Walt Whitman and Henry Thoreau
Today I wish to look in some detail at the two greatest Americans that ever lived. Of course, I make no objective claim on these personages’ behalves, only one that, for my own part, rings profoundly true. I would happily include a close run third placing for that most gently predisposed of Presidents (Jed Bartlett aside) Abraham Lincoln, however, even his star was eclipsed, in my most humble opinion by those of Henry David Thoreau, and his contemporary, the poet Walt Whitman. Contemporaneousness for the astrologer absolutely contains a hint of promise, because immediately we begin to wonder if there is not some commonality to the nativity of each; of course there is, but then too, there is this same equality across a vast swathe of humanity within each era of history. In the case of Whitman and Thoreau however, the conjunction of Pluto with Chiron in dreamy, poetic Pisces is certainly insightful, in my view, it is the keystone of their respective brilliance, although other, and completely dissociated factors have coloured that impetus to make it appear almost superfluous.
Before I discuss the nativities in any depth at all, I should like to briefly examine the chronology of Pluto Chiron conjunctions. They, of course, are rare, and certainly they produce rare individuals with an extremely complex inner life, which will need to be expressed at some level of the psyche. John Lennon and Bob Dylan shared the aspect, as will any child born in the latter part of 1999 and early 2000. Thus, in the last 200 years there have been only 4 significant periods of contact, (Chiron has a 50 year orbital period), between 1817 and 1820, 1882 and 1884, 1940 and 1941, and 1999 and 2000, although contacts were not necessarily constant throughout even those periods. The Chiron Pluto conjunction is uncommon, and undoubtedly with good reason, it requires a differently motivated soul to carry it well. I personally have the same contact, not too critically, except by opposition; Pluto, I find does not care particularly for the aspect style, he over-powers (as very distinctly opposed to overpowers) whatever he touches.
Walt Whitman, Poet. 31 May 1819 01:45 LMT (+04:53:40) Huntington Bay, NY, USA
Whitman’s astrology makes an almost sublime adjunct to his poetry, if you read both together the synergy is astonishing. Look firstly at the self-contained circuit of easy power in the grand trine from Mars, in dignity by sign and house, to Uranus and Neptune and then Moon in dramatic Leo, and she, in the 6th imparts a certain creativity to everyday matters in Virgo’s house. Venus in her own sign too seems very content and Sun, peregrinated in Gemini, though quindecile to Uranus, delights in being different, in individuating through being an observer and finding the sublime in the trivial insight. And we haven’t even mentioned Chiron Pluto yet, which has another subtext when configured so closely with Saturn, it’s Ebertin’s ‘hard labour’ again, but this time, it’s an expression of pain too, and what better way to exorcise it in the 12th than through the medium of poetry?
Peregrine Sun makes a thirst for significance, once awakened, and Pluto has much the same desire, but his is a dark and more insidious power, in the 12th too it becomes a near compulsion and Mars is astoundingly strong and easy here and in my opinion it is easily identified within his poetry. Consider this:
From Pent Up Aching Rivers
From pent-up aching rivers,
From that of myself without which I were nothing,
From what I am determin’d to make illustrious, even if I stand sole
From my own voice resonant, singing the phallus,
Singing the song of procreation,
Singing the need of superb children and therein superb grown people,
Singing the muscular urge and the blending,
Singing the bedfellow’s song, (O resistless yearning!
O for any and each the body correlative attracting!
O for you whoever you are your correlative body! O it, more than all
else, you delighting!)
From the hungry gnaw that eats me night and day,
From native moments, from bashful pains, singing them,
Seeking something yet unfound though I have diligently sought it
many a long year,
Singing the true song of the soul fitful at random,
Renascent with grossest Nature or among animals,
Of that, of them and what goes with them my poems informing,
Of the smell of apples and lemons, of the pairing of birds,
Of the wet of woods, of the lapping of waves,
Of the mad pushes of waves upon the land, I them chanting,
The overture lightly sounding, the strain anticipating,
The welcome nearness, the sight of the perfect body,
The swimmer swimming naked in the bath, or motionless on his back
lying and floating,
The female form approaching, I pensive, love-flesh tremulous aching,
The divine list for myself or you or for any one making,
The face, the limbs, the index from head to foot, and what it arouses,
The mystic deliria, the madness amorous, the utter abandonment,
(Hark close and still what I now whisper to you,
I love you, O you entirely possess me,
O that you and I escape from the rest and go utterly off, free and lawless,
Two hawks in the air, two fishes swimming in the sea not more
lawless than we;)
The furious storm through me careering, I passionately trembling.
The oath of the inseparableness of two together, of the woman that
loves me and whom I love more than my life, that oath swearing,
(O I willingly stake all for you,
O let me be lost if it must be so!
O you and I! what is it to us what the rest do or think?
What is all else to us? only that we enjoy each other and exhaust
each other if it must be so;)
From the master, the pilot I yield the vessel to,
The general commanding me, commanding all, from him permission taking,
From time the programme hastening, (I have loiter’d too long as it is,)
From sex, from the warp and from the woof,
From privacy, from frequent repinings alone,
From plenty of persons near and yet the right person not near,
From the soft sliding of hands over me and thrusting of fingers
through my hair and beard,
From the long sustain’d kiss upon the mouth or bosom,
From the close pressure that makes me or any man drunk, fainting
From what the divine husband knows, from the work of fatherhood,
From exultation, victory and relief, from the bedfellow’s embrace in
From the act-poems of eyes, hands, hips and bosoms,
From the cling of the trembling arm,
From the bending curve and the clinch,
From side by side the pliant coverlet off-throwing,
From the one so unwilling to have me leave, and me just as unwilling
(Yet a moment O tender waiter, and I return,)
From the hour of shining stars and dropping dews,
From the night a moment I emerging flitting out,
Celebrate you act divine and you children prepared for,
And you stalwart loins.
Here then is Mars rejoicing, with a little promise from Venus in sensual Taurus for good measure. There is more than a little of both Uranus (delighting in the perverse) and Neptune (poetry) in free-ranging, unbashful and convention-defying Sagittarius here as well. The theme becomes especially interesting however when you consider the facts of Whitman’s life. Look at the Midheaven, whose ruler, Saturn is configured so crushingly with Pluto and Chiron in the 12th. The vocation is simply hard work, painful and the cause of ongoing hardship, upset and self-undoing too. Whitman struggled his whole life for money, eventually after stints as a journalist, teacher, volunteer nurse and newspaper publisher, he found work in the department of Indian Affairs as a civil servant but was put out of a job by the then Secretary of State, James Harlan who believed that Whitman’s great work “Leaves of Grass” was a work of deep immorality. This simple anecdote resonates so perfectly with the ruler’s conjunction of Saturn with Pluto and Chiron in the 12th, Saturn rules moral judgements, Pluto personages of great power and the 12th both poetry and material decline; a better example could hardly be conceived.
The key observation though is to be found in the thread of profound beauty that runs through his entire body of work. It is so concerned with the most hesitantly sublime expressions of the love of nature and the simple joy of human relationships, it has a near existential and Zen quality, indeed, Whitman is considered almost to be the first American Zen poet, and with good reason, his words are intensely compassionate, he felt the depth of the world, and found, through the 12th house a means to finally express it.
Henry Thoreau, Philosopher(?) 12 Jul 1817 21:00 (LMT +4:44:36) MA, USA
Thoreau’s astrology, as with his life, runs in a very different vein from that of Whitman, although – and here is the nub – who could say, that have read both Walden and Leaves of Grass – that they did not share the most fundamental of expressive qualities? Thoreau was at heart a compassionate non-conformist and his philosophy influenced both Gandhi and Martin Luther King in later generations. His major work, Walden recounted the experience of living a life of near Buddhist simplicity after he built a cabin on land owned by that other great contemporary liberal thinker Ralph Waldo-Emerson. Thoreau believed that civil disobedience was the duty of every American and can be credited in large part with an institution which endures to this day, Homeland Security notwithstanding.
His astrology is an entirely more difficult affair. Tee-squares to Saturn rising and the conjunction of Chiron-Pluto abound with a common Venusian thread; Thoreau never found love and it is supposed that he may well (unlike Whitman) have died a virgin. His life was short, although he expired, it is recounted, almost gratefully, at the age of just 44. In one measure only did Thoreau’s quality of life eclipse Whitman’s, and if you look to the Midheaven, ruled by Jupiter and not Saturn, it is easy to see how Thoreau’s vocation was so much more assisted. There was not the Capricornian sense of struggle and the necessity to surmount obstacles, indeed, Thoreau lived nearly without a care by comparison; whilst his needs were sublimely simple (you can get a flavour of this if you read the chapter “Economy” in Walden) he nevertheless received sufficient charity from Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorn and many other notables of that time, to allow him a distinct measure of freedom from toil.
But once again there is this sense of the deepest sensitivity of the man; a sensitivity so profound and underpinning that it colours the entire persona at some fathomless substrate of being. It is this same joy and rapture in the simple rhythms and harmonies of nature that he found while living alone in the forest that is mirrored in Whitman’s odes to the earthly domain. This is the key insight, and remember here that the Chiron Pluto contact is in the rapturous, unworldly sign of Pisces, poetic to the core, there cannot be much impetus to worldly ambition here, but there is an overwhelming Chirotic power and a need to express such a depth of compassion that it beggars understanding.
(And is it any surprise that John Lennon shared this exact aspect?)