||Used as a verb
here, the word also calls to mind the noun. A tramp tramps. A
tramp is someone cut free (by choice or circumstance) from the
expected routines of life. He is out on the open road, owning
nothing but what he can carry, doing whatever the road calls
him to do. I wonder if part of our deep love of Charlie Chaplin's silent character (The Little
Tramp) doesn't flow from the same well of freedom that WW draws
||If the journey
goes on forever, then so does the road. WW was no Catholic boy,
but for me "perpetual" is an intensely Catholic and
spiritual word, summoning up an image of eternal life in our
prayer for the souls of the dead: "And let perpetual light
shine upon them."
||I like the idea
that we each can have some object that can represent ourselves.
What would I choose as a sign for myself? I'm sure it would be
different from the sign that others would choose for me. WW's
choices mark him as a man of the open air.
||When I think of
"the woods" I think of a tame place, which is probably
the opposite of WW's meaning - tame, for me, because my earliest
memories of "the woods" are of a specially preserved
spot in the midst of or just beyond a city. For me, the woods
are tame because they are fenced in - just the opposite of WW's
sense of utter unboundedness.
||Chairs are for
rooms and indoor people - soft, half-dead, inactive, mentally
and spiritually asleep people. Chairs are death.
||WW sees "church"
as a pre-packaged spiritual code or formula or guidebook whose
effect (intentionally or otherwise) is to cut short the individual's
own most necessary spiritual quest. Church keeps people off the
||The same goes
for philosophy. It is a post-experiential analysis that people
often turn to as a replacement for their own "original relation
to the universe" (from Emerson, I think). It's what WW refers
to at the start of "Song of Myself" when he says "creeds
and schools in abeyance." He's not going to deny them their
place in the whole scheme of things; he just doesn't want them
to become substitutes for actual lived experience.
|dinner-table or library or exchange
||More of the same.
These three spots are all contained by buildings; they have nothing
of the outdoors about them. WW is making room for his positives
by establishing his negatives. Nobody will find fine food, traditional
culture, or money by walking with WW. If you're looking for those
things, seek out another poet. Go hang with Mr. Longfellow.
|each man and each woman
||WW seems to take
pains to include women, to bring them to mind whenever possible.
Today we might call it "politically correct", but I
think WW saw it as a simple mark of justice and truth - that
what applies to men applies to women as well: a perfect, totally
he's talking to me...just when I was beginning to think he was
only talking to you...or to himself.
||He doesn't shrink
in false modesty from his self-perceived role of leader. He tells
us straight out that he is setting the pace, taking first steps.
Does this bother you? It doesn't bother me too much, but I'll
keep Dylan's warning in mind, "Don't follow
leaders; watch the parkin' meters." For me, a leader has
to prove his leadership by showing that he knows its limits.
He can't do and be everything for the group.
||A knoll is a bit
of a hill. His leadership takes this form. He brings us to a
higher place from which we can observe what cannot be seen from
other places (like "dinner-table, library, or exchange").
I think of Moses on the mountain looking out over the promised
land, knowing he'll never get there himself. How many people
have had this vision? Some famous ones, for sure. But what about
ordinary folks? Have I?
|left hand hooks you
||The idea and reality
of physical contact was central to WW's thought. He wanted this
connection with other people and with the natural world of lived
experience. In fact, physical contact seems to be for him the
only valid evidence that life is being lived. How would you know
that you were alive if you could not touch anything or anyone?
Many people smirk, "Yeah, I knew he was gay." But this
is our sad hang-up, not his. If we are afraid to touch each other,
so much the worse for us.
|right hand points
||With one hand
he touches us and with the other he points. Isn't this the leader's
job? Connect here, meet us where we're at, and direct us
to there, farther on.
|landscapes of continents
||Hugeness. WW must
have been astonished by the bigness of North America. Before
airplanes and satellites, people could only imagine the spaces
out there beyond the cities. Here's an odd use of the word "landscape,"
which is often used not of the actual place but of its representation
in a painting. Is he suggesting that this bigness can be known
only through an act of imagination such as a painting? In
Whitman's day large landscape paintings by Albert
Bierstadt or Frederic
Edwin Church were quite popular.
|a plain public road
||This is it. This
road will take you or me or anyone out there into the continent.
It's not a private road. We don't have to be rich, or famous
or smart. We are each already beautiful, says WW in many places.
||Ah, this leader
does know his limits.
||This last line
calls to mind the old lyric "You've got to walk that lonesome valley. You've
got to walk it by yourself." We've each got one unique,
beautiful, and precious life. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes
we want to hand the journey over to somebody else, thinking that
maybe this is the best we can do. WW is a good leader because
he makes us face that tough reality of individual life. But he
also (in other poems, too) makes it clear that it's not a "lonesome
valley" but "a plain public road."