Tag Archives: walt whitman

July 21, 2014: Mannahatta

Dear readers,

I learned many things in the past couple weeks, and hope to use the ol’ Monday’s Verse machine to catalog some of my discoveries. In 1921, not too too long after Walt Whitman (1819-1892) finalized his complete Leaves of Grass, Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand paid homage to his title “Mannahatta” with their short film, “Manhatta.” I knew Sheeler primarily as a painter, but I guess he was also a photographer. Strand was a photographer (I saw some of his prints in the same museum as the video piece), too, but I don’t know much about either artist. Pretty sure this video piece was up in the Centre Pompidou, and it made for good viewing–look, you can see it here!:

http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/videoDetails?segid=3516

Don’t worry, your speakers are working fine–it’s a silent film. Now what would be best is to view the film with James Garner doing a voice-over of the Whitman poem, which is shorter than many of his praise poems. But in lieu of that, you can read it yourself, below. And look how many diverse people and things make it into his list of credits! His optimism inspires me. -ed.

Mannahatta

 
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city, 
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, 
   unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old, 
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays,
   superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and 
   steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, 
   strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown, 
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining
   islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, 
   the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the 
   houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-
   brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week, 
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses,
   the brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing 
   clouds aloft,
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the 
   river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or 
   ebb-tide,
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, 
   beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the 
   shops and shows,
A million people--manners free and superb--open voices--
   hospitality--the most courageous and friendly young 
   men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts! 
City nested in bays! my city!
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Monday’s Verse: Nov. 10, 2008

Readers, sorry ’bout last week, I was, um, busy. Who better to read on the first Monday after Tuesday but Walt Whitman, most inclusive, most civic-minded, of all American poets. Yes, this is a poem about death, but it is also a celebration (I’ll let someone else explain of whom). Note how the emotional tone ranges from mournful to exultant–how does he do that? For me at least, I had emotions spanning such a range for most of last week.* You?

best as always,

Matthew

*An Onion headline read, “After Election, Fervent Obama Supporters Must Face the Emptiness of Their Own Lives.”

O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.