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Whitman and Weed [by David Lehman]

Walt WhitmanThe craze for cannabis stocks is an obvious byproduct of the imminent legalization of marijuana in many of the states that would join Colorado, California, and all of Canada in this regard. I am not sure which stocks merit a buy recommendation. Such predictions are always hazardous when you deal with investment bubbles, be they centered on tulips, dot-com stocks, or Bitcoin.

What I can share are some little-known facts about the appeal that cannabis has historically held for American poets, starting with the daddy of them all, Walt Whitman.

"Whitman's Covert Self-Medication" (Dejeuner Press), Mary Jane Herbst's groundbreaking study, confirms the view held by many Whitman scholars, that the good gray poet smoked pot for the four years preceding the 1855 publication of "Leaves of Grass," the very title of which, Herbst argues, makes a strategic double pun on "the lowly but magnificent weed," as Whitman put it in the late untitled poem beginning "I, a Lover of the Earth, Did Wonder."

It has been noted that, in "Mad Men," Don Draper's real name is Dick Whitman, and that Walter White in "Breaking Bad" evokes Whitman, whose "When I Heard the Lerarn'd Astronomer" is quoted by Walt's laboratory assistant. While the showrunners imply that the names were chosen to suggest "white man," it is known that more than half the writers working on those shows were high on cannabis much of the time. See Nathan N. Hale's "The Greening of AMC," in Entertainment Weekly, November 2014.

For more on Whitman's love of the "lowly" weed, as well as a chapter on the influence of his "high mountain revelry" on such poets as Hart Crane and Alien Ginsberg, see Mary Potter, "WW: The Man with the Double Double You," an ingenious study of the second-person pronoun in Leaves of Grass. -- DL

from the archive; first posted March 29, 2019. Click here for the comments.

Walt Whitman

May 12, 2018

April 01, 2018

March 29, 2018

February 02, 2018

January 28, 2018

December 26, 2017

November 05, 2017

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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