I Came Not To Fisk Whitman; It Just Happened

The world-famous DC from Brainstorming, who also appeared on the Hugh Hewitt show this evening (even if Instapundit overlooks it, we know), asks why I didn’t want to be associated with Walt Whitman.

The backstory: I took a Quizilla quiz that asked what poet I was. I wasn’t Walt Whitman, and I said I was glad I wasn’t. DC took the same quiz and was. And she wondered why I said I didn’t like Walt Whitman.

I don’t find his poetry very vivid. Certainly, most of it seems to have a point, which Whitman doesn’t hide. As a matter of fact, he pretty much delivers a non-rhyming lecture with line breaks. Let’s take DC’s favorite Whitman piece, and let’s color code it. Blue is show, which means an image or other sensory material; green is tell, which is discussing abstractions:

O Me! O Life!

O ME! O 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?

That you are here?that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

You see, I am reduced to coloring the blooming concrete nouns to find images and turns of phrase. The rest, chatter.

Personally, when it comes to poetry, I prefer structured poetry to free verse. So let’s take a quick gander at something from my personal favorite poet (aside from my beautiful wife and, well, me, of course), Edna St. Vincent Millay:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

The concrete images resonate at a lower level than abstractions, and the reader makes the connections and draws the higher meaning for himself, which resonates more deeply than a series of things we know, but cannot see or feel.

(Thanks to Lex Libertas, another conservative poetry lover, who led posted a pile of Millay’s poetry.)

As I said, I like structured poetry better than free verse (although not exclusively). I prefer to see a poet struggle against the bonds of tradition, and make the poem worthwhile. So it’s no surprise that I work in the sonnet form like my patron saint:

It’s always more than sex to sleep with you.
Don’t get me wrong; I like to tangle sheets
and hungry scents and taste the salty dew
of glistening sweat where heavy brow meets
soft eyelids closed, relaxed. I’ll kiss them, too,
and sample other slow seduction sweets.
But I run out of juice, won’t thump my chest
and say I don’t, and so I like the rest:
I like to lie, arms wrapped around you, deep
in comfortable darkness where the moon projects
odd patterns on the walls. I want to keep
you safe and warm as winter licks our necks.
You mumble love and slowly fall asleep;
these moments worth much more than simple sex.

You can mentally add your own blue or green highlighting to it. But keep in mind, it’s not public domain, and I better not Google it and find other hits, or I will kick your ass (don’t worry; if you don’t own a donkey, one will be provided for you).

To make a short story long, I don’t like Whitman because his poems don’t contain the things I value in poetry. Imagery, concrete sensational phrases, and/or structure.

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