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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Whitman's sentiment

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff
that is fine,
One of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the
largest the same,
A Southerner soon as a Northerner, a planter nonchalant and
hospitable down by the Oconee I live,
A Yankee bound my own way ready for trade, my joints the limberest
joints on earth and the sternest joints on earth,
A Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn in my deer-skin
leggings, a Louisianian or Georgian,
A boatman over lakes or bays or along coasts, a Hoosier, Badger, Buckeye;
At home on Kanadian snow-shoes or up in the bush, or with fishermen
off Newfoundland,
At home in the fleet of ice-boats, sailing with the rest and tacking,
At home on the hills of Vermont or in the woods of Maine, or the
Texan ranch,
Comrade of Californians, comrade of free North-Westerners, (loving
their big proportions,)
Comrade of raftsmen and coalmen, comrade of all who shake hands
and welcome to drink and meat,
A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.

(The moth and the fish-eggs are in their place,
The bright suns I see and the dark suns I cannot see are in their place,
The palpable is in its place and the impalpable is in its place.)

These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they
are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.

Walt Whitman "Song of Myself" Leaves of Grass (Project Gutenberg)

I like these lines as a snapshot of Whitman's larger project in Leaves of Grass which was something like "preach every one to everyone else". A friend of mine graduated law school recently and one of the profs quoted some Whitman to express the job of the lawyer. The prof didn't explain it so clearly but what I think she meant, from the lines of Whitman she read was "you need to learn to be the voice of every man". Because as lawyers they must be the voice for those they represent.

Compare Whitman's sentiment in the lines above with Nietzsche's sentiment:

“Pity for all”— would be hardness and tyranny toward you, my dear neighbor!—

BGE IV #82 (Kaufmann)

His statement is helpful as we think about morality in a more global context but the attitude associated with it isn't one I want to adopt. Nietzsche does recognize that generosity is genuine when produced by an overflow of the spirit (i'll have to dig up that quote) but I don't think he was after a generosity of spirit directly. It seems better to aim towards something closer to Whitman's attitude.

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