I've been rediscovering my nerdiness here, and it seems to fit well with my work with the kids, especially the 5th year students. Unfortunately, I'm not sure even the most enthusiastic gesticulating about Walt Whitman and Thoreau conveys their awesomeness. I mean, I understand when the adolescents start to nod off and drool on their desks, I've been there too. But now I've seen the light! The Romantics! The idealism! Nature! Simplicity! Isn't it just great kids?
Part of the problem, the source of my enthusiasm, is that every Romantic we read seems to be speaking to me. A little bit like how in 10th grade I thought every emo singer with a swoosh hair cut was speaking to me. Same deal, only now it's Whitman.
For example, let's start with something ridiculously well-known that I just now appreciate:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms...
-Henry David Thoreau, beginning of Walden (obviously)
Oh my god Henry, did you just peer into my soul? Or was it the literature workbook that read my mind in deciding to include your brief excerpt? I've been worried in these months (years?) that I've been too distracted to think, let alone create or decide what I want to do next. I too must go into the woods to clear my mind, I just need to figure out where/what my woods are. I think I have narrowed it down to somewhere within two countries.
(The kids did not seem so psyched about this passage, but they're an especially quiet group. Next time we meet we will get to discuss it more, and I will find out whether they are at all as impressed as I am.)
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.
The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.
(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens,
I carry them, men and women, I carry them with me wherever I go,
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them,
I am fill'd with them, and I will fill them in return.)
-Walt Whitman, "Song of the Open Road"
I've been carrying this little piece of poem around with me for awhile now, pretty much since I left the States. I hadn't really read any Whitman until I found an old edition of Leaves of Grass in the basement of my parents' house, given to my mom by an old boyfriend (A+ on the present, boyfriend). I found "Song of the Open Road" before any of the others, it comforted me then and it still does.
And then, in class, we read:
The Open Road. The great home of the Soul is the open road. Not heaven, not paradise. Not 'above'. Not even 'within'. The soul is neither 'above' nor 'within'. It is a wayfarer down the open road[...]
Only by taking the open road.
Not through charity. Not through sacrifice. Not even through love. Not through good works. Not through these does the soul accomplish herself.
Only through the journey down the open road.
The journey itself, down the open road. Exposed to full contact. On two slow feet. Meeting whatever comes down the open road. In company with those that drift in the same measure along the same way. Towards no goal. Always the open road.
Having no known direction even. Only the soul remaining true to herself in her going.
Meeting all the other wayfarers along the road. And how? How meet them, and how pass ? With sympathy, says Whit- man. Sympathy. He does not say love. He says sympathy. Feeling with. Feel with them as they feel with themselves. Catching the vibration of their soul and flesh as we pass.
It is a new great doctrine. A doctrine of life. A new great morality. A morality of actual living, not of salvation. Europe has never got beyond the morality of salvation. America to this day is deathly sick with saviourism. But Whitman, the greatest and the first and the only American teacher, was no Saviour. His morality was no morality of salvation. His was a morality of the soul living her life, not saving herself. Accepting the contact with other souls along the open way, as they lived their lives. Never trying to save them. As lief try to arrest them and throw them in gaol. The soul living her life along the incarnate mystery of the open road.
This was Whitman. And the true rhythm of the American continent speaking out in him. He is the first white aboriginal.
-D.H. Lawrence, on Whitman
I thought of myself as being on the road in the beginning of my stay in Milan, some sort of vagabond traveler, but it's not so true. I live in an apartment in a very cosmopolitan city (at least Firenze was a little bit commie). I have a job (several jobs). I am settled. I'm a little bit deluding myself with all this identification with the open road...
And yet, I am very far from home. I am uncertain and doubtful, and I am always moving. I'm still working on my Soul. Hopefully my high school students can help me out with that, as I maybe can help them. As soon as they finish making sex jokes.