Streams

Poet In Residence

Walt Whitman's "Election Day, November, 1884"

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Presidential elections don’t only motivate people to get politically active they have also been a source of artistic inspiration, including poetry.

Founder of the Bowery Poetry Café, Bob Holman has been called the "democratic voice of poetry in America." Over the next few months, he’ll join us to share the work of poets he’s most excited about, today, a poem about elections by the grandfather of AMERICAN poetry…

Good morning America—I mean New York City. This is Bob Holman here and it is election time in 1884 and your name is Walt Whitman...it’s time to see if you can rallythe citizenry around some definition of patriotism. You’re closing in on 70 years old and it’s about time that people realize the power of the vote!

Election Day, November, 1884 by Whalt Whitman

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara--nor you, ye limitless prairies--nor your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite--nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic
geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones--nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes--nor
Mississippi's stream:
--This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name--the still
small voice vibrating--America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen--the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd--sea-board and inland--
Texas to Maine--the Prairie States--Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West--the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling--(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the
peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity--welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
--Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify--while the heart
pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.


Wow! Walt! We thank you! Bob Holman, WNYC.

Bob Holman is the proprietor of the Bowery Poetry Club. His most recent book, A Couple of Ways of Doing Something, is a collaboration with Chuck Close. He teaches writing and performance at the Columbia School of the Arts.

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