Monday, May 11, 2009

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman was a poet who existed in a very conservative period of time. In his poems we can see the transition from Romanticism to Realism. His views, thoughts, and beliefs were so ahead of his time that he's almost considered revolutionary for writing such poem as, "Song of Myself". In this particular poem we can see Whitman talk about social attitudes and convictions involving sex, religion, and slavery/racism. He touched subjects that people from his time period wouldn't dare touch, and more importantly, he took these subjects and broke all rules and taboos imposed by society.

The 1800 hundreds' was a period in which the word sex was not openly said or talked about, but Whitman was the exception. We can see that, in paragraph three line forty six as he says, "Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex" This particular line can be considered a homosexual reference, but it also implies that he accepts all forms of love. In paragraph five line ninety five, Whitman argues that sex is expressing love, and that we are all bound together by love regardless of sexual preference because "all the men ever born are [his brothers], and the women [his] sisters and lovers–§. Whitman not only released individuals from taboos by talking about sex, but he also celebrated the human body. For example, in paragraph eleven starting in line two hundred and ten he says, "The beards of the young men "listen'd with wet", Little streams pass'd all over their bodies. An unseen hand also pass'd. It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs." Clearly, Whitman was not scared of presenting reality, nor of praising the present (the here and now) because he thought life was beautiful, despite the fact, there was as much bad in the world as good.

Sex wasn't the only theme in Whitman's "Song of Myself," he also discussed the importance of religious tolerance. Within the poem, paragraph forty-three contains most of the religious and humanitarian concerns that Whitman felt. He referred to different kinds of religions, for instance starting in line 1102 he said, "Helping the llama [a Tibetan priest] or brahmin [a Hindu priest] "Walking the teokallis [a Aztec temple]" Accepting the Gospels "him that was crucified [a Christian reference in line 1106]." He doesn't want to pass judgment on people for what they believe in, on the other hand, he accepts everything for what it is and everyone for whom they are. However, we can feel he is troubled by, "the young man who died and was buried "the little child that peep'd in at the door, and" was never seen again "the old man who has lived without purpose"[and] him in the poor house tubercled [lines 1124-1128]. "Yet, within the same paragraph Whitman manages to emphasizes his optimism on the world as he says, "I do not know what is untried and afterward, But I know it will in its turn prove sufficient, and cannot fail [line 1121]."

A more delicate subject in this poem is the theme of slavery and racism. Slavery still was very prominent throughout the 18 hundred's and society considered it part of their life. For Whitman it was more of an opportunity to emphasize on black slaves and identified with them. For instance, in paragraph thirteen line two hundred thirty four Whitman says, "what is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life." He obviously wasn't disturbed by the thought of racial mixture, as we can see in paragraph ten, when "The runaway slave came to [his] house" [and through the kitchens' door he] saw [the black slave] limpsy and weak "and [Whitman] assured him, brought water and fill'd a tub for his sweated body and bruis'd feet, gave him a room [close to his room] and gave him some coarse clean clothes" [until] he was recuperated and pass'd north" [lines189-197]. "He treated the slave as an equal and helped him heel his wounds by putting plaster on his neck and ankles. One way or another, Whitman tried to put himself in the shoes of the slaves and somehow understood the rejection the slaves received, perhaps because society rejected him as well, for the person he was. He felt people did not have the right to "call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else, [and even though] the jay in the woods never studied [music], it still was able to sing pretty well" [lines 242-243]."

Whitman's sincerity is present in many parts of the poem, making it easy to believe he was different from other people. He's optimism over war, famine, pain, and horror gave him a positive attitude towards life. To him, the bad things in life came with the good things and that was reality; sometimes hard to accept until you've gone through a process. He broke many boundaries and bent many rules as he mentions sex experiences, religious concerns, and racial tolerance in his poem.

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