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February 2002
CUNY Responds: Rebuilding New York
CUNY Alumnus/Prize-winning Journalist Reports from Islamabad, Jalalabad, Kabul
City Tech Students Envision Rebuilding St. Nicholas Church
U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins Mulls Emergency Service of Verse
John Jay College and FEMA Address Urban Hazards
Helping Students Write about Trauma
Biography of a Life Cut Violently Short
CUNY Law Practice In the Public Interest Since 9/11
Graduate Center 9/11 Digital Archive
Windows on the World Chef Returns to City Tech following 9/11
Walt Whitman Sums Up “Human and Heroic New York”
Inaugural Conference on "Women and Work"
For Alzheimer’s Patients Life’s a Stage
Kingsborough Center Incubator of Global Virtual Enterprises
Governor Proposes State Budget
White House Urged to Support Pell Grant Increase
President Jackson Named to Schools Board
Fine Way To Learn About Steinway

City College Scholar-Director Chosen Cultural Affairs Commissioner by Mayor

Claire Shulman Honored by QCC

CUNY Counsel Elected Legal Aid Society Chair

Law Dean Glen Honored by State Bar

“American Art at the Crossroads”—
April Symposium at Graduate Center

Challenging Summer for Students in Vassar/CUNY Program

 
 

Walt Sums Up “Human and Heroic New York”

Walt Whitman
In the summer of 1878 Walt Whitman —since 1873 a resident of Camden, New Jersey—paid a visit to the beloved haunts of his New York City heyday. In the following tiny essay, which would later appear in Specimen Days, his erstwhile autobiography, Whitman expressed his delight in the vitality and grit of the people of his spiritual home. He titled it "Human and Heroic New York," and his eloquence is in the same league with E.B. White's Here is New York or former Mayor Giuliani's eloquent public utterances in the days after September 11. Whitman's emphasis on the "rapport” of New Yorkers is particularly apropos as the city begins a period of rebuilding and revival. (Note that the hope for a unified city Whitman expresses here was to be realized in 1898, though the name finally chosen would not have pleased him. He preferred Native American place names to hand-me-down European ones; hence he called his native Long Island "Paumanok.")

The general subjective view of New York and Brooklyn (will not the time hasten when the two shall be municipally united in one, and named Manhattan?)—what I may call the human interior and exterior of these great seething oceanic populations, as I get it in this visit, is to me best of all. After an absence of many years (I went away at the outbreak of the secession war, and have never been back to stay since), again I resume with curiosity the crowds, the streets I knew so well, Broadway, the ferries, the west side of the city, democratic Bowery—human appearances and manners as seen in all these, and along the wharves, and in the perpetual travel of the horse-cars, or the crowded excursion steamers, or in Wall and Nassau streets by day—in the places of amusement at night—bubbling and whirling and moving like its own environment of waters—endless humanity in all phases—Brooklyn also—taken in for the last three weeks.

No need to specify minutely—enough to say that (making all allowances for the shadows and side-streaks of a million-headed-city) the brief total of the impressions, the human qualities of these vast cities is to me comforting, even heroic, beyond statement. Alertness, generally fine physique, clear eyes that look straight at you, a singular combination of reticence and self-possession, with good nature and friendliness—a prevailing range of according manners, taste and intellect, surely beyond any elsewhere upon earth—and a palpable outcropping of that personal comradeship I look forward to as the subtlest, strongest future hold of this many-item'd Union—are not only constantly visible here in these mighty channels of men, but they form the rule and average.

Today, I should say—defiant of cynics and pessimists, and with a full knowledge of all their exceptions—an appreciative and perceptive study of the current humanity of New York gives the directest proof yet of successful Democracy, and of the solution of that paradox, the eligibility of the free and fully developed individual with the paramount aggregate. In old age, lame and sick, pondering for years on many a doubt and danger for this republic of ours—fully aware of all that can be said on the other side—I find in this visit to New York, and the daily contact and rapport with its myriad people. . .the best, most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken—the grandest physical habitat and surroundings of land and water the globe affords—namely, Manhattan island and Brooklyn, which the future shall join in one city—city of superb democracy, amid superb surroundings.