Liberty, freedom to be ourselves, express ourselves, move ourselves, connect ourselves — it covers so many things. As time progresses, liberty and calls for liberty express themselves in new ways as we have new needs. Yet, in some ways, the basic needs don’t change, only our perception of them. What we don’t want to or need to do, though, is get stuck in the past, stuck in the way things were done before. That’s just not who and what we are as human beings.
Walt Whitman addresses this directly in his short poem “Turn O Libertad.” If you aren’t aware, Whitman is considered the poet who represents the voice of American democracy, the one who embraces all of the diversity that makes up the nation. I think that at our present juncture of history, we may need to hear his words now more than ever. One way that he incorporates, symbolically, the diversity is by using foreign words in his poetry. Libertad is the Spanish word for liberty. And Whitman is truly all-inclusive in his poetry. He understands the need for liberty for all people.
Thus, he speaks to Liberty in apostrophe, a literary device in which an imaginary someone or something is spoken to directly, like “O Libertad.” Why is this significant? Whitman understands and knows the deepest meaning of liberty. He can speak to it as if it’s a friend. And on behalf of all those friends, whoever, wherever they are, whatever they do, he wants them to experience liberty.
In what way? What advice does he give Liberty? From what does Liberty need to turn? When Whitman writes this, the Civil War had recently ended, and fittingly, he tells her “the war is over.” He goes on to say that such struggle for liberty for a whole race of people who comprised a substantial subculture of America should be a done deal: “From it and all henceforth expanding, doubting no more, resolute sweeping the world…” Whitman is ever the idealist, for he sees the power and energies of the Universe, sees what humans possess, knows that life can progress in an ever-upward spiral.
Therefore, he tells Liberty to turn “From the…past, / From the singers that sing the trailing glories of the past, / From the chants of the feudal world…” All of that shit that kept humanity in bonds, kept them from walking in the fullness of their powers and hearts, kept them from being able to express life force and life purpose, which is required to grow, advance, rejoice, glow in the new glory of a hard-won freedom.
Then, Whitman tells Liberty how to proceed positively: “Turn to the world, the triumphs reserv’d and to come — give up that backward world [my emphasis]… / Then turn, and be not alarm’d O Libertad — turn your undying face, / To where the future, greater than all the past, / Is swiftly, surely preparing for you.” He tells her that she has more work to do in order that new needs can be addressed in new expressions of liberty. If that doesn’t happen, then a falling back is possible.
This, then, presents the reader, you and me, with the reality that if we do not seek Liberty, we as a people risk falling back to an inglorious past of tyranny and slavery. What choice do we make? Do we even see the need for liberty? Do we understand where freedom is being threatened? Do we know how to appropriate and use her? Do we know what the basic requirement of true freedom, liberty really is?
I ask these questions especially tonight because of the turmoil in the world and, specifically, in America. True liberty must begin in the soul of the individual, no matter the state of everything and everyone else in the world. It depends on me, and me alone. If it doesn’t, that is where the source of the real threat comes from. We must hear our heart and know liberation from ego; liberty is no friend to ego. We must choose to know Self and create a life purpose in the freedom of the Spirit of the Universe. Sound too impractical and high-falutin’?
Well, what are the alternatives, folks? You tell me that I have to choose a side over an incident which I did not see in total? You make me a slave to your opinion. You tell me that I have to yield to whatever someone with a uniform says, no matter what? You make me a slave to tyrannical authority. Don’t tell me I have to choose anything except to know myself.
Why? While I simplified the scenario above, reduced it to its least common denominator, those are exactly the scenarios of that “backward world.” It’s a world that Whitman — who was in the midst of the destruction and devastation of the stupidest and bloodiest war in our history, considering our foundations — experienced and thought was past, thought that that particular work of Liberty had past, thought that Liberty was ready for new expressions.
Knowing the work of Liberty in my soul frees me to express my love to the world, frees me to be significant, to matter to others, to grow in unity. Oh, you don’t want to love others or any of those other things. Then, don’t tell me that you are fighting for or representing liberty, because you are not. You are representing the old world of “I want things my way and my way only and I’m going to defeat anyone who stands in the way of that.” Be careful that you don’t call that kind of idea law and order. Be careful that you don’t call that being freed from centuries of oppression. If the motive isn’t love, it isn’t valid, not in our world today.
I can’t say it any clearer. It’s my opinion, and I would love you whatever your opinion is. I will love you by helping you discover, because that is my created purpose, being carried out presently in this form of writing.
O Liberty, we need you now more than ever. Turn us to loose the freedom available in ourselves.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!