I heard Walt Whitman on the radio the other night, cradled within Leonard Bernstein's haunting music from Songfest, his words sad and beautiful, reaching across time.To what you said, passionately clasping my hand, this is my answer:
Though you have strayed hither, for my sake, you can never belong to me,
Nor I to you,
Behold the customary loves and friendships the cold guards
I am that rough and simple person
I am he who kisses his comrade lightly on the lips at parting,
And I am one who is kissed in return,
I introduce the new American salute
Behold love choked, correct, polite, alway suspicious
Behold the received models of the parlors -
What are they to me?
What to these men that travel with me?
Walt Whitman c. 1870's
Getting up the next morning, I pulled out my piano-vocal score and sang through Bernstein's song, remembering lost love, the sixty-five members of New York City Opera drawn under the waves by AIDS, my undergraduate years at an Assembly of God liberal arts college in the midwest, what it means to stand in one's truth, and paths not taken.
Since Thomas Hampson has rather eloquent words to say about this piece (which you can find here), there is no need to add my own. However, I would simply add that singing a work such as this means going to a place that makes you feel vulnerable: all the doors and windows of the soul are opened.
Listen to my colleague Robert Osborne sing Whitman's words below. I had the great pleasure of singing with him some years ago. A really good man, artist and singer.