An episode from 10/20/21: Tonight, we hear anecdotes from the lives of two very different poets, Walt Whitman and W. B. Yeats. The remarks from Whitman come from the journals he kept while working out the poems that went into the first edition of Leaves of Grass, while the comments from Yeats span the first half of his life.
Should we be surprised that both poets experienced extreme doubts not just at the beginning of their writing lives, but all through them? As always, the image we have of The Poet, as somehow a finished creation, less an actual person and more a set of books with matching spines staring down at us from a shelf, is a grave mistake. They are much closer to many of us, struggling to write in a house where everyone has gone to sleep, or walking the streets of a large city.
The passage from Whitman can be found in the appendices of Gary Schmidgall’s edition of Whitman’s poems; the quotations from Yeats can be found in the first volume of R. F. Foster’s biography of Yeats.