Md. Nurul Hassan
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) is a democratic poet. His democratic tone is found in the collection ‘The Leaves of Grass’. In the poem Song of Myself’ walt Whitman sings of America herself. Here, the poet gives a panoramic view of America scene as well as expresses those ideals which make Americanness. The poet addresses himself as an American and so the poem really is ‘the epic of America’, the song of America’ and the ‘Bible of Democracy’.
Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ bears the theme of self, the identification of the self with other selves, and the poets relationship with the elements of nature and the universe. Houses and rooms represent Civilization; perfumes indicate individual selves and the atmosphere symbolizes the universal self. ‘Song of Myself’ is a good example of stylistic features of Leaves of Grass.
Key -Words: Self, Selves, Houses, Rooms, Perfumes, Oneself, Individual Selves, Universal Self and grass, etc.
Democracy in whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’
Walt Whitman is one of the leading greatest poets of America. The great writers like Emerson and Ezra pound have praised him for his creative power in the field of poetry. His ‘Leaves of Grass’ is now regarded as one of the greatest immortal classics of the world literature.
Sections 1-5, Line 1-98- In this section, Whitman presents his self and at the same time his self is universalized. While the ‘I’ is the poet himself. The poet will ‘Sing Myself’, but “What I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”. The poet loafs on the grass and invites his soul to appear. He tells that he was formed from this soil. So, he was born there and all his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were also born in America.
In section 2, Whitman says “Houses and rooms are full of perfume”. Here ‘Houses’ are symbols of other individual self; but outdoors, the earth’s atmosphere deals with the universal self. The poet is submerged by other individual selves but he tries to maintain his individuality. Section 5 is the poet’s union with his soul. His feeling of fraternity and democratic note are beautifully explained in the poem. He says; “And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own/And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own”. This is the union with God bringing him peace and joy.
Section 6-19, Lines 99-388, Section 6 introduces the central theme expressed in ‘Song of Myself’. In this section a child appears with both hands full of leaves from the fields and asks the poet, ‘What is the grass?’. The poet becomes perplexed to answer but continues thinking about it. He imagines that the grass itself may be the child or it may be the handkerchief of the lord. Here, the grass is a symbol of the divinity latent in the ordinary, common life of man and it is a symbol of the continuity in the life-death cycle. Actually there is no death. Life is a continuous process. In Section 7, Whitman considers each and every atom of this universe which is his part. He sees all and condemns nothing. The universal self finds both’ the earth good and the starts good”. The poet shares with everything around him. Section 8-16 Includes a catalog of all that the poet sees-people of both sexes, all ages, and all conditions, in many different walks of life, in the city and in the country, by mountain and by the sea. He even includes animals in the catalogue:
‘And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself’.
Section 17 again expresses the universality of the poet – his thoughts are “the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands”. Sections 18-19 salute all members of humanity. Grass, a central symbol of this epic poem, suggests the divinity of common things. Grass symbolizes the continuation of life after death. Nature is an emblem of God. It indicates that God is everything and everything is God.
Section 20-25, Line 389-58: In this section, the poet proclaims himself to be “solid and sound”, deathless and august and while no one is better than he, no one is worse, either. In section 21, Whitman determines himself “The poets of the body” and also “The poet of the soul”. He is a poet of pleasure and pain and of men and women. In section 22, Whitman declares that he loves sea. He says, “I am integral with you”. He is poet of good and evil. Section 24 presents some of whitman’s basic theme. He calls himself “kosmos”. The word “kosmos” meaning a universe, is significant and amounts to a renewed definition of the poets self as one who loves all people.
Section 26-38 Lines 582-975: Whitman was familiar with the sounds of the bravura’s of birds”, the “bustle of growing wheat” and “the sound of human voice”. The poet can percept everything with his senses. Section 31-33 contains a catalog of the infinite wonders in small things. He believes, for example, that “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars”. Whitman says the importance of body and soul. He says, within the body there is soul and within the soul there is over soul. So the body has great combination with the soul. The poet praises the primitive life of animals (Section 32) because they have achieved this union – they are born pure. In section 33-37, Whitman experiences a spiritual illumination, passing through suffering despair and the dark night of the soul to finally achieve purification. His self, purified, comprehends the Divine Reality, the ‘transcendental self’. In Section 41, the poet assumes the role of the prophet of a new religion, incorporating all religions :
Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah,
Lithographing kronos, zeus his son and Hercules his grandson,
Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Buddha
In my portfolio placing Manito loose, Allah on a leaf, the crucifix engraved.
He acknowledges that men are divine. They possess power being unified with God. He negates the importance of worshiping old God because God is found everywhere with everyman. He says, “The supernatural is of no account”.
Section 42-52 Lines 1054-1347, In section 42, Whitman says “A call in the midst of the crowd/My own voice, orotund (strong and clear) sweeping and final”. He means that even the position of prophet is perfectly acknowledged with the mankind. He sees the injustice that prevails in society but recognizes that the reality beneath the corruption is deathless. In section 43, he makes distinction between the worship ancient and modern. He practices all religions and even looks beyond them to “What is yet untried”. Section 45 expresses the eternity and ages of man. Everything leads to the mystical union with God. In Section 46, the poet launches himself on the “perpetual journey”, urging all to join him and uttering the warning, “Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you/you must travel it for yourself”. The port (Section 47) says that he is a teacher, but he hopes that those he teaches will learn to assert their own individuality. Section 48 repeats the idea that “the soul is not more than the body”, just as “the body is not more than the soul”. The poet asks man not to be “curious about God” because God is everywhere and in everything: In the faces of men and women. I see God and in my own face in the glass”.
Walt whitman’s Song of Myself contains democratic note in all respects. In every atom he finds his relationship. He acknowledges that all the things around him are the part of him. All the religions and practices that the people follow are his own religions. There is no distinction worshiping ancient and modern. God is everywhere. Man has union with God. Life death is a continuing process. It is one kind of mystical journey to acquire knowledge and wisdom and nothing more.
1. BRADLEX, SCULLEY, ed. Leaves of Grass and Selected Prose. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
2. CARGIL, OSCAR, : leaves of Grass, New York: Harper, 1950.
3. COWLEY, MALCOLM. Leaves of Grass: The First Edition. New York: Viking, 1959.
4. DAVIS, C.T., and Allen, G.W. Walt Whitman’s Poems, Selections with Critical Aids.
New York: New York University Press, 1955.
5. Leaves of Grass: The Collected Poems of Walt Whitman. New York :
The Book League of America, 1942.
6. Ed. Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: Origin, Growth, and Meaning. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1964
The writer is the Asstt. Prof., Md. Nurul Hassan, A.R. College, Alamganj, Dhubri