Walt Whitman is one of my favorite poets. I like to remember his birthday, which is on May 31st, and falls on a Thursday this year. There are some events and celebrations around this time at the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Long Island. And, my idea for a holiday to this beloved, transcendentalist, nature poet is to set aside 15 minutes on his birthday to celebrate silence.
More about a silent celebration of Walt Whitman’s birthday:
Celebrate Walt Whitman: Listen To The Waves
Walt Whitman, was born close by to me in West Hills, Town of Huntington, Long Island, New York. For me, Whitman has become a touchstone for something more than just beautiful poetry. I first discovered Walt Whitman for myself when he was quoted in a sermon at an interfaith church in Virginia. Then, a bookstore colleague of mine read with me from Leaves of Grass, and I was awakened to this powerful voice of self, universe, and nature, combined. Since then, I have come to realize Whitman’s amazing gifts as poet, as political figure, as reshaper of language, as prophet, as loving brother, and as complicated and beautiful a person who ever lived.
Whitman’s sense of self and his poetry are effused with a love and connection to nature. In the book, From Noon to Starry Night, by Philip Callow, I relished images of Whitman sitting on a hillside near his family home in West Hills and listening to the sounds of the waves. Whitman credited this constant backdrop of Long Island’s pulsing waters for the subtle rhythm in the new poetic language he invented. And, as a good transcendentalist, he had a genuine passion for the sea, the sun, and the earth over material goods.
As I considered what Walt Whitman has meant to me, and what I know he could mean to many other artists, I thought of a new way to immortalize him…a kind of transcendentalist’s holiday.
On Walt Whitman’s birthday – each May 31st – every person and business (especially those on Long Island) should observe 15 minutes of silence.
We could stop mowing our lawns, stop driving our cars, click off our cellphones, turn off all buzzes and drones of machinery, and just listen. Listen to the silence that enfolds us again in the embrace of nature. Listen to the silence that inspires us to art and poetry. Listen to the heartbeat of the waves which, in Walt’s time, you could hear from every point on the island.
“Listen To The Waves” essay by Kimberly Wilder. Please feel free to repost with credit given. Or, write your own proposal for a Walt Whitman birthday celebration.
Some information on the science (and importance) of silence can be found here:
A definition and some thoughts on Free Verse (a style which includes Whitman’s new, poetic language):
Free Verse entry at Wikipedia
If you love Walt Whitman like I do, you may be amused by the whimsical video below. It was taped at a Walt Whitman birthday celebration at the WWBA/Walt Whitman Birthplace Association. It includes several Walt Whitman impersonators.