I think some of my favorites of Whitman’s poems are not always the longest, the “greatest” in size and scope and scale. I wouldn’t dream of asserting that “Song of Myself” and “I Sing the Body Electric” are anything other than incredible, but I like the simplicity of things like this, from a 1940 edition of Leaves of Grass (poems selected by an editor, not based off one of the original Whitman editions):
Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage for fear I effuse unreturn’d love,
But now I think there is no unreturn’d love, the pay is certain one way or another,
(I loved a certain person ardently and my love was not return’d,
Yet out of that I have written these songs.)
I like the parenthetical especially, and I like that it’s in a parenthetical. I don’t know enough about poetry to say why this is so particularly arresting, but well. I like it.
There are more of these brief isolated stanzas in the Calamus poems, but I don’t have them in this edition because it’s just selections, and so the editor’s gone and picked all these Civil War things over the beauty of masculine affection. And Ginsberg will always have a special place in my heart, but in his entire oeuvre he doesn’t have brief encapsulations of beauty like this. His greatest works are all fantastic, but they’re either mid-sized, or they’re epic.
That said, though, I miss my collected Ginsberg desperately. It’s only in a box that I’ll see again when I move to Washington, DC for the summer next weekend, but its absence is noticeable. I know all these poems are available on the internet, but that’s a very poor substitute indeed for volumes that I’ve read over and over and over again.