Walt Whitman on God, America and Life.

Walt Whitman on God, America and Life. February 4, 2017
Ashley St, John via Unsplash.com
Ashley St, John via Unsplash.com

Excerpts from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

Walt Whitman gulped life in big sips, his enthusiasm jumping off the page:

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean, 

I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers, 

I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me, 

We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land, 

Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse, 

Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you. 

He believed that men and women were created equal. This passage, written in the mid-1800s, was ahead of its time:

I am the poet of the woman the same as the man, 

And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man, 

And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men. 

He wrote of the soul, seeing God as inhabiting us, as we inhabit God. If God is all powerful, so are we:

I have said that the soul is not more than the body, 

And I have said that the body is not more than the soul, 

And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is, 

And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud

 He lived a full and active, but could also sit still and observe life:

I exist as I am, that is enough, 

If no other in the world be aware I sit content, 

And if each and all be aware I sit content. 

 One world is aware and by far the largest to me, and that is myself, 

And whether I come to my own to-day or in ten thousand or ten million years, 

I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness I can wait. 

 Here, in a rare complaint about his fellow man, he finds solace in animals:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d, 

I stand and look at them long and long. 

They do not sweat and whine about their condition, 

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

It is well-documented that Whitman was likely gay. He wrote at length about the male body, yet his writings capture a lustiness we all at some point share, regardless of our sexual orientation:

My lovers suffocate me, 

Crowding my lips, thick in the pores of my skin, 

Jostling me through streets and public halls, coming naked to me at night, 

Crying by day Ahoy! from the rocks of the river, swinging and chirping over my head, 

Calling my name from flower-beds, vines, tangled underbrush, 

Lighting on every moment of my life

These are the very final words in Leaves of Grass, written when Whitman was close to death.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, 

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. 

 You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, 

But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, 

And filter and fiber your blood. 

 Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, 

Missing me one place search another, 

I stop somewhere waiting for you.


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