Before I get in to my official post, I’d like to make a quick comment about Longaker’s “The Last Sickness and the Death of Walt Whitman.” First of all, definitely one of the creepiest things I’ve read in awhile. It was so eerie following the process of Whitman’s slow decline. In one passage, it would seem as though Whitman’s demise was waiting just around the corner, then there’d be a miraculous recover and he would hold on a for a few more weeks. Longaker’s medical jargon contrasts strikingly with Whitman’s typical descriptions. What Longaker describes as, “little or no athermanous degeneration ascertainable in the temporals or radials,” was in Whitman’s words, “a great wet, soggy net were spread out over me and holding me down.” Anyone who has ever spent any sort of time in the care of medical professionals has probably experienced the confusion of feeling as though the doctors are speaking an entirely different language. It is no surprise to me that Whitman did not allow himself to get lost in translation and instead found a way to express himself to his doctors in a way that they could both understand.
OK, now on to Leaves of Grass. The Whitman that I see this week is an old, gray man. He is losing his health and his cognitive abilities but clearly has no intention of throwing in the towel no matter how badly his health fails him. I see his determination and possibly a hint of stubbornness in his refusal to give up and go quietly, although he has clearly accepted his mortality by the end of his life. Whitman clearly began to see himself as a patient, recording his ailments with exactly the same poetic descriptiveness with which he had used to describe the ailments of his beloved wounded soldiers.
I was saddened to read that he could no longer handle going outside, and instead spent his hours in his bedroom, or as he referred to it, his “den,” surrounded by papers and notebooks. I see this picture of Whitman, shuffling around his dark bedroom, sorting through papers and talking about his work with his aides and friends with steadily declining mental awareness. I think that Whitman was at this time basically the same as he had always been in at least one major way: he was obsessed with his work and making something as perfect as it could possibly be.
I see the deathbed edition of Leaves of Grass as Walt’s final masterpiece. I think that even at the end of his life, as loopy as he may have been, he was still thinking of Leaves as a work in progress. I think that we can assume that the finished product was the result of a lifetime of careful tinkering and reworking. Although Walt grew old and faded away, his work has lasted because of his obsessive attention to detail and his unwavering commitment to perfecting it throughout the entire course of his life.test Filed under Uncategorized | Tags: ww02, ww20 | Comments (3)