Posts Tagged ‘Walt Whitman’

College Avenue, State College,Pa from the Penn Stater blog Credit Carole Otypka

Strange days indeed in State College, PA. As I drove onto campus this morning, the big satellite dishes on the trucks marked ABC and Fox and CNN were pointing skyward in a long line, like radio astronomy dishes in the desert, as though they were expecting a voice from God. But only if God wore thick glasses and had a Brooklyn accent.

Yesterday, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of mourners lined the streets of this small Appalachian town, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, as the hearse carrying Joe Paterno passed in silence. I was not among them, but when I opened the paper this morning and saw the photographs, it was a stunning sight. They called it “Guiding Joe Home,” and the line of guides, from across Pennsylvania and beyond, stretched for miles along the route that carried the coffin.

This afternoon is the memorial service, scheduled for the Bryce Jordan Center where Penn State’s perennially unsuccessful basketball team plays and where rock stars pack the seats. Across the street is the football stadium where JoePa held court, king of the autumn Saturday afternoon. The king is dead, and there will not be another. Today another kind of star packs the seats, some thirty thousand tickets for the memorial service snapped up in 7 minutes, better, I think, than Elton John.

It is hard not to think of another legend’s funeral cortage, memorialized in a poem that Joe Paterno, who after all was an English literature major, would likely have been familiar with. I am thinking of the fifth stanza of Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed, his ode to Abraham Lincoln:                                                                                                                                   Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,                                                                     Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris;)                                                                                                                                  Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass;                      Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising;          Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards;                                               Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,                                                                   Night and day journeys a coffin.

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