Summary and Analysis: Song of Myself
Sections 42-52, lines 1054-1347
"A call in the midst of the crowd,/My own voice, orotund [strong and clear] sweeping and final," says the poet, who assumed the position of prophet while acknowledging his kinship with mankind. He says, "I know perfectly well my own egotism," but he would extend it to include all humanity and bring "you whoever you are flush with myself" He sees the injustice that prevails in society but recognizes that the reality beneath the corruption is deathless: "The weakest and shallowest is deathless with me."
In section 43, Whitman states that he does not despise religion but asserts that his own faith embraces all "worship ancient and modern." He practices all religions and even looks beyond them to "what is yet untried." This unknown factor will not fail the suffering and the dead. In the next section, the poet expresses his desire to "launch all men and women . . . into the Unknown" by stripping them of what they already know. In this way he will show them their relationship with eternity. "We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers,/There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them." The poet is conscious of the confrontation of his self with limitless time and limitless space and realizes that he and his listeners are products of ages past and future.
Section 45 again deals with eternity and the ages of man. Everything leads to the mystical union with God, the "great Camerado." In section 46, the poet launches himself on the "perpetual journey," urging all to join him and uttering the warning, "Not 1, not any one else can travel that road for you,/You must travel it for yourself." The poet (section 47) says that he is a teacher, but he hopes that those he teaches will learn to assert their own individuality: "He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher." Section 48 repeats the idea that "the soul is not more than the body," just as "the body is not more than the soul." Not even God is more important than one's self. The poet asks man not to be "curious about God" because God is everywhere and in everything: "In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass."
The poet is not afraid of death. In section 49, he addresses it: "And as to you Death, you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me." For there is no real death. Men die and are reborn in different forms. He himself has died "ten thousand times before." The poet feels (section 50) there is something that outweighs death, although it is hard for him to put a name to it: "It is form, union, plan — it is eternal life — it is Happiness."
The last two sections are expressions of farewell. "The past and present wilt — I have fill'd them, emptied them,/And proceed to fill my next fold of the future." He knows that his writings have been obscure but sees the paradoxes in his works as natural components in the mysteries of the cosmos: "Do I contradict myself?/Very well then I contradict myself,/(I am large, I contain multitudes.)" The poet can wait for those who will understand him. He tells them, "If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles," for he will have become part of the eternal life cycle. Although it may be difficult to find or interpret him, he will be waiting. "Missing me one place search another,/I stop somewhere waiting for you."
The poet's journey and quest for selfhood have now come full circle. He began by desiring to loaf on the grass and ends by bequeathing himself "to the dirt to grow from the grass I love."
These chants contain many of the important ideas and doctrines of Whitman. The poet brings a new message of faith for the strong and the weak, a belief in the harmony and orderliness of the universe. The poet, noting what has been said about the universe, shows how his own theories, which have a more universal scope, transcend them. Assuming the identity of the Savage-Christ, he delivers a sermon which imagines transcendence of the finite through a union of the individual soul with the Divine Soul. The poet offers to lead men and women "into the unknown — that is, into transcendent reality. Whitman talks about the self as part of the eternal life process. There is no death, for man is reincarnated time and time again. The poet speaks about man's relation with the moment and with eternity. Eternity is time endless, as is the self.
The poet does not prescribe any fixed pathway to a knowledge of the self; it is for each person to find his own way to make the journey. The poet is not afraid of death because death, too, is a creation of God and through it one may reach God. The culmination of the poet's mystical experience is revealed in his vision of eternal life. Life is neither chaotic nor finite; it is harmonious, reflecting the union of the poet's individual soul with the Divine Soul.
Grass is the central symbol of "Song of Myself," and it represents the divinity contained in all living things. Although no traditional form is apparent, the logical manner in which the poet returns to his image of grass shows that "Song of Myself" was planned to have an order and unity of idea and image.