5/ Create your own topic that weaves your impressions of either Whitman or Dickinson (or both) into a paragraph that expresses your sense of what is personally important about these two artists.
Walt Whitman: legendary, the father of American poetry, a self-referred ‘kosmos’. Whitman, in his radical experimentation of free verse and new style, expressed what is personally important to him, something under-appreciated by society, something that should be celebrated daily: himself. For Whitman, the human body was an example of the magnificence and beauty of nature. In his acclamation of the body, the self, he critiques the way in which we celebrate higher, omniscient beings. Whitman subverts the typical elements of religion, and instead of bowing to a higher being, in the presence of embellished Churches, on particular days of the week, through certain prayers and hymns, he celebrates spirituality everyday. Within himself, through himself, outside himself. This line is epitomised in the lines: “Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touch’d from / The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer, / This head more than churches, bibles, and all creeds.” Whitman acknowledges the beauty of the self. This is something, that even in contemporary society, people struggle with; to be proud of the body, and to not scour the surface of your skin for a blemish to fix. A strikingly powerful line from part 3 of Song of Myself captures this impeccably: “Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and / clean / Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar / than the rest.”
It is this utter acceptance of self, a true contentment, that Whitman admires in the qualities of animals. In part 32 of Song of Myself, Whitman anaphorically lists the things which he commends in the lives of animals, simultaneously critiquing the materialistic society that himself, that we, live in:
‘They do not sweat and white…They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, / They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,/ Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things.’ There is a sweet relief from consumption that the animals have. It is this appraisal of self, the contentment of self, a happiness with the self, that Whitman is gnawing at here. Why do we not do these things? Why are we so fixated on materialistic goods that apparently make the self look better? Why are we fixating on modifying the self? We need to celebrate the raw nature of the human: ‘Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding.’
For me, Whitman displays a refreshing outlook on life. My impression is that the materialistic woes, the hierarchical struggles and the oppression of religion are all faculties the detract from what should truly be celebrated in life: the human. The human in its purest form. For, the human is beautiful, content, miraculous.
Image: “Walt Whitman, age 35, from the frontispiece to Leaves of Grass, Fulton St., Brooklyn, N.Y., steel engraving by Samuel Hollyer from a lost daguerreotype by Gabriel Harrison” quoted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walt_Whitman, 30/8/17