September 10, 2013

Song of Everyone

I have found Whitman's Song of Myself to be poetry at its most exuberant in my (limited) past readings but I am learning so much more following a closer-reading and discussion of the poem  at the ModPo class run by Professor Al Filreis.

For example, if I read it by myself, I would have, in my impatience, not appreciated the beauty in these lines but after the discussion in the class I slowed down and read it more carefully and now see how he is here going beyond the pedagogy of I-teach-You-learn I-give-You-Take in teaching and learning.

It is very clear from the first few lines itself that the celebration of the poet's "self" ("I celebrate myself, and sing myself") in the poem is the celebration of everyone for he follows the famous first line immediately with: "And what I assume you shall assume,/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." Elsewhere in the poem, he writes:

"In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them."
and also:
"Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same."
Equality for him cuts across races, gender, and seen above but also in the lines excerpted here:
"I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men."
"I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,
I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself,
(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

Every kind for itself and its own, for me mine male and female,
For me those that have been boys and that love women,
For me the man that is proud and feels how it stings to be slighted,
For me the sweet-heart and the old maid, for me mothers and the mothers of mothers,
For me lips that have smiled, eyes that have shed tears,
For me children and the begetters of children."

So, in some ways, the Song of Myself is, in actuality, a Song of Everyone... because, as he writes: "I contain multitudes." His heart is so big that it encompasses everyone. His thoughts are your thoughts. The air you breathe is the air he breathes. His appeal lies in celebrating not merely the universality or common themes that bind us but in you, and me, and him, and everyone, being, essentially, the same.
And he tells us that there is an element of universality in his thinking...
"These are really the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands, they
are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe. "

WOW! Simply....WOW! I still have not read all 52 parts properly -- it is simply too much to read in one or two or three sittings. It is the kind of poem that you can read an entire lifetime and keep coming back to!

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