Sunday, July 3

The 4th of July


Nothing makes me feel more patriotic or American than Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. It's pretty idealistic and breathy and vast and it's irritating that he kept changing it all the time, but if you think about it, that's America. Tomorrow I'm going to a barbecue at a friend's home to celebrate with beers and fireworks and soul pleasing, but for today, in honor of my nation's 235th year of independence, here's a selection from the 1855 preface to Leaves of Grass.

The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.

...the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people. Their manners speech dress friendships-the freshness and candor of their physiognomy-the picturesque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to freedom-their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean-the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states-the fierceness of their roused resentment-their curiosity and welcome of novelty-their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy-their susceptibility to a slight-the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors-the fluency of their speech-their delight in music, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul . . . their good temper and openhandedness-the terrible significance of their elections-the President's taking off his hat to them not they to him-these too are unrhymed poetry.

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