We are reading diverse texts that complement Aurobindo’s Savitri , with a particular focus on Paradise Lost by John Milton; The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and other writings from William Blake; and various poems by Walt Whitman, and link these readings into the Savitri reading.
Savitri: A Legend and a Symbol is an epic poem in blank verse by Sri Aurobindo, based upon the theology from the Mahabharata. Its central theme revolves around the transcendence of man as the consummation of terrestrial evolution, and the emergence of an immortal supramental gnostic race upon earth. Unfinished at Sri Aurobindo’s death, Savitri approaches 24,000 lines.
I’ve been thinking about what I’d like to include as background reading, in case anyone wants to read further texts beyond the actual poems, to learn more about things like Whitman’s influence on literature and poetry, who influenced Whitman, examples of poetry that was being written at the same time as Whitman (to give a sense of Walt’s rather massively ground-breaking experiments in verse, and how it diverged remarkably and radically from what came before him), and also Whitman’s influence beyond literature, in (at least what I am familiar with) visual art and music.
So, here are some links I found. But first, the actual poems. I decided not to focus on “Song of Myself,” as I thought we could do that in a later session (and I’d personally prefer to read the whole thing, instead of breaking it up too much, at least in our own reading of it). Instead, if you don’t mind, I’d like to focus on Whitman’s famous triad of elegies, which are all masterpieces like “Song of Myself”": “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” “A I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life,” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” Here are links to those poems from Poetry Foundation:
Okay, and here are the other links:
Who Influenced Whitman, and Who Did Whitman Influence (Among Pretty Much Everyone)?
What Was American Poetry Like Before Whitman Came Along?
What Are Some Ways We Come Close to Whitman, Besides His Poetry?
https://whitmanarchive.org/manuscripts/notebooks/ (this link transcribes his notebooks, to see his actual revisions, in other words the actual decisions he was making as he was revising, or how he thought about what he wanted to create, his writing process)
The source below might require a brief explanation: Horace Traubel was Whitman’s Boswell (James Boswell is probably the greatest biographer who ever lived, who wrote his biography about Samuel Johnson, the genius British literary critic and lexicographer, who in some ways made the reading public aware of Shakespeare’s greatness, among many other fabulous achievements; maybe one day we could read some of Johnson’s essays/colums on IC). Traubel spent much time with Whitman in his later years, and seemed to have written down pretty much anything and everything Whitman said or did. For a better description of Traubel’s work, here is a link: https://whitmanarchive.org/criticism/disciples/traubel/biography/anc.00249.html
The link below contains selections of Traubel’s Boswellian work:
What Are Some Examples of Whitman’s Influence Beyond Literature?
(I am not focusing here on queer readings of Whitman, but those are definitely relevant and can be found in abundance online and elsewhere. However, I did want to point out Marsden Hartley’s relationship to Whitman. Hartley was gay. He was also just a wonderful visual artist, one of my personal faves, and his depictions of men undoubtedly take a note from Whitman’s (and Hartley’s own) intense homosexual longings and imaginings:
Though Whitman later denied it, Emerson made the first “Leaves of Grass” possible. Emerson credited Whitman with the “Appalachian enlargement” of our literature. “As sane as the sun” was one of Whitman’s final tributes to Emerson. My own favorite among Whitman’s anecdotes is of his last visit to the then senile Emerson. The greatest of our poets so stationed his chair that he could stare fully at the benign countenance of his mentor, and each sat silently, Whitman in loving reverie, Emerson in the tragic solitude of an Alzheimer’s victim. It was the final act in a grand drama of influence that is still ongoing in our literary culture.
Lastly, although Dickinson was virtually unknown when Whitman was sounding his barbaric yawp from the rooftops, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention her here, as the third pivotal figure, besides Emerson and Whitman, for inaugurating a specifically American mode of poetry - poetry that is so different from Whitman’s, in many interesting ways that are worth talking about exploring. Here is a quick description of some of Whitman and Dickinson’s differences:
I’ve been really enjoying these recordings of Whitman done in the 50s:
Though, I’ll say, it hasn’t been easy to come into resonance with Whitman’s overall mood in a historical context. Almost nothing feels more alien to the tenor of our times than his boundless encompassing inclusivity and generosity of spirit—his originary powers and the way he still breathes through his inexhaustible lines; how one can learn to breathe oneself and lust for the open, fresh, natural air that still hasn’t succumbed to the Anthropocene, reading Whitman.
Or, perhaps he is just what we need in these times—he is still wiser. I have been slowly, tentatively getting in the mood and taking notes. Looking forward to sharing and hopefully hearing all of our voices (the more the merrier, especially here—I hope a few others will join us, RSVP below!) reading aloud, perhaps getting a feeling again for those Open Roads of the Universe ol’ Grandpa Walt invites us to with a song. He is everywhere, everyway.
@AndrewField81, I saw your essay about the Grateful Dead and Paradise Lost: I would love to see one on the Dead and Whitman! I think of any American cultural figures in the last decades, they really carried his spirit for a while.
Poetry is currently placing a solid foundation in my life and I greatly appreciate our efforts to bring Whitman and others into the foreground. I regret that I must take a backseat tag-along ride for the next month (please no more than that!)…I must remain focused on employment during the daylight hours and will be burning the midnight oil with you in spirit. Go forth with your best today!
We are still in Book One. We would welcome your rich baritone voice as Milton is full of such fire and brimstone. We oscillate between reading out loud and reading some of the text more closely, as we did in the Whitman. We are taking it slow and giving plenty of time to contemplate intricate passages. Please join us and help us catch the rhythms.
I thought these links might be interesting in regards to our conversation about Whitman in the context of shyness - there is a fascinating-looking book by a scholar named Brian Glavey, which is about shyness, ekphrasis (poems about paintings), and queerness (hence totally relevant for Ashbery)! I’ve heard plenty of reference to reticence in poetry, but never shyness, so thought this was super cool and exciting.
Also, something to keep on the radar - Chad Bennett is a poet and scholar - I’ve really been enjoying his poems lately. He is apparently working on a book of criticism/scholarship about poems that are nice, awkward, quiet and shy (!). I think this is such a fantastic and relevant idea, for many reasons - really calling attention to qualities of poems that are often neglected or ignored. He mentions the book project in his faculty bio, and maybe hopefully elsewhere, too.
Infinite Conversations is a project of Cosmos Cooperative, a creative co-op for “people with visionary tendencies.” It’s like a YMCA for the mind and soul. Come in, exercise your imagination, write your heart out; let your mind play. Work your science and logic muscles, too: Conversation is the dojo of reason. It’s all welcome. And, check out our nifty guidelines, courtesy of the humans at Civilized Discourse Construction Kit, Inc., who develop (and host) the open-source software underlying this site. Thank you to everybody who makes this a great place!
Unless otherwise noted, all rights are reserved by the individual authors. Other website content is licensed under Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)