One time I wrote a poem about orange peels and college ruled paper in iambic pentameter and on April 25th 2008 it won me a scholarship through the Archibald Rutledge Competition. Over time, the copy I had of this poem has managed to lose itself in the many moves between the many houses I’ve lived in. But the inspiration has never been lost.
I remember one day my mom gave me a clipping from a newspaper article. I don’t remember the context of the article itself but the clipping was a Whitman quote:
This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body
At the time I was incredibly inspired by this quote from a poet that I had hardly read (I was in high school and had only read bits and pieces of Whitman here and there and his greatness had not even crossed my mind yet). In a way I sort of turned this quote into my creed. It managed to work itself into my daily life as I strived to live in a way similar to this. The things I wrote were seeped in this idea, and the poem that I ended up submitting was too.
I find it funny looking back on this and how at the time I thought nothing of the poet who this quote belonged to. Whitman means so much to me now and I feel that I know so much about his work that I didn’t know then. Years have passed since I first read that quote, and years have passed since I was inspired to write that poem from it but Whitman is still inside my head, perhaps now more than ever. I hope that no matter how many more moves I make or how many more houses I live in that I will never lose this sort of Whitmanian way of thinking.