Jake brakes popping, slashing cool night air,
Echoing across the sleeping valley.
Gear down, good buddy, gear down.
— Trucker Poet
Walt Whitman’s Jake Brakes
His words remind me of jake brakes sounding miles away. Punctuated, they seek attention, but distance softens their urgent calls. So Walt Whitman punctuates his words, gently guiding my attention to those things that to me are like water to a fish, but which benefit from closer inspection.
In his poems, Whitman defines America and the place of history in all things. He calls to all of us: take action to right the wrongs besieging so many others who are less fortunate than us. These are topics laced together, inseparably intertwined, as each of us is with everyone else. Civilization requires society. Society requires cooperation. Cooperation is the natural human condition. All else is fantasy and folly.
To Foreign Lands
I heard that you ask’d for something to prove this puzzle the New World,
And to define America, her athletic Democracy,
Therefore I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted.
To a Historian
You who celebrate bygones,
Who have explored the outward, the surfaces of the races, the life that has exhibited itself,
Who have treated of man as the creature of politics, aggregates, rulers and priests,
I, habitan of the Alleghanies, treating of him as he is in himself in his own rights,
Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited itself,
(the great pride of man in himself,)
Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be,
I project the history of the future.
What Place Is Besieged?
What place is besieged, and vainly tries to raise the siege?
Lo, I send to that place a commander, swift, brave, immortal,
And with him horse and foot, and parks of artillery,
And artillery-men, the deadliest that ever fired gun.