Two Poems by Walt Whitman

A Noiseless Patient Spider (1881)
by Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,

I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,

Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,

It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,

Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

 

And you O my soul where you stand,

Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,

Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking

the spheres to connect them,

Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,

Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

 

“I Saw In Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing” (1867)
by Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,

All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,

Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves

of dark green,

And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,

But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone

there without its friend

                near, for I knew I could not,

And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it,

and twined around it a

                little moss,

And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,

It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,

(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)

Yet it remains to me a curious token,

it makes me think of manly love;

For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in

Louisiana solitary in a wide flat

                space,

Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,

I know very well I could not.

Shared with the Humanities  Institute by Phillip Barrish, Professor of English and Associate Director for Health and Humanities, UT Humanities Institute.

Donald Justice’s “Pantoum of the Great Depression”

Pantoum of the Great Depression
by Donald Justice

Our lives avoided tragedy
Simply by going on and on,
Without end and with little apparent meaning.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

Simply by going on and on
We managed. No need for the heroic.
Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.
I don’t remember all the particulars.

We managed. No need for the heroic.
There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
I don’t remember all the particulars.
Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.
Thank god no one said anything in verse.
The neighbors were our only chorus,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

At no time did anyone say anything in verse.
It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us,
And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.
No audience would ever know our story.

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us.
We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
What audience would ever know our story?
Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.
And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.
We did not ourselves know what the end was.
The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.
We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.
People like us simply go on.
We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,
But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.

Donald Justice, “Pantoum of the Great Depression.” From Donald Justice, New and Selected Poems, 1953-1985. Knopf, 1995. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Professor Ana Schwartz, UT-Austin Department of English

 

 

 

Dean Young’s “Hereby the Sky”

Hereby the Sky
by Dean Young

I declare my love to the millimeter,

To the watch forever off,

To the stone in the middle of the road

To whatever leaks in the night,

To the trapezist who smelled like model glue

At Paul’s party,

To the ethereal core of the dynamo,

To the rocketship piloted by a mouse,

To the girl with 3 fingers

Who cuts my hair and I overtip

To help bail her boyfriend out of jail.

It’s not only for the blue bits

Or what licks itself in the shade

Like a bloody-snouted sated animal

I declare my love. Previously I declared my love

My love my love for a cloud and everyone

Knows how that turned out.

A lost stethoscope. Claw marks.

A wrench that works on nothing else.

Dean Young, “Hereby the Sky.” 2020. Unpublished. Sent to the Humanities Institute by Dean Young, who holds the William Livingston Chair of Poetry at the University of Texas-Austin.

Dan Gerber’s “Often I Imagine the Earth”

Often I Imagine the Earth
by Dan Gerber

Often I imagine the earth
through the eyes of the atoms we’re made of—
atoms, peculiar
atoms everywhere—
no me, no you, no opinions,
no beginning, no middle, no end,
soaring together like those
ancient Chinese birds
hatched miraculously with only one wing,
helping each other fly home.

Dan Gerber, “Often I Imagine the Earth.” First published in Poetry Magazine, March 2010. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by Phillip Barrish, Professor of English and Associate Director for Health and Humanities, UT Humanities Institute.