University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Song of Myself: The First and Final Editions of the Great American Poem
American literature has a rich history with renowned writers making their contributions to it over the years. Poetry is one of the most used forms of literature in America to put across several messages for the Americans and the world at large. Walt Whitman is one of the celebrated poets who made a considerable contribution in the American literature through his unique approach to issues. Being a son to a house builder, Walt had to work through several careers before he fully recognized his potential in literature. At a tender age of twelve he developed interest with trade of printers and this made Whitman have interest with written word. As he results of this interest he read more materials in the works of Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, and the Bible. Whitman then started writing poems, the famous twelve pieces in early 1850s (Crowford 275). One of the greatest literature works Whitman is remembered for is a poem by the name “Song of Myself”. Walt demonstrates a combination of poetic thought, sermon, and biography in this piece of literature. The poem is comprised of the use of symbolism and crafty commentary to address important issues in America. The author also uses brief illustrations and small scenes to put across his thought in the poem. Walt Whitman through “Song of Myself”, created a new American voice with his new approach to poetry as a form of literature (Murphy 105). He also managed to concurrently use important American traditions together with contributions of other celebrated authors to give a new American voice.
Walt begins the poem by expressing individualism in his abstract. He then demonstrates the possibility of close association among individuals. He uses statements such as “what I assume you shall assume” to illustrate that he is both included and is inseparable from the world. The poem initial title was “Poem of wilt Whitman’ until in 1881 in a new edition, it is when it became famously known as “Song of Myself” (Crowford 280).
The poem generates a new American voice as the narrator designs it as an American classic. The poem takes an expedition pattern which is evident when the author states, “missing me in one place search another.” This piece of literature by Walt has identifiable similarities with the classical American epics due to its unvarying seeking for the limits of the self. This classic sense of rationale, nonetheless, is attached to a nearly Keatsian valorization of recline and unreceptive insight (Murphy 108). According Walt Whitman the origin of poetry lies in the self, the preeminent way to study about poetry is to calm down and observe the mechanism of one’s own mind. Whitman gives his poem a three dimension approach with three major scenarios that when examined, they elaborate the author’s new voice, use of traditions and reference to already existing American literature materials from other authors.
The first episode is when child tries to seek answers about grass. The child asks, “What is grass?” and Walt, through the poem, makes attempts to help the child understand what is grass by using symbolism and interpreting to the child using simple language. According to the narrator, grass symbolizes the rejuvenation of nature. However, Whitman also believes that grass is the best example of democracy since it grows across the United States without discrimination, therefore linking the wealthy and the poor in the American society. It is an American tradition for people to be buried when they die. This comes when a civil war has just ended in the United States and Walt uses grass in the poem as a reminder of the graves where citizens who perished in the war were buried. According to Whitman, each individual is entitled to die at a given moment regardless of the cause of demise. Therefore, he believes that the natural origin of democracy is in humanity. This suggests what distinguishes the belief that nothing is crossed and inclusion of everything.
In the second scenario, the author describes how individual needs to perceive the world from an outside view and yet to experience it they have to be fully in it. In the eleventh part of the poem is found the famed “twenty-ninth bather”. This is a concept closely similar and related to that Emerson known as “transparent eyeball.” (Murphy 110) Walt uses the ideas of other authors to propagate his own message in the poem. The author gives a small account of a lady observing young men at the shores of the ocean taking a bath. The woman imagines being part of the men without their knowledge. Walt explains this situation as an experience of the world an individual should be fully involved in, yet away from the same world for the person to have an independent perception of it. Walt brings a new way of reason and his poem sounds as a voice for the American democracy and society. Eroticism in this case by Whitman is symbolic of the traditional believe that sexual relationship unites two individuals. Referring to previous literature works, the narrator takes over the voice of the lady in the episode and relates sexual fondness to the quest for communion among individuals and a connection of both the soul and the body.
In the last section, Whitman comes up with a different episode after clearly illustrating creation and perception in the last two episodes. At this point speech becomes essential as he notes that “Speech is the twin of my vision, it is unequal to measure itself, / it provokes me forever, it says sarcastically, / Walt you contain enough, why don’t you let it out then?” At this scenario, Whitman again relates ideas of Emerson which is, “I am the unsettler” (Crowford 282). Despite being a poet, he has to reorganize himself after unsettling. The author also gives a different perception to sympathy and that is by having encounter with others. He states, “I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person” This creates a new voice for the oppressed in the society and how the able individuals falsify sympathy to comfort those suffering yet they lack an understanding of the real issues.
Walt Whitman is one the poets in the American literature with a different perception of issues and he uses unique forms to express himself. In his poem, “Song of Myself,” he acts as the new American voice by articulating several issues facing the United States at that period through his literature works. He has a different perspective on the definition of democracy and he uses grass to describe it. Whitman comes up with three scenarios in his poem to put across his message. He starts by the question posed to him to define grass, then the case of a lady observing young men bathing in the ocean, and lastly the speech case. Throughout these scenarios he relates to some of the ideas pointed out by other authors such as Emerson. “Song of Myself” created a new voice in the American situation through Walt’s critics, use of symbolism, and a
Crowford, Allen. Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself. New York: Tin House Books, 2014.
Murphy, Francis. Song of Myself: The First and Final Editions of the Great American Poem. Cambridge: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.