Walt Whitman Appreciation
This summer, I have made it my goal to read both the original and “death-bed” editions of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in their entirety and to study them deeply. I have done this with only one Whitman poem (arguably Whitman’s most famous), “Song of Myself”. This sublime treatise details the power of Nature, of People, of the American Spirt, of Work, of Suffering, of Joy, and of the Self. It is written in plain, honest language and can be read and understood on different levels by all people. “Song of Myself” transcends history, class, and culture, and speaks on a level more universal and primeval than all of these. Although I have casually read many of the other poems in Leaves of Grass, “Song of Myself” has been the only one I’ve delved into and from which I’ve gained true understanding.
Last year, as part of a school assignment, I spent about two months with “Song of Myself”, taking it apart and putting it back together in the context of American history and Whitman’s personal narrative, and finally, in the context of my own life and understanding of the world. From that point on, Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” became, for me, a kind of sacred text. I gained and continue to gain from “Song of Myself” what people of faith gain from the holy books of their faiths: guidance, comfort, resolve, solace, mystery, visions of the past, present, future. I subscribe to no faith and do not mean to say I have become a disciple of sorts of Walt Whitman. I mean only to say that I know, from personal experience, that written words (even those which are not divinely inspired) have the power to transform and enrich one’s life.
Now I wish to expand that transformative experience. In reading the rest of Walt Whitman’s poems the way I read “Song of Myself”, I hope to know more intimately the language Walt Whitman spoke. I wish to understand the conversations Walt Whitman had with the Universe in its own tongue.