Kosmos via Kosmos

Who includes diversity and is Nature,
Who is the amplitude of the earth, and the coarseness and sexuality of
the earth, and the great charity of the earth, and the equilibrium
Who has not look’d forth from the windows the eyes for nothing,
or whose brain held audience with messengers for nothing,
Who contains believers and disbelievers, who is the most majestic lover,
Who holds duly his or her triune proportion of realism,
spiritualism, and of the aesthetic or intellectual,
Who having consider’d the body finds all its organs and parts good,
Who, out of the theory of the earth and of his or her body
understands by subtle analogies all other theories,
The theory of a city, a poem, and of the large politics of these States;
Who believes not only in our globe with its sun and moon, but in
other globes with their suns and moons,
Who, constructing the house of himself or herself, not for a day
but for all time, sees races, eras, dates, generations,
The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.

Now, that’s Walt Whitman’s poem “Kosmos” from Leaves of Grass.  Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem “Kosmos,” featured in Visiting Walt and originally published in Thieves of Paradise, reverently uses common ideas and themes from Whitman’s “Kosmos” to portray a kind of admired archetype of Whitman’s original.

When looking at the two side by side one can see the obvious use of an answering “You” to Whitman’s rhetorical “Who.”  Whitman seems to be asking what in the hell can include all of the things he lists:  diversity, Nature, believers, disbelievers, realism, spiritualism, etc.  Komunyakaa seems to imply in his “Kosmos” that Whitman himself answers a lot of these questions he supposes in his own “Kosmos,” or at least has faith in Whitman’s ability to do so.

Komunyakaa states that Whitman, “Believ[ed] [he] could be everywhere” and “had faith in the soul.”  These admiring phrases hold true with the end of the first block of stanzas with “Your lines traversed America’s/White space, driven by a train’s syncopation.”  Komunyakaa is obviously holding belief in the tried and true view of Whitman as America’s rough but lovable old man.  He holds faith in Whitman and implies that others have as well.  The “love” of Whitman “pushed through jailhouse walls.  Into the bedroom of/presidents and horse thieves,” making Whitman an everyday hero to Komunyakaa.

Komunyakaa repeatedly tells us through his own “Kosmos” that Whitman is linked to his home.  No matter how distant he takes us from this idea — which is a Whitmanian move — he still comes back to his house, where “Home/Was wherever my feet took me.”

Komunyakaa brings it back down to the soul before blowing it all up again in the 4th stanza group.  I think one of the last ideas, that “the skin’s cage/Opened up by the mind” is particularly important in contrast to the next disorienting image of “a tree after the blast of a shotgun.”  The two ideas still dwell together in the mind’s orient as Whitman implies at the close of his poem with “The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together.”

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.