Every Atom | No. 118

Jay Parini

Introduction to Every Atom by project curator Brian Clements

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This seems to me almost the height of inspiration, with the hammering on the word “now” at the end of four lines in a row:  almost a cannonade of affirmation! I love the fact that Whitman is beyond history—the time-line that would put him in either the past or the future, the beginning and the end.  No alpha or omega for Whitman. He is the poet of the present tense, the poet of now, someone who understands that we should not be thinking about the endless march to perfection.  Not that for Whitman, a prophet who sees with an immediacy of vision that transcends time and circumstance. The poet of now celebrates his obliteration of the past and future. His life is, as Eliot would later say, “here, now, always.”

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Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, is the author of New and Collected Poems:  1975-2015.  He teaches at Middlebury College.


Cover art by Reece Thompson