Many of us are not aware of it. But April is National Poetry Month -- and New York has been a source of great poets and poetry for generations. We indeed have something to celebrate.
Notably, there is Walt Whitman, who was born in Huntington Township, Long Island, and lived much of his life in Brooklyn and Manhattan. His passion, his emotions stirred America.
“I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear … “ he wrote. And he was in love with every inch of the city, as he expressed it in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”:
“…The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away, the others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them, the certainty of others --- the life, love, sight, hearing of others …
“Others will enter the gates of the ferry, and cross from shore to shore…Others will see the islands large and small … A hundred years hence, or ever so many hundred years hence, others will see them, will enjoy the sunset, the pouring in of the flood tide, the falling back to the sea of the ebb-tide..."
There is a magnificent exuberance about this man. Even the titles of his poems prove that.
“Poem of the Heart of the Son of Manhattan Island.” In it are the lines: ”…For I think I have reason to be the proudest son alive -- for I am the son of the brawny and tall-opt city. And who has been bold and true? For I would be the boldest and truest being of the universe…”
Whitman distilled the grief of a nation after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln when he wrote: ”O Captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done; The ship has weathered very rack, the prize we sought is won … But O heart! heart! heart! Leave you not the little spot, Where on the deck my captain lies … Fallen cold and dead.”
Another New York writer, Stanley Kunitz, was Poet Laureate of the United States and state poet of New York. Writing of his own work, Kunitz said: “Through the years, I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”
So, hail to National Poetry Month and the poetry we honor!