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Friday, August 27, 2010

Poetry Friday--"Did You Ask Dulcet Rhymes From Me?"

Walt Whitman was one of our most nonconventional 19th century American poets. In our collection we have a volume called The Poems of Walt Whitman (Leave of Grass) with Biographical Introduction by John Burroughs it was published in 1902 with this "Publishers' Note"
Various editions of Whitman's writing having created some confusion in readers' minds, we deem it advisable to state that the present volume contains the text of "Leaves of Grass," as published in 1860, together with "Drum Taps," of five years later.
The poem I have selected for today, "Did You Ask Dulcet Rhymes From Me?," is one of those confusion-making poems! Here's how is appears in the 1902 edition:
Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?
Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow, to
        understand?
Why I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to
        understand—-nor am I now;
—-What to such as you, anyhow, such a poet as I?--there-
        fore leave my works,
And go lull yourself with what you can understand;
For I lull nobody—-and you will never understand me.
A simple online search led me to this version; notice that the title, too is altered:
To a Certain Civilian

DID you ask dulcet rhymes from me?
Did you seek the civilian’s peaceful and languishing rhymes?
Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow?
Why I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand—-nor am I now;
(I have been born of the same as the war was born;
The drum-corps’ harsh rattle is to me sweet music—-I love well the martial dirge,
With slow wail, and convulsive throb, leading the officer’s funeral:)
—-What to such as you, anyhow, such a poet as I?—-therefore leave my works,
And go lull yourself with what you can understand—-and with piano-tunes;
For I lull nobody—-and you will never understand me.
According to an article on Whitman on the Poetry Foundation website, "he added, deleted, fused, separated, and rearranged poems as he produced six distinct editions of Leaves of Grass."

Which version of "Did You Ask Dulcet Rhymes From Me?" do you prefer? My preference is for the first one. There's no making excuses with that one. Whitman is clear in what he means to say, "You don't understand me and I don't care."

Visit Book Aunt where you'll find scads of interesting Poetry Friday postings to explore.

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