On the harbor side railing of the World Financial Center Plaza in Lower Manhattan, two of our favorite poets share a view of the Hudson River together. The plaza, designed by artists Siah Armajani and Scott Burton contains two inscriptions from both poets bound to the railing in big bronze letters, “City of the Sea!…City of wharves and stores-city of tall facades of marble and iron! Proud and passionate city!” (City of Ships, Whitman) and “One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes-I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a radio store or some other sign that people do no totally regret life” (Meditations in an Emergency, O’hara). I thought the fact that they choice these two men to be the representatives of New York to be very interesting.
O’hara himself did not hide how much Whitman had influenced h;im his works are constantly scattered with references to Leaves of Grass, even in the quote that was chosen for the railing. The mentioning of grass (always a HUGE red flag screaming Whitman!) I think provides an important insight to how O’hara viewed Walt’s work in general- he can not fully appreciate it unless he is looking at it through the bigger picture, with contradictions and contrasts, with both nature and urban life, all of the many Whitman’s instead of just focusing on just one. However it could be said that O’hara was himself a fan of the urban Manhattan Whitman, for he has a tendency to undermine and attack the pastoral imagery that was a favorite tool of Whitman as we see in the following passage from his poem Poem, “the sound is that of a bulldozer in heat stuck in the mud where a lilac still scrawnily blooms and cries out ‘Walt!’so they repair the street in the middle of the night.”
I also couldn’t help but make a connection to this plaza design and Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry. Here are his words, fused next to the words of someone who was born over a hundred years after him-looking pleasantly at the river and giving his company for who ever may be there and need it. It’s a very comforting image. And I think it is safe to say that O’hara would be pretty thrilled to know that his words are enjoying the same view right beside him!
Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt,
Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd,
Just as you are refreshed by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refreshed,
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried,
Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemmed pipes of steamboats, I looked.