Mon. May 31st: How to celebrate Walt Whitman’s birthday

KW: There are probably poems to be written about the fact that Walt Whitman’s birthday falls on Memorial Day this year. Though, for now, here are some of my past reflections on Walt Whitman’s birthday, May 31st, and a good way to celebrate it:


Background Story: Listen To The Waves

Walt Whitman, born close by to me in West Hills, Long Island, has become a touchstone for something more than just beautiful poetry. I first discovered Walt Whitman for myself when he was quoted in a sermon at an interfaith church in Virginia. Then, a bookstore colleague of mine read with me from Leaves of Grass and I was awakened to this powerful voice of self, God and nature, combined. Since then, I have come to realize Whitman’s amazing gifts as poet, political figure, as reshaper of language, as prophet, as loving brother, and as a complicated and beautiful a person who ever lived.

Whitman’s sense of self and his poetry are effused with a love and connection to nature. In the book, From Noon to Starry Night by Philip Callow, I relished images of Whitman sitting on a hillside near his family home in West Hills and listening to the sounds of the waves. Whitman credited his constant backdrop of Long Island’s pulsing waters for the subtle rhythm in the new poetic language he invented. And, as a good transcendentalist, he had a genuine passion for the sea, the sun and the earth over material goods.

As I considered what Walt Whitman has meant to me, and what I know he could mean to many other Long Island artists, I thought of a new way to immortalize him…a kind of transcendentalist’s holiday.

On Walt Whitman’s birthday – each May 31st – every person and business in Long Island should observe 15 minutes of silence.

We could stop mowing our lawns, stop driving the car, turn off all buzzes and drones of machinery, and just listen. Listen to the silence that enfolds us again in the embrace of nature. Listen to the silence that inspires us to art and poetry. Listen to the heartbeat of the waves which, in Walt’s time, you could hear from every point on the island.

by Kimberly Wilder

The science of silence:

One Response

  1. I like the way you think!

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