US Stamps

Esteemed American poet was a post office aficionado

Sep 17, 2019, 12 PM

On Sept. 12, the United States Postal Service, stamp collectors, New York state park representatives, historians and poetry lovers convened outside the Long Island, N.Y., farmhouse where American poet Walt Whitman was born 200 years ago.

The attraction was the unveiling of a postage stamp honoring Whitman. The 32nd stamp in the U.S. Postal Service’s Literary Arts series, it features a rendering of an 1869 portrait of Whitman.

Cara Greene, USPS vice president and controller, dedicated the  stamp, which is intended for domestic first-class mail weighing up to 3 ounces (currently 85¢).

Whitman — a brilliant wordsmith, teacher and humanitarian — loved sending letters.  

Cynthia Shor, Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site executive director, said Whitman commented in 1889 that it is “… wonderful how much of a man’s income is sent forth in the course of a year by postage … I know of nothing which so satisfies us all.”

Shor urged attendees to make use of the U.S. Postal Service.

“In the spirit of Walt Whitman’s satisfaction, let’s all write a letter this week — hard copy — attach an adhesive stamp, and maybe even seal it with a kiss, and drop by your local post office and say thank-you for the wonderful job they do,” she said.

Jeffrey Gould, Walt Whitman Birthplace Association trustee, echoed that sentiment.

“We know Walt Whitman loved the use of the post office,” he said.

Gould shared the words written by Whitman on a postcard in the late 1800s: “All about the same. My cold in the head bad. Weather rainy and dark. I’m sitting here as usual. Raining out like fury. Love to you all.”

Celebrating a beloved poet would not be complete without hearing his work. Darrel Blaine Ford, a Whitman impersonator, read the beautiful poem Song of the Open Road:

“Afoot and light-hearted, I take to the open road. Healthy, free, the world before me. The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose. Henceforth I ask not good-fortune — I myself am good fortune; henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing … The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine. I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness. All seems beautiful to me.”

Professor David Reynolds from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York said Song of the Open Road exemplifies Whitman’s love of nature and his rural upbringing. At one point, the Whitman family owned 500 acres of mostly farmland.

“But then he moves to Brooklyn, and Manhattan, and he becomes the great poet of the city,” Reynolds continued. “And that’s what’s great about him, he’s both the wonderful poet of nature, and the wonderful poet of the city.”

New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid and Michael Gargiulo of New York’s WNBC also participated in the first-day ceremony.

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