Re: September 11th

A day late: From a brilliant abridgment of Walt Whitman’s "Song of Myself" that Scott Simon read on NPR the weekend after September 11, 2001:

"I understand the large hearts of heroes,

The courage of present times and all times;

How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the steam-ship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm;

How he knuckled tight, and gave not back one inch, and was faithful of days and faithful of nights,

And chalk’d in large letters, on a board, Be of good cheer, we will not desert you:

How he follow’d with them, and tack’d with them—and would not give it up;

How he saved the drifting company at last:

How the lank loose-gown’d women look’d when boated from the side of their prepared graves;

How the silent old-faced infants, and the lifted sick, and the sharp-lipp’d unshaved men:

All this I swallow—it tastes good—I like it well—it becomes mine;

I am the man—I suffer’d—I was there. …

I am the mash’d fireman with breast-bone broken;

Tumbling walls buried me in their debris;

Heat and smoke I inspired—I heard the yelling shouts of my comrades;

I heard the distant click of their picks and shovels;

They have clear’d the beams away—they tenderly lift me forth. 

I lie in the night air in my red shirt—the pervading hush is for my sake;

Painless after all I lie, exhausted but not so unhappy;

White and beautiful are the faces around me—the heads are bared of their fire-caps;

The kneeling crowd fades with the light of the torches. …

I take part—I see and hear the whole;

The cries, curses, roar—the plaudits …

Workmen searching after damages, making indispensable repairs … the rent roof—the fan-shaped explosion;

The whizz of limbs, heads, stone, wood, iron, high in the air. …

Failing to fetch me at first, keep encouraged;

Missing me one place, search another;

I stop somewhere, waiting for you."


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One Reply to “Re: September 11th”

  1. This is really good. As for me, on Sunday I was listening to Nick Lowe’s version of “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding” (the one made famous in the eighties by Elvis Costello)while driving on Clinton Street toward Brooklyn Heights. This on a day that was eerily similar to the day in 2001…severe clear.
    The song is really somewhat bitter but the lyrics, which you can clearly follow in Lowe’s version, are beautifully composed and feel so appropriate these days.

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