Voice from the Past: Walt Whitman

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During the announcements from the bench of the US Supreme Court yesterday, my thoughts turned to a lesser-known poem by Walt Whitman, written around 1870. Found among his papers after his death, the poem was suppressed from the canon because of its subject, but was well enough known to academics and artists. Bernstein set it to music in 1976.

To what you said, passionately clasping my hand, this is my answer:
Though you have strayed hither, for my sake, you can never belong to me,
nor I to you,
Behold the customary loves and friendships – the cold guards
I am that rough and simple person
I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting,
and I am one who is kissed in return,
I introduce that new American salute
Behold love choked, correct, polite, always suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors – What are they to me?
What to these young men that travel with me?

One hundred forty three years later, Whitman might be surprised to not only find that he could belong to his beloved, but the “received models of the parlors” have also changed. And for my friends, family and peers who were denied equal justice under the law for so long, I am happy that our constitution has caught up with the body politic, albeit embarrassed that it took so long and sorrowful that such personal expressions  should ever be the subject of public debate.

Whitman Photo credit: Foter.com / Public Domain Mark 1.0

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