Song of Myself – Walt Whitman, review

Meaning: The speaker expresses his own, subjective (“I”), opinion on life its begetting, evolution and being with its dynamic principle that he names “urge” while searching his own identity as a human (male, part 5). Concurrently, he applies the same evolution to the world and especially the country he is living in, which could be identified as America, and it's material and moral values. He tries to express equality among races in America (Indians and whites and slaves – part 10, 33). He also describes immorality hidden in war, however, every action he describes is promised for preservation of life (Death as new beginning) or further development because his whole poem is built on idea of myself, that in his case represents something divine, eternal flow, that is neither material nor spiritual, but in some way equal with ability to choose from for its own existence, even though full of contradictions, but easy to find anywhere in cosmos. ‘Myself’ that he celebrates is inside him, but also in the others and anywhere, similarly as the grass he mentions throughout the poem.

In my opinion, Myself celebrated through the whole poem and finally revealed in the part 44 could be easily described as “Urge” or “Instinct” which can be found anywhere in the whole nature and which is responsible for begetting of everything living. However, there is a difference between animals and humans and it is distinguished in the poem. Animals lack the level of reasoning (part 32), “They (animals) do not make me sick discussing their duty to God.” I think there is a parallel with Plato’s Symposium.

People or humans can use urge or Love as a dynamic principle to transform their needs from begetting to material and then to social spheres and then to higher spheres towards ideas. However, to achieve this it is necessary to answer the question who is myself/being/urge (part 39), what are its primary functions among human beings (part 41). Then here people find out that the highest function of myself is creating new life. However, this limits myself to the material world, but in myself is something divine (part 43). This divine can be described as eternity, never-ending cycle of life but on a higher level, guided by generations (part 44). Then he still looks as if he was looking for love (part 45) but in reality, he has already found his way (the meaning of life) and everybody must search his own way and later discovers several human and almost purely American truths that:

  1. Everyone should shoulder or find his own way
  2. Trough free nations (colonization of America)
  3. Help each other when necessary
  4. Aims function as directions, not as destinations – they proceed towards ideas
  5. There is the proper time for everything (part 46)

Finally, ‘myself’ should create another man as rough as the previous one in which the body and soul create unity and were something divine dwells. Thus a life of man consists of births and deaths that create eternal flow and that eternal could be named “myself” that contains everything in itself and is hard to understand.

  1. Antecedent Scenario: It is not easy to say what has been happening before the poem started. I think Walt Whitman suffered from some kind of stress that he could not cope with. He could have had some life problems as is vaguely expressed in “O a word to clear one's path ahead endlessly!” then he probably found solutions and thought that other people could do the same “O now I triumph- and you shall also;” and finally want to share his knowledge with others “O to haste firm holding- to haste, haste on with me.” which results in Song of myself which resembles, at least to me, unconscious utterance to his psychiatrist that was later reorganized into
  2. A Division into Structural parts: Fifty-two parts of unrhymed poetry, reaching its
  3. Climax: Part 44. Revealing that ‘myself’ is something more than only sexual urge described from the beginning of the poem that belongs to everything living. The revelation that myself needs space and time to create material things but the reality of myself is eternal “There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.” and should be used for higher purposes, e. g. moral love (good) is the turning point. From part 44 onwards Whitman describes higher moral or spiritual values which myself influences.
  4. Skeleton: Parts 1-2 He as a human knows he comes from other human beings who created him and investigates the world, its moving principle that is sexual desire “urge” (part 3). In part 4 he discovers that the world is the only a phenomenon and he only perceives actions but he himself is not involved. Part 10 includes his vision of equality between Indian and white man (or colonization) Part 15 his visions how should America look like – equality among people “Patriarchs sit at supper …” Part 23 – a world built-in time and space, Part 24 – Walt Whitman as cosmos a man who is self-conscious of “himself” and who found principle in the world and understood that he is part of that principle. Part 44 – climax – revealing what is myself, Part 46 higher aims of myself. Part 49 Death, end as the prospective beginning.
  5. Genre Form, Rhythm: free-verse form, rhythm like the melody

Conclusion: Urge (animosity) Þ Walt Whitman (reason / cosmos) Þ myself (eternity)

Development of Leaves of Grass

When Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass for the first time around the fourth day of July in 1855, he aimed to answer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1843 essay “The Poet”, which was considered as national. He expected positive responses to his work by which he wanted to introduce a new voice into minds. At that time he could expect such a result because the notion of American literature had dramatically changed since 1820, the time when Sydney Smith asked who reads American Book. Finally, by 1855, America owned one of the largest publishing industries, producing only “American” books (Poe, Melville, Hawthorne, etc). The fast-growing industry established its own culture and created many innovations such as technology in publishing, authorship, etc.

Walt Whitman who worked during this period in the printing industry as a printer, editor and publisher was aware of the new advances and tools he could use for his own work. He wanted to bring poetry to the common people and with the publication of Leaves of Grass in 1855 he expected to be the American Poet referring to himself as “one of the roughs” a common man. He continued in cultivating his literary personality throughout his career (photography). He revised and enlarged Leaves of Grass in 8 editions and numerous printings and he became a self-styled national poet. Leaves of Grass is essential a poem in process, with each succeeding edition representing a unique period in the poet’s life as well as the nation’s. As an example could be introduced Whitman’s Civil War poetry later integrated into Leaves o Grass. He thought that leaves of Grass revolve around that war.

Also today his poetry is vague and mystic.

Ego psychology and the interpretation of Walt Whitman’s Struggle

Using psychoanalysis in the area of literary critic helps to reveal the author’s motivations and his attitudes to his work. However, by application of two typical methods of psychoanalysis, the older “basic drive” model and the Lacanian method we come to different forms of reductionism.

Literary texts are usually reduced to either mystification of Id forces, according to “basic drive” model, where inner development of personality runs in layering pattern primary Id and secondary Ego, Superego or Lacanian model assuming pre-existing cultural texts.

To avoid reductionism of either approach, David Rapaport uses the method of Ego psychology that involves complex analysis of individual that was based on the Walt Whitman’s homoerotic verse in the collection of poems Calamus Leaves published in 1858.

Using this method Rapaport reveals Whitman’s struggling love relationship hidden in the poem, his senses over a lost relationship with his lover. He also finds out how Whitman’s inner self was doubled by the loss of that love and what impact it had on further work. Rappaport declares that according to Freud’s theory of “mourning and melancholia” Whitman’s Ego undergoes modification and creates new love object, new lover, from the reader of the poem. In so doing the poet enables himself to escape to two forces that are called “drive slavery” and “stimulus slavery”. However, by these two forces, his text becomes not vague or mystic but the real vehicle through which the poet can direct his senses and feelings towards the reader.