Saturday, April 25, 2009

In Defense of a Poet



I read Leaves of Grass and marveled at Walt Whitman’s ability to celebrate the human body and soul. I read The Better Angel: Walt Whitman in the Civil War, loaned to me by The Gold Puppy, and learned how as a nurse Whitman brought comfort to those injured during the Civil War. I was sad to discover the cruelty with which Whitman was often treated during his lifetime because of his lifestyle and his willingness to write about things others would never dare to express. When Leaves of Grass was published, he lost his job at the Department of the Interior because of its content. I wished he could be alive today to be celebrated as the genius he was.

Then I read today’s Washington Post article about the seven congregants from Kansas who set up outside Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda to protest the sexual orientation of the poet for whom the school was named. I realized sadly that little had changed in the minds of some people.

I was encouraged to read that at one point 500 students issued forth from the campus and lined up opposite the protesters to chant “Go home!” The school turned the day into a learning experience, spending time reading Whitman’s verse, having lessons on tolerance, even estimating the size of the crowd. Students were quick to condemn the paltry protest.

The congregants from the Westboro Baptist Church have gained national notoriety for their anti-homosexuality demonstrations. I hope they got the message that Walt Whitman High School is proud of its name and quick to defend its namesake. I guess they missed the lesson on tolerance in Topeka, Kansas.

9 Comments:

Blogger Squirrel said...

We have a nice statue of Walt nearby, and a colelctions of his works, bio etc... he's revered in our home. I like the statue esp. since he looks like he's got places to go and things to do, not just standing rigidly still.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Those Westboro people are nuts. Even conservatives think they're insane. They're the ones who picket soldier's funerals because they believe God's anger over our acceptance of gay lifestyles has led us into war. Nuts, nuts, nuts.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

unfortunately some people believe that people with alternative lifestyles somehow attacks their relationships. This is the one thing that I can't understand of the anti-gay marriage movement. How can someone else's relationship affect _your_ relationship?

8:18 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Squirrel -- He accomplished so much in his lifetime and was so underappreciated. I'm glad Nyack reveres him!

Steve -- These people sound like first-class nutcases, all of them!

Kellyann -- I think it must show a lack of self-confidence to imagine that another person's lifestyle can in any way threaten yours.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

when you are "sure" you are right, tolerance has little room in your worldview. Ignorance and the fear that the other fellow might have a point (thereby causing a reordering of cherished thought) keep some people locked into intolerance for good. To keep the balance, there are people like you who write posts like this. It's always good to question one's beliefs!

8:22 AM  
Blogger Squirrel said...

I've seen people who are CERTAIN they're absolutely right and it's terribly sad that they are so inflexible. We had a group stop in Nyack several times --they got off a bus and even had their LITTLE KIDS hold up hate signs. (God hates Gays type of signs, but worse. )They targeted our town because Nyack was the first ton in NY state to perform gay marriages. (our Mayor married his partner back then in 2004 ) of course you know how it's gone since then. He's still our mayor, but his marriage is not seen as legal anymore. It makes no sense at all.

5:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teaching kids to hate is pathetic, and heartbreaking, and scary.

F.

11:23 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- I have a deep-seated distrust of people who are sure they are RIGHT! Thanks for the kind remarks.

Squirrel -- You Nyackers are so progressive!

Anon -- Yes, children are so vulnerable to ideologies like this. The idea of teaching them to hate any person or group makes me incredibly sad.

11:47 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I'm not sure how what he did or did not do in the bedroom and with whom, invalidates his words and actions. Nobody put his name on the school because of the people he loved.

1:28 PM  

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