Summary and Analysis: Song of Myself
Sections 26-38, lines 582-975
The poet resolves to listen and be receptive to all sounds. The sounds are familiar: the "bravuras of birds," the "bustle of growing wheat," and "the sound of the human voice." Soon they reach a high pitch and the poet is ecstatic at this "music." Sections 27-30 reveal that the sense of touch also brings the poet joy. Indeed, the poet's sense of touch is extremely acute. At times he is overwhelmed by it, and he asks, "Is this then a touch? quivering me to a new identity." The emphasis is on his search for an individuality, an aspect of his evolving self. He will end his quest for being in an affirmation of his body's sensory awareness. With all his senses, the poet responds to existence and living, "the puzzle of puzzles . . . that we call Being."
The poet's senses convince him that there is significance in everything, no matter how small. Sections 31-33 contain a catalog of the infinite wonders in small things. He believes, for example, that "a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars" and "the narrowest hinge in my hand puts to scorn all machinery," for all things are part of the eternal wonder of life and therefore even "the soggy clods shall become lovers and lamps." He, himself, incorporates an unending range of things, people, and animals. Now he understands the power of his vision which ranges everywhere: "I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents,/I am afoot with my vision." Especially in sections 34-36, he identifies himself with every person, dead or living, and relates his involvement with the various phases of American history. Realizing his relationship to all this makes him feel, as he states in section 38, "replenish'd with supreme power, one of an average unending procession."
In the earlier chants, the accent was on observation; in this sequence it is on what "I" am or what "I" am becoming. Whitman develops a kind of microscopic vision in the way he glorifies the details of the commonplace. The poet's experience is ecstatic; his joy comes to him through his senses, and the physical enjoyment suggests a sexual union as the culmination of this experience of ecstasy. The catalog of people and places is an attempt to give a feeling of universal scope. Ordinary life becomes permeated with mystical significance. The poet identifies himself with every being and every object, and this identification forms an integral part of his concept of what "I" am. The process of identification arises out of the belief that the poet's soul is a part of the universal soul and therefore should seek union with it.
Whitman also discusses the relative properties of the body and the soul. He finds that the body has value, for it leads man to a unified self, a purified combination of the body and the soul. The poet praises the primitive life of animals (section 32) because they have achieved this union — they are born pure. In sections 33-37, Whitman experiences a spiritual illumination, passing through suffering, despair, and the dark night of the soul to finally achieve purification. His self, purified, comprehends the Divine Reality, the "transcendental self" Transcendentalism is a word with varied meanings, but in Whitman's poetry it implies beliefs based on intuitional philosophy which transcend, or go beyond, ordinary experience. Human reason can deal reliably with phenomena, but there is a world beyond phenomena, and this world is approached through faith and intuition. Transcendentalists tried to receive their inspiration at first hand from the Divine Power. Their God was sometimes called the OverSoul. Whitman's God revealed Himself in nature. The poet's self, inspired by his insights, venerates God, the Divine Reality, who embodies the transcendental self.