Lucretius (lucretius) wrote,

Notes for a poem to Walt Whitman

I've been reading deeply in Whitman again (teaching a graduate course).   I use MS Word to annotate, which makes neat little comment boxes on the side.  I'm thinking of a very strange book you may or may not know, The Blue Cliff Record.  The Blue Cliff Record is a series of zen koan, or "public cases" with several layers of commentary. It's different from other books in that the commentary is almost always less penetrable and more wacky than the stories themselves--they aren't explanatory at all, but rather like a stick upside the head, or a restatement in radically different terms: it's one of the odder books I've ever tried to read.

I'm wondering whether the right way to teach Whitman might not be a series of crazy marginal comments odder than the poem they comment on. Preferably these might be written by Wallace Stevens.  Having recently taught a course on Emerson and Thoreau, Whitman is showing unusually brightly for me this time--I see what he's taken and what's new, and I'm getting an appreciation for how clever his method really is.  

A Blue Cliff Whitman:  Part I


The mirror of the book :  The mirror of the stream.

The sky flickers among the riffling current.  

The water-bug looks through his own reflection. 

A snippet and two commentaries:

  Who goes there? hankering, gross, mystical, nude;
  How is it I extract strength from the beef I eat?
  What is a man anyhow? what am I? what are you?
  All I mark as my own you shall offset it with your own,
  Else it were time lost listening to me.

Commentary I:

He asks who he is.  But the one who can answer is no longer or not yet himself. 

Commentary II: 

He reads with his stomach!  How will we answer his questions?  He crooks a finger of scent from a meal, like a bad cartoon. Follow your hunger to where he is.

Note: Edited
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