Monday, August 24, 2009

Stand Up for the Stupid and the Crazy

At the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice Awards a number of years ago, I came upon a poem - or part of a poem - superimposed on a photograph of Bill walking down Gay Street, where he lived. The poem, part of the Preface to the 1855 edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grace, read:

This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the
animals, despise riches, give alms
to every one that asks, stand up
for the stupid and crazy, devote
your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants, argue not concerning
God, have patience and
indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing
known or unknown

As with everything else that inspired me at the time, I tacked it to my office wall where I endeavored to put it into practice.

Looking it up recently, I discovered that the Preface is actually quite long and that after "known or unknown", it continues:

. . . or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body. . . .

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