When Papa went on his shopping trips to Philadelphia, he would leave me in the Camden ferry house. When I thought he was going to be gone for a long time I'd go aboard the ferry-boat and go back and forth without paying. After a while I found out that Walt Whitman did the same thing. He recognized me and we would sit together.
I wondered why nobody stopped either of us. I found out later that he was the honored guest of all the ferry hands. On the ferry- boat I felt I was a partner in a great adventure. That was the height of happiness, watching the people with him, watching the water. As I remember, he did not talk very much, but I felt we had a deep understanding between us.
And so began for me what has been one of the greatest joys of my life, the joy of watching people, the joy of being with people. I have always loved to sit in ferry and railroad stations and watch the people, to walk on crowded streets, just walk along among the people, and see their faces, to be among people on street cars and trains and boats. Perhaps it was on those ferry-boat rides that the course of my life was determined, and that Whitman somehow transferred to me, without words, his own great long- ing to establish everywhere on earth "the institution of the dear love of comrades."
As Whitman grew to look more frail, we children realized that we must not bother him so much. He had to have a man to take care of him, to help him up the low stone steps, back into the little frame house when the evening grew too chilly. And there was a young man named Horace Traubel who came every night to see him. In later years when I was searching for something to believe in with all my heart and mind, I met Horace Traubel in the Ethi- cal Culture Society in Philadelphia, and we were fast friends, until he died. Horace wrote a day by day story of Walt Whitman's life, Walt Whitman in Camden. I have a copy which belonged to Horace, bearing the penciled inscription, in Walt Whitman's own hand: "To Horace Traubel--You will be speaking long after I am gone. Be sure and always tell the truth, Walt Whitman." Underneath is another inscription, from one of my friends who had the book in his possession. It reads: "We now pass this book of Horace's on to our beloved Ella Reeve Bloor, Percival Wixsell." The signer is a member of the Walt Whitman group of Los Angeles. Every year I receive an invitation to celebrate Walt Whitman's birthday with this group, and I have many rich mem- ories of the occasions when I could be with them.
The poem of Whitman's I love best, "The Mystic Trumpeter," always seemed to me to be a prophecy of the coming of the new world which so many of us have dreamed about and worked for and seen come into being with the success of the Russian Revolu- tion. Because this poem is less well known than some of the others, I want to quote the last part of it here:
Blow again, trumpeter! and for thy theme, Take now the enclosing theme of all--the solvent and the setting; Love, that is pulse of all--the sustenance and the pang; The heart of man and woman all for love; No other theme but love--knitting, enclosing, all-diffusing love.... Blow again, trumpeter--conjure war's wild alarums. Swift to thy spell, a shuddering hum like distant thunder rolls; Lo! where the arm'd men hasten--Lo! mid the clouds of dust, the glint of bayonets; I see the grime-faced cannoniers--I mark the rosy flash amid the smoke--I hear the cracking of the guns: --Nor war alone--thy fearful music-song, wild player, brings every sight of fear, The deeds of ruthless brigands--rapine, murder--I hear the cries for help! I see ships foundering at sea--I behold on deck, and below deck, the terrible tableaux. Oh Trumpeter! methinks I am myself the instrument thou playest! Thou melt'st my heart, my brain--thou movest, drawest, changest them, at will: And now thy sullen notes send darkness through me; Thou takest away all cheering light--all hope: I see the enslaved, the overthrown, the hurt, the opprest of the whole earth; I feel the measureless shame and humiliation of my race—it becomes all mine; Mine too the revenges of humanity--the wrongs of ages--baf- fled feuds and hatreds; Utter defeat upon me weighs--all lost! the foe victorious! (Yet 'mid the ruins Pride colossal stands, unshaken to the last; Endurance, resolution, to the last.) Now, trumpeter, for thy close, Vouchsafe a higher strain than any yet; Sing to my soul--renew its languishing faith and hope; Rouse up my slow belief--give me some vision of the future; Give me, for once, its prophecy and joy. O glad, exulting, culminating song! A vigor more than earth's is in thy notes! Marches of victory--man disenthrall'd--the conqueror at last! Hymns to the universal God, from universal Man—all joy! A reborn race appears--a perfect World, all joy! Women and Men, in wisdom, innocence and health—all joy! Riotous, laughing bacchanals, fill'd with joy! War, sorrow, suffering gone--The rank earth purged--nothing but joy left! The ocean fill'd with joy--the atmosphere all joy! Joy! Joy! in freedom, worship, love! Joy in the ecstasy of life! Enough to merely be! Enough to breathe! Joy! Joy! all over Joy!
I think Whitman more than any other poet possessed the gift of revealing to others the beauty of everything around us, the beauty of nature, the beauty of human beings. I feel so often these things that he expresses--his closeness to nature, his great love for mankind, his ecstatic joy in the beauty of the physical world--things I cannot possibly put into words myself. Some of his own closeness to nature, his great love for human beings, was passed on by Whitman to all of us who knew and loved him.
We who had the privilege of knowing Whitman have a special understanding of each other. We have no inhibitions, no reserve. There is a kind of understanding among us that makes it impossible for us to offend one another, no matter what we say, and this has given me the most free and frank human relationships I have ever known. Nor is this rich heritage ours alone, it is there for all who know and love Whitman's poems to share.
Document URL: http://www.english.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/whitman-per-bloor.html
Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:29:18 EDT