On a first read, I found myself repulsed by E. A. Robinson’s poem “Walt Whitman.” Bursting with hopeful sentimentality and warm, fuzzy emotions, his tribute poem felt a bit overdone, to say the least. Then though, I stepped back for a moment and read the poem aloud to myself and came to understand where its power and presence lay.
After hearing the words float harmlessly through the quiet space of my room, I understood why this poem was included in canons as well as our syllabus. Certainly, there are Whitmanian qualities in that it is a light, joyful elegiac poem. Obviously, it is dedicated to Whitman as the singer of “the master-song.” Yet, none of this mattered as much to me as the poem’s ending. As a lover of language and the power it possesses to move people and, indeed, to move the entire world, I cannot ignore what lies beneath the last lines:
The master-songs are ended? Rather say
No songs are ended that are ever sung,
And that no names are dead names. When we write
Men’s letters on proud marble or sand,
We write them there forever.
In this passage I can see the desires of the author, those which he may not have ever even admitted to himself. His ambition to be immortalized, to “move mountains” with his words, as some may say, is evident in these lines and is very reminiscent of Whitman’s writing. No matter how many times I may hear it, the notion that Whitman was ambitious enough to try and write a new American bible in order to save the nation may never really sink in, let alone the fact that he believed in himself and his work enough to accomplish that.
As an amateur author/poet, I cannot deny the power of Robinson’s poem. As terrifying as it may be that something we pen could be immortalized forever, I think all of us can at least admit to ourselves that a small part of us yearns for that. I know that I’ll continue striving to submit something worthy, whether it be put on a proud marble tablet or a simple stretch of sand, that deserves to be immortalized in the mind of at least one human being for the rest of their lives, if not for the rest of time. Something I think Walt would want all of us to labor towards.