This week we have been discussing the work of Walt Whitman in my 19th & 20th Century American Poetry class. We looked at three poems: "I Sing the Body Electric" (my favourite), "I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing" and "To a Stranger". It was while discussing "To a Stranger" today that it suddenly reminded me of a music video I saw long ago of Radiohead's song "Creep". The video illustrated the theme of fleeting encounters and lost connections. I asked the students if they believe in love at first sight. They responded inconclusively. I don't. Not love. Lust at first sight, yes, or infatuation at first sight. As I explained to a friend recently, I fall in love all the time, but I seldom lose my heart.
Whitman's poem is below and below that the video.
To a Stranger
Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
It comes to me as a dream)
I have somewhere surely
Lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other,
Fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me,
Were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become
not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes,
face, flesh as we pass,
You take of my beard, breast, hands,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you
when I sit alone or wake at night, alone
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
I translated this poem into Afrikaans a while ago.