More musings on Whitman

Walt Whitman at 37. From Wikipedia.

After my post from a month ago, I’ve been on a Whitman kick.

Leaves of Grass can be downloaded for free. Just perfect for keeping in the electronic library. And reading when the time seems appropriate.

I take some time off during the day, pull up a beach chair I have stashed under my desk, find the tree with a commanding view of the Continental Divide, and read.  A bit of some time away from my beige box and the techie thing I do.

And during this time? I have become re-acquainted with Mr. Whitman.

A pragmatic romantic.

And American at our most egalitarian ideal. Celebrating the rich and the poor. The craftsmen and the “professional.” Men and women. The commonplace and the majestic.

And, as discussed before, he discusses the allure of traveling and moving beyond our limited point of views.

During my afternoon reading breaks, I keep on coming back to the eleventh part of  Song of The Open Road:

Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,


They are lines often ignored in favor of the more romantic aspects of this seminal poem. The parts about encompassing all directions, meeting people and taking their counsel,  taking in the vast spaces, and going where winds blow, waves dash, and the Yankee clipper speeds by under full sail.

Lines full of energy and potential. Making almost anyone wanting to pack a bag and just go!

Written for the camerado who would join Whitman on these travels, I think it is some cautionary advice to anyone thinking of taking to the open road.

In my twenties, the romantic aspects of The Song of The Open Road were easy to grasp. I followed a long brown path and embraced the changes it brought in my life. The first lines of this poem teem with promise, freedom, and the urge the reader to move on. What is there to lose? Only liberty and the experience of the open road are to be gained.

Twenty-years later, the lines from the eleventh portion of the poem perhaps speak more loudly.

It is easy to continue on the path of the old smooth prizes. But the rough new prizes can offer so much potential. There is more to give up in our 40s versus the 20s. But seems so much more to gain in the process. It is a matter of trying a calculated risk and having the freedom to do so.

Whitman tempered the romanticism with pragmatism. And only as an adult with (perhaps too much) experience from over the years do I appreciate the words of advice. Or maybe they are actually words of encouragement?

Whitman’s poem was not written for the age of social media with its cultivated view of everything being perfect. And where a smooth path is portrayed.

The poem transcends the time it was written with a message that will be true in the 1850s, the 1950s, now, or when most of us will be long gone.

The words are both sobering and invigorating.

Take to the open road. The journey will not be smooth or perfect. But, as Whitman promises, the rewards can be vast.

That’s enough musings on Whitman for a bit. Back to pretty photos, oddball gear discussion, or a take on an outdoor issue next. I promise. 🙂 

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