Summary and Analysis: Song of Myself Sections 20-25, lines 389-581


The poet declares that all he says of himself the reader is to say of his own self, "else it were time lost listening to me." He declares himself to be "solid and sound," "deathless," and "august," and, while no one is better than he, no one is worse, either. In section 21, Whitman proclaims himself "the poet of the Body" and also "the poet of the Soul." He is a poet of pleasures and pain, and of men and women. Calling to the earth, he thanks it for giving him love, which he answers with love: "Prodigal, you have given me love — therefore I to you give love!/O unspeakable passionate love." In section 22 the poet reveals that he also loves the sea. He feels at one with it ("I am integral with you") for it has as many aspects and moods as he has. He is the poet of both good and evil: "I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also"; the two qualities complement each other. In section 23 the poet affirms his acceptance of "Reality." He salutes scientists but, he admits, "your facts . . . are not my dwelling."

Section 24 presents some of Whitman's basic tenets. He calls himself a "kosmos." The word "kosmos," meaning a universe, is significant and amounts to a renewed definition of the poet's self as one who loves all people. Through him, "many long dumb voices" of prisoners, slaves, thieves, and dwarfs — all of those whom "the others are down upon" — are articulated and transfigured. He also speaks of lust and the flesh, for each part of the body is a miracle: "The scent of these arm-pits aroma finer than prayer." In section 25 Whitman dwells on the comprehensive range of the poet's power. He declares that "with the twirl of my tongue I encompass world and volumes of world. Speech is the twin of my vision." He must speak, for he cannot contain all that he has to say; and yet "writing and talk do not prove me." What he is can be seen in his face.

The poet's self-appraisal is the keynote of sections 20-25. He describes himself as gross and mystical. He feels he is part of all that he has met and seen. He is essentially a poet of balance, since he accepts both good and evil in his cosmos. His awareness of the universe, or cosmic consciousness, is expressed when he calls himself "a kosmos," invoking a picture of the harmony of the universe. He accepts all life, naked and bare, noble and ignoble, refined and crude, beautiful and ugly, pleasant and painful. The physical and the spiritual both are aspects of his vision, which has an organic unity like the unity of the body and the soul. Whitman realizes that the physical as well as the spiritual are aspects of the Divine. The culmination of the poet's experience of self is the ecstacy of love. Contemplating the meaning of grass in terms of mystical experience, he understands that all physical phenomena are as deathless as the grass.

These chants express various stages of the poet's mystical experience of his self. The first stage may be termed the "Awakening of Self"; the second, the "Purification of Self." Purification involves an acceptance of the body and all its functions. This acceptance reflects the poet's goal to achieve mystical experience through physical reality. This is in opposition to the puritanical view of purification through mortification of the flesh. In Whitman's philosophy, the self is purified not through purgation but through acceptance of the physical. Man should free himself from his traditional sense of sin. The mystical experience paves the way for the merging of physical reality with a universal reality.

Whitman is representative of all humanity because, he says, the voices of diverse people speak through him — voices of men, animals, and even insects. To him, all life is a miracle of beauty. Sections 20-25 close on a note of exaltation of the poet's power of expression, although they indicate that his deeper self is beyond expression.