Search the Poetry Chaikhana site:
Commentary by Ivan M. Granger
I celebrate myself, and sing myself...
This is the opening chapter to Walt Whitman's masterpiece, Song of Myself. He accepts all of life, the sensual and the sublime, the hellish and the heavenly as exhuberant expressions of the Divine. And he recognizes the Divine is not separate from himself.
This opening chapter proclaims his famous line, "I loaf and invite my soul." This perfectly reflects Whitman's sensibilities: on the one hand, it suggests a languorous sensuality while, on the other hand, his "loafing" can be understood as spiritual rest, the stillness that genuinely invites the sacred experience. He continuously writes on the two levels, the tactile and the transcendent.
As we journey further through the many chapters of this long poem, we begin to understand that the "self" he is celebrating exists on countless levels. On the simplest level, he is celebrating the life-affirming sensuality of his very body, in direct opposition to the prudish, numb religiosity of the era. But the self he speaks of is much larger than that too. His pen describes a vast landscape of places and people, high and low dramas, measureless expanses, universes of being -- and they are all part of his "self." His poem becomes a grand assertion that we are each of us much more immense than we imagine, that we are integral participants in the great drama of existence. Further, he suggests that we partake in each other and no one exists in a separate, isolated self.
That's what so deeply moves me about Whitman's Song of Myself, that huge, tumultuous vision he conjures for us, not of many selves, but of one all-embracing, interpenetrating Self, a self which we all share.
As an aside, I want to point out one other line that jumps out to me:
Hoping to cease not till death.
It reminds me of one of my favorite prayers: "Lord, let me live until I die!"
|Please support the Poetry Chaikhana, as well as the authors and publishers of sacred poetry, by purchasing some of the recommended books through the links on this site. Thank you!|
M. Granger's original poetry, stories and commentaries are Copyright ©
2002 - 2011 by Ivan M. Granger.
All other material is copyrighted by the respective authors, translators and/or publishers.