Canadian Poetry Online top banner link to Canadian Poetry Online home page link to University of Toronto Libraries home page

Walt Whitman's Madness in London, Ontario

Bruce Meyer
From:   Radio Silence. Black Moss Press, 1991 p 8-9


There is little breathing room in the space between
biography and tragedy. Inevitability is both grace
and zero ground, the fuel of fate, the fire of fortune.
and this is a country longing for tragedy, the green
farmlands that never outlinve their seasons, a place
dependent on its demise for strength; a land too soon

grown old; a nation looking for time in the greeness
of each spring. Why did you come here? Silence?
Our third language: the silence of church spires,
questions parishioners fear to ask God; forgiveness
abounding in the frigid sympathy of a snowfall; sense
and senselessness but never sensibility; shrill choirs

of crows welcoming the dawn; here, dear fool, we have
gone mad. It must have seemed an Eden at first, trees
waving pleasantly across the border, the idyllic land
where a man might find the spirit of himself, the love
of the world it entailed. You crossed over with ease,
a soul slip ping over Jordan, a free place, a free land.

But the sky was black one morning When you woke,
a sky torn apart by the night of its own inner guilt,
a night rejecting stars, decrying light, a temper
of puritan virtue Where aspirations steadily broke
their hearts in rough fields; a land stern faces built
from the shards of a looking glass, keeping fears simple

when what was required was joy. O Whitman, your soul
ran aground on its own stillness. Your screams
took root and planted themselves in our grievous
solemnity, and we apologise, apologise humbly, sure
that our failures will be absolved by your dreams,
dreamed once and forgotten, years after a time of madness.

History will say he came by it naturally here, the air
wearing its grey mourning clothes seldom smiled,
the birds mostly dirty sparrows and starlings -- found
windows in his soul through Which he heard their
natterings at daybreak . The Thames, slow, old, beguiled
his muses with flat repetitions of native sound

until all he would hear was his own need to be heard.
You might say, as you sit and read your Toronto Star,
that this country made Walt Whitman, gave him his temper,
forged and fortified in him all that is American. Word
has it he would have agreed. Madman, lunatic, far-
minded, he learned to dance for joy, for love, for cure.

He would have led us but we broke step, the status quo
of our devotion proving too much for one life; instead
he taught another nation how to sing, took his art,
his love of life, his body, his soul -- all things so
foreign -- to another world. We dance slowly, only ahead
of the last lost season, learning too late When to start,

dependent on its demise for strength; a land too soon;
farmlands that never outlive their seasons; a p lace.
and this is a country longing for tragedy the green
and zero ground, the fuel of fate, the fire of fortune.
Biography and tragedy. Inevitability and its grace.
There is little breathing room in the space between.



Bruce Meyer's works copyright © to the author.


Canadian Poetry Online bottom banner link to University of Toronto Libraries home page link to Digital Collections home page link to University of Toronto Library catalogue link to Canadian Poetry Online home page link to University of Toronto Libraries home page