Walt Whitman, THERE WAS A CHILD WENT FORTH.


Although I have thrown the trappings of my working life aside, the mind of an educator, the writer of curriculum, the college student and the learner is still alive in me. I do not go to work. I do not “have” to write and I don’t plan to go back to college. But when I find a book that I like I still go to the publisher and the typeset on the copyright page. Why these things interest me I don’t know. I think it is the linage of a book that I somehow find interesting, especially if it is very old material printed between the covers. So it should have been that way when I came across a copy of Walt Whitman’s poems while I was shopping Seattle.

But it did not happen that way this time. When I opened the book, the page that revealed itself to me began with There was a child went forth…. my whole adult life has been wrapped up in children. There is one job that will never be cast aside; I am a mother. I have watched my children grow into wonderful adults and now I am watching their children do the same. So this poem simply spoke to my heart. It begins:

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of a day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
…And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-fainting litter, and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf….

Now how could you not love a poem like that. It states to beautifully what we all know…that we are what we see and smell and feel. When he continues to write:

The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly….
The family, usage, the language, the company….

You knew that the child became that too, taking the good and wonderful and, hopefully, casting aside those lessons that were not kind and useful.

I am not a poetry reader in the sense that I have read volumes of poetry and can judge the worth of any poem. I rely on others to tell me what is beautiful. But, I think, that if I had read Walt Whitman when he was unknown to the world, I would have judged for myself that his poetry was a wonderful reflection of his time and yet would remain timeless.

Whitman, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, Alfred A. Knopf, New York London Toronto, 1994
ISBN 0-679-43632-4

Footnote: On the copyright page I found that this book was printed and bound in Germany, distributed by Random House of the UK. How does a book like this find it’s way to Seattle?? Isn’t our world just an amazing place?

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