Exploring Whitman

Just another Looking for Whitman weblog

Jessica for September 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — August 30, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

To be honest, I do not have much background knowledge of Walt Whitman or his works. However, after reading the preface to Leaves of Grass and “Song of Myself” I was overwhelmed at the powerful connection I felt to this poem. The speaker immediately establishes an intimate relationship with the reader and states, “And what I assume you shall assume” (27). After reading these lines in the opening stanza, I deduced that Walt Whitman himself was the speaker of Leaves of Grass. This command like nature of this line placed Walt Whitman, as the speaker, in a position of authority. Accordingly, the reader is looking up to Whitman for guidance, advice, and insight. But, since each reader takes a unique approach to the poem Whitman must find something with which people will relate to and he must establish creditability. Thus, through Whitman’s description of himself, the reader is able to recognize similar characteristics, thoughts, feelings, and emotions and can connect to the poem.

The constant repetition of “I am, I breathe, I meet, I live, I believe…” exposes innermost characteristics of the speaker and allows for trust in his authority. Taking this trust into a deeper level, readers can draw parallels to the biblical nature of the language that the speaker uses throughout “Song of Myself”. For example, Jesus as the all knowing prophet stated, “I am the vine, you are the branches; He that Abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  Throughout the ages people have put their trust in God and feel his powerful presence. Therefore, the speaker mimics this biblical speech to further establish trust with the reader.

Like God, Whitman makes promises to his audience and writes, “You shall possess the good of the earth and sun” (28). This line is similar to Matthew 5.5 “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Furthermore, like God, Whitman references all people throughout the poem. Women, men, slaves, children, and people of different occupations are constant images. Yet, Whitman does not say that he is God. Rather, Whitman references God throughout the poem. However, since many individuals have some background knowledge about God and the Bible This religious presence further allows readers to connect to the piece.

However, when the speaker addresses himself by stating, “Walt Whitman, an American” (50) this line challenged my original assumption that Whitman himself was the speaker. After reading this line and continued to see the religious parallels, I thought that the speaker was another part of Walt Whitman. Much like the trinity, Jesus being the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost, another essence of Whitman was the speaker. Whitman “the man” is a part of the speaker but does not have the same authority as Walt Whitman’s poetic voice. The speaker continues to describe himself as “the poet of the soul” (46), which creates the image of Walt Whitman’s inner soul speaking to readers. This Whitman biblical soul wants readers to trust in his authority, take his hand, and continue on to the journey of experiencing “The Leaves Of Grass”. So, let us continue on this path.

1 Comment »

  1. Erin Longbottom:

    I find your post really interesting for a few reasons. I also noticed the way Whitman/the speaker set himself up as a sort of god-like figure within the poem. However, there are quite a few instances where he bashes religion and disassociates himself with it. I suppose just another contradiction (to which of course Whitman says “Very well then…I contradict myself.”) to add to the list. I’m actually not very familiar at all with the bible, so I would have never drawn the comparisons you did. To me this raises a question of whether or not he purposefully wrote things that were similar to passages within the bible, or they just sound that way, and if he did do it on purpose, to what end? Why would he want to set himself up as god-like when he tells the reader “Be not curious about God?” Interesting post!

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