All I was able to think about during our trip to Washington D.C. was how much Whitman would be smiling if he knew how devoted we were to uncovering his life’s work. Walking through D.C., a place I have been many times in my life, became a new experience for me as I looked at the area through “Whitman-colored” glasses. Buildings, grassy areas surrounding buildings, even roads became something new that I had never seen before. Things I had previously taken for granted as ordinary became fascinating as I thought about the ways that particular place functioned for Whitman.
Whitman was not merely “under [our] bootsoles” (88), he was everywhere – Lafayette Park, the White House, Department of the Treasury, the Washington Monument, Hotel W and the Red Robin Bar, Constitution Ave., etc. Everywhere we went he was around the corner, or he was the corner:
Being in these places made me a believer in Whitman’s insistency that time need not be as much a disconnector as we would often have it. In “Song of Myself” he writes, “Distant and dead resuscitate, / They show as the dial or move as the hands of me….and I am the clock myself” (63). If Whitman is the clock, then we were keeping time through and by him as we journeyed through D.C.
This particularly hit home for me while visitning the Library of Congress, an experience which render even words insufficient descriptors of its impact. As our class greedily gathered around the tables to see handwritten letters, pictures, books, a pen, a watch, a “Calamus” staff, glasses, his haversack, etc. it struck me that Whitman’s historical preservation consciousness was one of, if not the only, reasons why we had the fortune of viewing any of those things. Whitman transcended time; he was aware of his surroundings, his potential legacy, and he succeeded in sharing them with others, even across a century. A group of undergraduate students “oooh”ed and “aahh”ed over artifact after artifact because Whitman cared enough about preserving history to give us that. We have become the ‘gymnastic learners’ he desired and we, in many ways, are forever connected to him because of that.
I thought Whitman would appreciate this sign: