“Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?”
– Walt Whitman
So, Autumn is now well and truly upon us. Crazy! It gets me thinking about the Leaves that fall around us… And by “Leaves” I of course mean “Leaves of Grass” by the great Walt Whitman. I took the advice from a class discussion earlier this week to visit this Great Father of American Literature and, boy, am I glad. I read a few extracts from “Leaves of Grass” and became inspired to write a few words of my own.
Whitman was an avid reader of dictionaries and he realized that they were essentially the “compost heap” of all English-language literature, the place where all the elements of literature were broken down, were preserved, as well as the place out of which all future literature would grow.
A Nation’s unwritten poems lie dormant in that massive heap of words and Whitman’s own poem “This Compost” plays on the etymological identity of the word “compost” with “composition”; both words literally mean, as Whitman found in the 1847 edition of Webster’s, “to place or set together”.
To compose is to put together in a new form..to compost is to take apart what is put together, to break down an old form so that it would furnish the elements, the nutriment, for a new form. Life, Whitman realized, was like language: it always exists, continually, perpetually, and emerges out of dead layers.. Constant renewal..
His “Leaves”, like all literature, will be composted again and reused for new purposes, eternally available to new expression, to new meaning; that is the process of life and, as Whitman suggests, it is also the process of reading and writing.
Yes, Fall has now arrived and with it a sense of steady stirring..
Until next time.