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­"Like the Sun Rising"

Offered to Walt Whitman, poet of the people, on the
centenary of his passing, with affection and respect

Like the sun rising
shattering the dark
of old restraints--
with new words, new forms
the soul's liberator,
lauds a new world, a new humanity;
sings out democracy's dawn.

Walt Whitman, poet of the people--
you raise your voice
in sonorous praise
of the common people, unknown and unnamed.

America in "the middle range
of the nineteenth century"--
echoing with hammers
pealing the song of construction.
Into the chaos and hope
emerges a man
in his hand a small quarto of poems--
the scant ninety-five pages
of Leaves of Grass.

Marking departure from
the civilizations of the Old World,
heart athrob at the thought
of a birthing New World,
prophet of a new age
prolocutor of new ideals.

In your own confident words you are
"Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,
Disorderly, fleshy and sensual . . .
eating drinking and breeding . . ."
intensely human embodiment
of America's freedom,
you are buoyant and rustic,
filled with compassion.

Thick-chested with tempered steel-like arms,
sunburnt face framed
by wildly tousled white hair
and the untrammeled flow of your beard;
beneath thick rich eyebrows
in your clear bright eyes
burns a piercing untamed light--
intelligent and caring.

Your breast's crucible
overflows with the
bright red passion to build
a democratic future.
Your penetrating gaze takes in
the vast universe within
and the signs and promise
of a shining tomorrow.

Everything in the universe
is the subject matter for your poetry--
sky, ocean, mountain, river . . .
even a single grain of sand, even a solitary leaf
the stillness of the wild, the noisy bustling city . . .

You seek out your muse
in ships, in railroads, in tall buildings
in all things everywhere.

You applaud and praise all people--
the young, the old, men and women.
Those whose sweat builds the future,
the widowed wife,
the defeated revolutionary,
the prisoner in jail . . .

You sing the song of,
you sing in praise of
every person on our planet,
the unadorned,
the natural human being.

"Camerado, this is no book,
Who touches this touches a man."
Just so! Your poems flow from
your own overbrimming soul--
they are your very life!

But ah! the critical gales
that beset pathfinders, those who go first!

Because of their revolutionary newness
Leaves of Grass
the songs of your soul
are showered with ridicule and abuse--
"Nauseating drivel,"
"As unacquainted with art as a hog
is with mathematics."

The only words of support and praise
come from the philosopher Emerson
and a handful of people
of discernment and courage.

To you, however, soaring mountainous
the critics' clamorous attacks
are only the murmur of the wind
passing at your feet.
Unheeding of the animadversions
of literati clinging to vain authority
the poet spends his days
quiet and composed
conversing with nature on Long Island.

You do not sing to please the critics;
you sing for the common people
sinking their roots like weeds
into the rich American earth,
secret possessors
of vibrant powers
of birth and renewal;
the people, despised and trampled
driven from history's visible stage.

No one is another's master
no one another's slave--
politics, learning, religion, art
all exist for the human being
for the sake of the people.
To undo the prejudice of race
to break down the walls of class
to share freedom and equality with the people--
it is for this that you sing
to the last limits of your strength.

Your songs--
the Declaration of Humanity
for a new age.

You are the greatest lover
of the common people,
are yourself one
of the proud uncrowned mass
throughout your life.

Your elder brother ill in spirit,
at age eleven you went out
into the world, worked--
as a waiter, a printer, a teacher, reporter . . .
These arduous years
amidst the bitter realities of society
pushed out your bark and
swelled your timber-girth.
From those days of trial and enduring
you learned life's preciousness,
gained nutriment to grow
into a lofty tree of humanism.
Truly only he who has shivered in the cold
can know the sun's warmth.

Ah, your noble altruism!
In the agonized vortex
of the Civil War
you rushed from place to place
nursing the wounded
equally, without distinction between
the soldiers of the North
and those of the South.

Regal in your humanity,
august and proud
like the sky-traversing sun--
smiling, you walk the orbit
of your conviction.

Your verse is like
a clear and optimistic sky
without a single sentimental cloud,
like cresting billows dancing
across an ocean plain--
expansive, energetic, free . . .
Unfettered by the past
you move forward, always forward
toward a future
resounding with hope.

True cheer, true brightness
is the flash of an illumined spirit
resolved in its convictions
piercing the dark night of grief.

Behold Whitman after the war!
Forced to witness
corruption and decay
gnawing at the heart
of the young democracy;
listen to his maddened wail and lament
at the cruel betrayal of event.

But still you kept faith
with your ideals.
Still you sought out
the highest value of the human being.
Still you believed--
in the character of men and women
who would fill the world
with the brilliant glittering
of jewels and pearls;
that the floral gardens of democracy
would continue to spread.

You lived true to your words:
"Liberty, let others despair of you--
I never despair of you."

Fanfare of flight
performed by a soul erupting
from the abyss of pain!

The poet sets sail
on the journey home
across the spirit's great and fertile sea--
towards the eternal, the essential source
that extends behind all nature.

Living through turbulence
exuding the bright beams of your love
you never ceased your seeking
for the font of life's light.

Walt Whitman, explorer of the spirit--
you are the friend of my heart!

How can I describe the raptures
inspired in my mind
by this one book of poems
encountered in the midst
of the sufferings of youth!
Leaves of Grass--
the very title echoes with
freshness, beauty and strength.

On that day our dialogue began--
the sheer and solitary
nobility of your spirit
fanned within me flames of courage;
your vision of a light-filled future
brought up surging energy and hope.

The utter overflowing freedom
of your soul
struck me like a bolt
of empathetic lightning--
sundering the dark,
making bright the path of my progress,
inviting me toward the great way
of humanity.

Walt Whitman, giant star of freedom!
It is already one hundred years
since your passing--
but I have been with you.
Like a bird bathed in
the sun's light as it
flies through the sky,
like a sailor on a night sea
addressing the stars,
I have spoken with you
of humanity's tomorrow,
sung songs of praise to life,
pondered the laws
that govern the infinite universe.

The curtain is falling
on the twentieth century;
the evening sky is shrouded
with perplexed fog.
But, look closer! Look harder!
In the depths of the thick haze
is the powerfully flowing
current of the age
toward a new dawning
of democracy.

This spiritual tide,
this thirst for freedom,
has borne the assaults
of raging militarism;
it has writhed in the spume;
its progress has been blocked
by the stagnant reefs of decadence.

But time has grown to fullness
and the tide now rises;
with the joyous booming of waves
--the exult of ordinary citizens--
it washes all the world's shores.

The democratic ideal you espoused
has survived the trials and selections
of more than a century;
it has been passed on
in the conscience of the people
of countries everywhere;
it cracks open the door
on a new age of democracy,
brilliant and eternal in the night
of an uncharted era
bereft of all philosophy.

Walt Whitman, my friend--
it is just as you believed,
just as you proclaimed:
freedom has never betrayed you
humanity has never betrayed you.

The century's twilight
is prelude to the dawn,
the daybreak of the new age,
the beginning of new hope.

Look! My friend--
I will take up the banners
of democracy and freedom
which you held so proudly aloft;
I will fight on and will advance
along the path of the poet,
pioneer of the spirit's wilderness,
on a journey of infinite mission,
forging paths of friendship
to all corners of the Earth,
joining with people heart to heart
ringing out humanity's victory song.

You live within my breast--
like the sun brimming with
compassion and fight;
the rush of your blood's tide,
the thunderous pulse of your heart
courses hotly through my veins.
Walt Whitman, my sun!
Light my way, shine on forever!

March 26, 1992

[The above poem by Daisaku Ikeda was dedicated to the memory of Walt Whitman on March 26, 1992--the centennial of the death of the great American poet--and was read at a commemoration ceremony held on the same day by the Walt Whitman Association in Camden, New Jersey, USA, where the poet is buried.]