T.R. Hummer listens to a reading (above) of Walt Whitman’s poem “America” – allegedly by Whitman himself, recorded by Thomas Edison:
Is it Whitman? Who hears this voice hears a man. Out of the text, out of the abandonment of song, a living voice arises, transubstantiated. How glorious to hear him, whoever he might be. He reads the first four lines of a six-line poem called “America” (why only four? A revision of the poem? Or was that all the time the wax cylinder allotted? Does this elision itself constitute an abandonment of song?). Decease calls him forth. He reads the poem that is the namesake of the nation in which he had such mystical faith, such metaphysical hope. For the duration of the recording, the tension between orality and text is resolved. He springs from the pages into our arms.
The text of the poem:
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.