Poetry Review, Walt Whitman, Hours Continuing Long

23 Jan

The pain of a broken heart is a very difficult thing.  It bends time with its longing, but in the same moment, the rest of the world moves on, happily ignorant to what (to you) feels like the loss of a whole universe.  Whitman is incredibly difficult to talk about because his poetry is so direct.  No abstract symbols here, he lays it all out painful and protracted, leaving the reader the chance to drink it in, or to let it drift by.

So he’s counting hours after a lover has deserted him.  “Long, sore, and heavy-hearted.”  Just the passing of time is a painful event, because you’re accruing time separated.  He spends his time in “lonesome and unfrequented” spots with his head in his hands.  Or at night walking the streets, stifling cries.  Each line starts with the word hours, like he’s gotten more with each step, the hours ticked off in a way only an insomniac can think of them.

Hours spent discouraged and distracted, because he misses his lover and his lover has moved on.  Suffering, and feeling ashamed of that suffering.  The shame comes from many things, from allowing these feelings to distract him, for continuing to feel the way he does despite the fact that it won’t get him what he wants, and shame because it’s for a man.   He asks if others feel the same as him.  Of course others do, but the list of questions at the end of this poem make me think that Whitman had nobody to share these feelings with.  He still harbors the relationship in the way a house could harbor a spy.

I bet you people passing Whitman at this time had no idea how he was feeling.  That is the thing that makes these feelings stronger, because they are secret.  Pain is so much worse when you have to hide it.

The last question is what the lover thinks, “Does he see himself reflected in me?  In these hours, does he see the face of his hours reflected?”  An interesting statement, because the hours that they were a couple are not “his hours” but the hours of pain following.  Makes sense, because I suppose that Whitman wouldn’t be wandering around the city dejected left to his own devices, and heartbreak feels like the other has moved through you and took pieces away.  It’s the most dejected form of grief, made worse because Whitman apparently sees his ex from time to time.

Do you know the oddest thing about heartbreak?  Years later, looking back at this, yes, you will remember the feeling, but the time spent will be one as a dream, when the person who held all your attention becomes a stranger.  It’s so strange, like remembering being sick.

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