« Chicago words | Main | Save John King! »

"...ever and ever yet the verses owning..."

I quite like Whitman's preface to Leaves of Grass:

Come, said my soul,
Such verses for my Body let us write, (for we are one,)
That should I after return,
Or, long, long hence, in other spheres,
There to some group of mates the chants resuming,
(Tallying Earth's soil, trees, winds, tumultuous waves,)
Ever with pleas'd smile I may keep on,
Ever and ever yet the verses owning—as, first, I here and now
Signing for Soul and Body, set to them my name,

Walt Whitman

I believe in the idea that one has immortality as long as there are people still living who remember you. Admittedly, however, this brand of immortality only lasts two or at most three generations, after which any memories of you become mere hearsay. Which is why I admire Whitman's words here, which basically say that his verse will live long after him (a presumptuous claim for any writer, although time has proven Whitman correct), thus essentially keeping him alive ("...ever with pleas'd smile I may keep on..."). In other words, making him immortal.

True, this doesn't work for all writers, just the great ones. Most of Whitman's 19th century literary contemporaries are forgotten today, their memories all but vanishing as their works went out of print and the surviving copies slowly crumbled to dust. But Whitman's memory endures, thanks to the quality and uniqueness of his writing.

Which for me is a sobering reminder to not only get my writings into print, but to make them as good as possible so that they stand the test of time. So I'll be remembered.

July 21, 2010 in Books | Permalink