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Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: An Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1793 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: A Mystic’s Path of the Self

In the poem “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman identifies himself as more than a poet, but as a mystic as well. The speaker stresses the spiritual significance of a cathartic self, unburdened by the programming of society. “Whitman does not use regular meter, but…at some points he seems to slip into a traditional use of stresses and beats.” (Team). The speaker identifies what a mystic’s function is while using a full spectrum of imagery patterns as well as stresses and beats to illustrate depth of experience to the reader. Whitman’s message is that of a mystic, giving insight into the inner treasure of awareness of one’s self. He places a need to bring one’s self to a cathartic state from all the borrowed knowledge in the world in order to find one’s own intelligence. The speaker of the poem believes that if one acquires a state of catharsis, awareness of the self can be realized among the simplest of experiences; and one’s intelligence can then bring meaning and understanding.

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The first line reads “I celebrate myself, and sing myself.” (Whitman) The speaker identifies himself as a mystic. The sole function of a mystic as stated by Osho is “to celebrate himself… that’s what a mystic has always been supposed to do…” (Osho Speaks on Walt Whitman) The mystic finds Joy within solitude, alone among himself. The mystic’s message is that the joy of one’s own aloneness is our birthright. Unlike loneliness, aloneness is the enjoyment of one’s own company. The mystic befriends himself, his aloneness, that which he considers the essential being.

In the next two lines the speaker says “and what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” The word “assume” stands for a capacity for intelligence. Unlike intellect, intelligence is not derived of borrowed knowledge but from one’s own existential experience. The speaker is saying that the capacity I have for intelligence you also have. Intelligence is a quality or depth of awareness. It is universal among all things. (Whitman)

The next verse reads, “I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” The speaker is providing the right way to awareness. The speaker uses the word “Loafe” twice. This word choice symbolizes the relaxation as the source for right awareness. Merely trying to become aware applies strain and tension. The speaker describes an effortlessness and as he leans and loafes at his own ease. (Whitman)

The next verse follows , “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, I , now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death. “ The speaker is making a commitment to become more and more aware. The speaker uses words from the first line “ My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,” to symbolize the connectedness of all things. The second and third lines, “Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,” symbolizes the role of man to reach his potential. Through awareness we can reach the source of intelligence. All our lives and the lives of our ancestors have served for this very purpose, to reach one’s potential. (Whitman)

The next verse speaks on spontaneity and truth. The first line goes, “Creeds and schools in abeyance. “ The word abeyance is used to symbolize the knowledgeability collected by society. In the next line the speaker identifies the knowledge or intellect gained through these sources as ego pleasing devices saying, “Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten.” The speaker is identifying borrowed knowledge. The last line reads, “I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, Nature without check with original energy. “ The speaker describes the use of intelligence outside the boundaries of knowledgeability. The speaker reveals experience and action out of one’s awareness as the highest use of intelligence. Acting outside knowledgeability is known as spontaneity or what the mystic calls action through intelligence and awareness. (Whitman)

In the second half of the poem the first verse reads, “Houses and rooms are full of perfumes, the shelves are crowded with perfumes.” Whitman uses stresses and beats in this first line. The rhythm goes HOUSes and ROOMS are FULL of perFUMES. The second and third lines read, “ I breathe the fragrance myself and know it and like it, The distillation would intoxicate me also, but I shall not let it.” The speaker describes non-possessiveness. The pleasant fragrances are experiences. The speaker is performing the function of the mystic which is to not judge or hold on to any particular experience. (Whitman)

The next verse follows, “The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless.” The speaker uses the word atmosphere to describe the whole and perfume is used again to symbolize experience. The whole is not concerned with attainment. The speaker goes on to describe the atmosphere as tasteless, and odorless. Through right awareness one can come to know wholeness, or atmosphere. The second line reads, “It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,” the word forever symbolizes the infinitive nature of awareness. The following lines read, “I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked, I am mad for it to be in contact with me. “ The speaker takes on the mystic’s love affair with going beyond the mind. The speaker’s madness symbolizes living in the present moment as going beyond the mind, becoming meditative. (Whitman)

The next verse use patterns of a wide variety of imagery. The entire verse reads, “The smoke of my own breath, Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread, crotch and vine, My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the passing of blood and air through my lungs, The sniff of green leaves and dry eaves, and of the shore and dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn, The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind, A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms, The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs wag, The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides, The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun. “ (Whitman)

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The speaker uses visual, auditory and tactile patterns of imagery to elicit experiences for the reader. “My respiration and inspiration,” describes these images as the product of living. They are the small subtle moments in which one becomes more and more aware. Whether it be the smallest of experiences of “the passing of blood and air” through one’s lungs, or the “sound of the belch’d words” of one’s, “voice loos’d to the eddies of the wind.” These seemingly simple experiences can-not go by unawares by a mystic. These experiences are not merely fortuitous but the involvement of one’s essential being. (Whitman)

This next verse follows, “Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? Have you rechon’d the earth much? Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems? The speaker identifies subjugation of one’s intelligence. The use of the word “reckon’d” symbolizes calculation. The speaker is simply asking if one’s involvement with their intelligence is merely to calculate and to acquire skills and knowledge from outside sources. The speaker asks if the reader will look at the work in a calculative way when he says, “Have you rechon’d the earth much?” The speaker attacks the ego when he says, “Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems? It is one’s thirst for knowledgeability that misses the value of meaning itself. (Whitman)

The last verse of the poem describes the value of intelligence through awareness in a cathartic state. The first two lines read, “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems. You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)” The speaker uses the phrase “the origin of all poems,” to describe one’s pursuit for understanding or meaning. The next lines of the verse describe necessity of a cathartic self. “through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.” The speaker identifies knowledgeability as a burden to one’s advancement in order to experience the self. The phrases, “through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books” symbolize all the obtained knowledge or borrowed knowledge that does not provide depth to individual experience. (Whitman)

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” are the words of a mystic. He identifies aloneness as a treasurable essence of the essential being to be celebrated. His poem closely defines right-awareness as a relaxed or “loafe” approach to the most subtle experiences. Whitman describes knowledgeability alone a burden to the essential being, where the pursuit for meaning becomes entangled with preconceived ideas and barrowed knowledge. Whitman implores the reader to reach a cathartic state from all the borrowed knowledge in the world that has crowded the view of one’s self. Walt Whitman believes that there is a much more qualitative depth to one’s intelligence and through the bond of one’s self, of one’s aloneness; even the simplest of experiences can provide the richness of poetry.

Works Cited

Osho Speaks on Walt Whitman. 5 9 2014. 25 10 2014 <http://www.oshonews.com/2014/09/osho-speaks-on-walt-whitman/>.

Team, Shmoop Editorial. Song Of Myself. Ed. Shmoop Editorial Team. N.P. N.P. 2014. Shmoop University, Inc. 22 Oct 2014 <http://www.shmoop.com/song-of-myself/rhyme-form-meter.html>.

Whitman, Walt. “Chapter 29 “Song of Myself”.” Mandell, Laurie G. Kirszner & Stephen R. LIT Student Edition. Boston: Michael Rosenberg, 2012. 520-521.


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