Of the dozens of pictures I snapped inside the Great Hall of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, this is the only one that turned out…but that doesn’t matter. Not even a dozen in-focus photos could do justice to the grandeur of such a gorgeous space: you just have to see it in person to appreciate the jaw-dropping splendor of it all.

It’s not like I need photographs to remind me what it’s like to step into this huge and exquisite room: really, given the fact that I was wandering around with my mouth open and my eyes popping from the beauty of it all, it’s remarkable I even had the presence of mind to take any pictures. Maybe my photos are blurry because I’d turned off my flash out of respect for the space…or maybe my photos are blurry because I was trembling to be in the presence of such richness.

Okay, maybe I didn’t tremble. But I did get teary-eyed, believe it or not, as I perused the objects on display in this exhibition. I’m a huge Walt Whitman fan, so it was a unique thrill–and complete surprise–to discover so many rare editions, manuscripts, photos, and other objects on display. It was emotionally overwhelming to realize I was standing in the same room as two first editions of Leaves of Grass, the letter Ralph Waldo Emerson sent to Whitman, several of Whitman’s letters to Peter Doyle, the heavily self-censored notebook page in which Whitman resolved to severe his relationship with Doyle, etc. Viewing this exhibit felt a bit like meeting Whitman in the flesh: here were objects Walt himself touched, manuscript pages his own hand had toiled over.

By far the biggest thrill was seeing Whitman’s own pen alongside the small, well-worn notebook in which he drafted (and highly edited) several famous lines of what would become “Song of Myself.” Although I’d read transcriptions of the original draft of these lines and had seen facsmile versions of the pages, I didn’t know Whitman’s notebook was so small, just the size of a pocket Moleskine. Imagine how shocked I was to discover such hugely famous lines were originally scribbled in a notebook like the one you and I might carry in our own pocket or purse!

And so here you have it: the only Willfully Unlawful Act I committed during my entire DC trip. Although there were no signs disallowing cameras in the Jefferson Building’s Great Hall, there were signs prohibiting photography in the American Treasures room. Even so, I simply had to sneak one surreptitious (and flash-free) shot of Whitman’s pen and notebook: surely if the Authorities arrive to punish me for my crime, I’ll plea Temporary Insanity, the influence of that much Whitmania being more than my poetry-addled mind could withstand.

Whether photography was allowed or not, I needed a visual reminder of this pocket notebook’s ultimate lesson. Even large and mighty poems begin as small scribbles nestled in notebooks and pocketed near one’s own heart.

    Now that officials from the LOC are undoubtedly on their way to detain my law-breaking self, I’m skipping town. This morning Reggie and I are off to make our gradual to Virginia, where we’ll spend this weekend with Fred and Ann First in Floyd, Reggie will meet Tsuga, and Fred has promised dinner with a veritable “gang” of bloggers. Although Fred has also promised to share his wifi signal once Reggie and I arrive, I’ll be Internet free in the interim. So happy trails to you, until we meet again.