Love Letter to the Earth and Walt Whitman

 

An on-line group I joined to explore our relationship with the Earth was given a project to write “A Love Letter to the Earth”. I didn’t want to do this and at first couldn’t quite explain why. I thought it was “blissy”, that is, emotionally sentimental. I have, like most people, written love letters from time to time, more often love poems and you will find some on this blog. But on such occasions I was infatuated and full of sexual passion, some were more grounded than that suggests but the genre is usually “romantic” and not exactly the way I feel about the Earth. I feel/experience the Earth as Mother, Gaia, and(I say this with some sense of humour) for a son  to write his mother in that way might be Oedipal at best and maybe even narcissistic. Also love letters are usually spontaneous and its difficult to be asked to produce one like it is a school project, an essay on my favourite teacher perhaps; nope I couldn’t do that! I did not, however, want to be awkward and uncooperative; and I remembered I did know of a love poem to the Earth by someone else. The poet is the American Walt Whitman 1819-1892. Here are a few lines of it:

“Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset–earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow’d earth–rich apple-blossom’d earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.”

And you can’t get more erotically passionate than:

“Thruster holding me tight and that I hold tight!
We hurt each other as the bridegroom and the bride hurt each other.
You sea! I resign myself to you also….
We must have a turn together….I undress….Hurry me out of
sight of land,
Cushion me soft….rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet….I can repay you.
Sea of stretched ground swells!
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths!
…I am integral with you.”

From: “Leaves of Grass” (21)

I love this poem! And it seems to fit the description “love poem to the Earth”; yet as much as I love Whitman’s poem, and it certainly is not “blissy”, it is not somehow what I want to say to my Mother Earth. I think part of this is because writing poetry, and poetic prose, for me, is an attempt to understand and accommodate my experience and not a dramatic (I use this word not pejoratively but in the true theatre artistic sense) not a dramatic erotic whispering, if you will, into my lover’s ear. And even a good love letter/poem helps both partners understand things a little better (you might consider John Donne’s poems in this respect). Are we exploring eroticism and the “integral” union of lovers? Or are we acknowledging a deep natural relationship between mother and child? And exploring the mystery of that relationship which of course is deeply spiritual. Not that eroticism can’t be spiritual but I like a little talk and getting to know you first! Sometimes we feel that our more passionate feelings can be overwhelming and confusing and we need boundaries.

Having tried to explain my feelings about that, I think a poem I wrote while on a  Yoga retreat might be my kind of “Hymn to the Earth”, something like that anyway; it is in fact called “Meditation at Athenry” because that is the Irish Village we were in and what we were in fact doing.

Meditation at Athenry

Athenry, sitting on chairs in a circle,
The grass is wet.
Listening to the distant sounds,
Traffic, a digger, some rooks.
And then moving in closer,
Though my ear is motionless,
To hear the trees move,
The sun touching us makes
The solar fountain rise and splash,
A passing bee is cosmic.

Consciousness grows wide
Rests in the low, level fields
Too green perhaps,
Certainly not spectacular
But then our eyes are closed,
As coming down to rest
On carboniferous rock,
Its name denoting time not content,
We cannot conceive it.
The unimaginable time past
When all this vast space was
Shallow sea.

And further,
Further than swallows fly,
It lay warm and redolent.
Before sex was, our cells experimented
Shoulder to shoulder merging forms,
Emerging to becoming one or two
Or three or four better even than we can.
And died there, layer on chalky layer.
Until we sit now on their limestone monument.

And later when we dig manure
Into the shallow earth that covers it
The fossiled smell of ancient sea
Reminds me of my origin.

2 thoughts on “Love Letter to the Earth and Walt Whitman

  1. I love this clear, expressive and honest response to your ‘home study’ . It seems that however uncertain you felt about the proposed written response it primed you to really consider how you felt, so in that respect the ‘assignment’ did it’s job to stimulate your thought and feeling. However as a teacher myself of the ‘Intangible’ (Acting), I have to say that being asked to write a ‘Love letter’ presumes you are in love in the first place and prescribes a particular response. This Prevents the seeker, participant, student from a true response. If I had been given the task I would have wanted to say that despite the inexorable grinding of the earth through cycles of cruelty where animals devour each other alive there is an elevated beauty and aspiration. There is a duality. It is hard to love the earth entirely. man does not create it all. We are part of it. This would then bring me on to how I felt about The Earth. This polarity is strangely part of what makes it beautiful.

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  2. Ha, now that I’ve got you I can tell you a little secret! I’ve slept in Walt Whitman’s house!
    Tony, this I enjoy, your writings are what I will read to learn more about you. I hope we chat again sooner than the last time. Best, Billy

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