Thursday, May 31, 2012

Mannahatta

photo © Mark Butkus 2011
I was asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon lo! Up sprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane,
   unruly, musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays,
   superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and
   steamships, an island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender,
   strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining
   islands, the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters,
   the ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the
   houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-
   brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week,
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses,
   the brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing
   clouds aloft,
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the
   river, passing along up or down with the flood-tide or
   ebb-tide,
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d,
   beautiful-faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the
   shops and shows,
A million people — manners free and superb — open voices —
   hospitality — the most courageous and friendly young
   men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!


— Walt Whitman


Walt Whitman — born this day in 1819 — was the first to be inducted into the American Poets' Corner in 1984. Joining him that first year were Washington Irving and Emily Dickinson. The quote on his plaque is from his most famous work, Leaves of Grass. The inscription reads, "I stop somewhere waiting for you." Mannahatta is also from Whitman's Leaves of Grass.