My Favorite W.W. on Thanksgiving

Portrait of author Walt WhitmanOn this day 130 years ago, Nov 27 1884, Walt Whitman published a short piece on the meaning of Thanksgiving, the kind of thing I like to read at Thanksgiving dinner. We’ll come back to it.

On Nov 27 2014 America is going through a week of difficult conversations about the events in Ferguson, conversations on race, justice, equality, rights, violence, etc. Whitman was born in New York in 1819, volunteered in the Civil War, and saw America go through amazing changes over the course of the 19th century before his death in 1892.

In 2014 American is far from perfect, but there’s still so much to be thankful for, so much to be hopeful about.

On Nov 27 1884 Whitman describes a Thanksgiving dinner he attended, a typical holiday meal filled with joy and laughter. One of the guests asks the poet for a “sermon…to sober us down.”

Here’s Whitman on gratitude and thanksgiving:

Thanksgiving goes probably far deeper than you folks suppose. I am not sure but it is the source of the highest poetry—as in parts of the Bible. Ruskin (British art critic), indeed, makes the central source of all great art to be praise (gratitude) to the Almighty for life, and the universe with its objects and play of action.

We Americans devote an official day to it every year; yet I sometimes fear the real article is almost dead or dying in our self-sufficient, independent Republic. Gratitude, anyhow, has never been made half enough of by the moralists; it is indispensable to a complete character, man’s or woman’s—the disposition to be appreciative, thankful. That is the main matter, the element, inclination—what geologists call the trend. Of my own life and writings I estimate the giving thanks part, with what it infers, as essentially the best item. I should say the quality of gratitude rounds the whole emotional nature; I should say love and faith would quite lack vitality without it….

In 2014 I’m feeling thankful to the Almighty for life, and appreciative of how far America–and the world–has come since 1884. My prayer and hope is that in 130 years from now the world will be unrecognizable for its overabundance of justice, peace, freedom and equality.

Happy Thanksgiving.