourite answers to the question: Why Blog?
O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of the 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 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 among these, O me, O life?
That you are here - that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
- Walt Whitman
 or go shopping in a supermarket with, see Ginsberg A Supermarket in California