This is What You Shall Do

“This is what you shall do,” wrote Walt Whitman in the preface to the second edition of Leaves of Grass,the collection of verse that shook the literary establishment clear down to its knickers.

I keep the whole passage in a frame on my desk and have read it so many times that it has entered me by now. I hear his voice in so many places I visit.

I certainly heard it at sunset the other day when I drove to the stretch of city shoreline known as Revere Beach.

Let me set down the whole of what Whitman says and you will maybe see why he sang to me here. He tells us,

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals; despise riches; give alms to everyone that asks; stand up for the stupid and the crazy; argue not concerning God; have patience and indulgence toward the people; go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the Mothers of families; dismiss whatever insults your own soul and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency, not  only in words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the  lashes of your eyes and in every last joint and motion of your body…

Whenever I need to feel better I reread this and then I go out to where the people are. ‘Stand up for the stupid and the crazy,’ he says and I know that one day I will very likely be what the world calls stupid. As for crazy, my sister thinks I’m that already .

It’s fine if I am. It doesn’t matter. I went to this beach and was smiled at by every single person I gave a smile to.

We were all just there together. We walked or sat or stood, right where we should be: where God first put us and where He can find us again, here in His light, in His glorious late day-light.

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4 thoughts on “This is What You Shall Do

  1. 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 the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

    Reading the above, I think Walt would have approved of you having that particular quote on your desk to look at each day. I also could think of no better mantra for you and your writing.

    It’s ironic that you would mention it today, as I read it 25 years ago this very week eulogizing a dear friend. It was his mantra too.

    1. Jon every time I hear from you I learn something. You read that very passage huh? I have never until now met anyone who even knew about it. and reading what you said about visiting historical “shrines” like John & Abigail Adams’s Peacefield now has me itching to do the same. Secretly thinking tomorrow the Robert Frost farm!

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