Monday, January 28, 2013

Walt Whitman on an airplane

I think if Walt Whitman were alive now, he might write about air travel. Maybe it would intrigue him how so many strangers, all from different lives and places in the world, are all closeted together in a mighty metal vessel traveling through the air. At least, this is what I thought about when I was flying across the country from the northwest to the northeast. I thought about how Walt Whitman might think about this. And I thought about it myself.

In his actual poetry, Whitman writes about how all the other people he meets and sees—all the things around him, in fact—affect him, but are not his essential self: 

People I meet . . .
The latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies, authors old and new,
My . . . associates, looks, compliments, dues,
The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or
         lack of money, or depressions or exaltations . . .
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.

On an airplane, you are part of the latest dates, discoveries, inventions, societies—and you sit among all the unknown sorrows and hopes and fears and joys of all the other people in that airplane with you. You know that each person on that plane has a deep life—a history and a present—thoughts and circumstances and relationships, pain and secrets and a soul. You can’t know anything of any of that, but you know it’s there. You hover just on the surface, seeing only the other travelers' outside appearances. And that is all they see of you, too. They do not know the You yourself. But yet there you all are together in the sky.

There is, somehow, a kind of brief commonality among all the different people carried in that craft zooming at great speed and great height over the earth.

For Walt Whitman also says:

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself

All you inscrutable human beings, all just happening to be companions for that journey—knowing nothing true of each other but that you all share mysterious, immortal, fathomless humanity.
I love Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass, which is where these quotes are taken from (parts 4 and 7, respectively), so much that I’m sure I’ll write more posts centered on his words. 

And it really is too bad Walt Whitman never got to ride in an airplane. I think it would have given him a lot of inspiration. 

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