“Nature or Religion?” “Why should I pray? Why should I venerate and be ceremonious?……I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones.” (pg 40)Nature and all of her wondrous facets, especially the human body, was Whitman’s religion. Walt Whitman was indeed an intensely spiritual man in his own unconventional way. His epic classic “Song of Myself” demonstrates these attitudes of his, and in his view how the proverbial “poet” of his America should believe. Humanity yearns for spiritual fulfillment and Whitman believed that everything around us and even ourselves were walking testaments to what true ethereal life is.
One of the reasons that Walt Whitman was so popular, was his lax treatment of such taboo subjects as abolition and sexuality. This was especially true considering the prudish eyes of the Victorian society he was living in. Some of Whitman’s verses are just oozing with sexually explicit pulp and innuendoes. How better can you venerate life like he calls the “poet” to do then by celebrating what we really are and where we come from. “I am the poet of the Body and I am poet of the soul” (pg. 41). Whitman expresses this beauty of the being graphically, but honestly to not disgrace it. The Victorian society in which he lived is not much unlike ours today where still some natural events are shunned as though they don’t exist. Whitman hid some of these very vivid descriptions in the innuendoes of
other things that he was describing. Such as when he is talking about nature he implies, “ My lovers suffocate me, Crowding my lips, thick in the pores of my skin, coming naked to me at night.” (pg. 67)
The body was not Whitman’s only focus of honor in nature. He felt that everything in nature had to be appreciated. All of these commemorations quenched his spiritual thirst. You can feel the poet’s soul literally set ablaze as he catalogues his mother earth.
“Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth, Earth of the slumbering and liquid tress, earth of the departed sunset-
earth of the mountainous misty-topt, earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue…” (pg. 42)
Whitman celebrates his love for the earth as one who has a conventional religion celebrates their love for what they believe in. All aspects are sacred of mother earth in the eyes of the poet, as are all facets of belief in the heart of a conventional religious person. Whitman express how great this love is that he feels for his planet by expressing himself unworthy of such greatness. “ Prodigal, you have given me love- therefore I to you give love, O unspeakable passionate love.” (pg. 42)
Whitman blatantly expresses himself almost to the point of being stale on how much the earth means to him. Looking past the
almost cornieness of this statement, some very powerful messages can be derived from it. Mother earth to the poet, is loved more then words
themselves can even express. This is such a powerful statement in this epic poem, because it expresses the reader that no matter how much the American poet should right he can never truly say what he wants to. Again, another blatant example of one of the many contradictions in the poetry of Whitman. He calls out everyone to express themselves on their true unequivocal loves, yet here he admits that no one is really worthy enough to express themselves for such a great love such as nature. Whitman is writing this poem for democracy, or as he see it, the American people. What Whitman says is not only meant by him to be used by the proverbial poet he speaks of, but of all people in general. We are all poets in the eyes of Walt Whitman, but he feels that none of us even himself can say what honestly should be said about what we love.
His unwavering aspects of all details of life can truly absorb Whitman’s spiritual zest. Right after this cataloguing of the earth by Whitman, he goes into the next stanza that would habitually follow anything that talked about the land. Of course Whitman starts venerating the sea.
“Sea of stretch’d ground swells; Sea breathing broad and
convulsive; Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell’d yet always ready graves; Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea, I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases”. (pg. 42)
Not only does he celebrate his love for the ocean here, but also he uses it as a metaphor for the bigger picture that he is attempting to paint in his epic poem. The erratic ocean is a metaphor for himself, the poet of America. The sea is a divine mixture of both the good and bad sides of existence. Like some eastern religions that follow the belief of the ying and the yang; Whitman believes that he and nature are one and encompass all that comes with it. The sea is a wonderful physical interpretation of this concept. Whitman realizes this idea of life that he is celebrating is a delicate balance between the dark and light forces around us. As he describes all of the earth’s beauty, he also describes some of the underbelly elements of society. He chooses to see prostitutes, robbers, and other such scamps as not in a demeaning light, but as an essential part of life. Whitman decides to accept everything, even the imperfections of life.
The sea represents life aptly by its striking contrasts that are as obvious and abundant as the contradictions that are in Walt Whitman’s writings. The sea for all of its beauty, “cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse” (pg. 42), has the darker side with the “convulsive breaths” of vicious waves. The sea is something to be admired and to be feared. It is an apt metaphor for nature and of a god, for they give you life and must be loved and be wary of.
This wary part of life is thoroughly examined also by Whitman. He leaves nothing out of his view when describing what is part of his existence. “Evil propels me and reform of propels me, I stand indifferent…” (pg. 43) The poet expresses here his feelings for the darker side of life, he is indifferent. Whitman recognizes the darker side of the spectrum of life, which he writes about and he accepts it without accepting or rejecting it whole hearted. This just further proves Whitman’s infatuation with life in general, all parts. It is a love so strong that it has even become a worship of sorts for the proverbial poet.
The poem “song of myself” is a conveyance of many things for Walt Whitman. It is a celebration of this crazy idea of the proverbial “America” and how it is actually working. This poem is to reflect a road map for the correct modern American poet of the day. Along with these guidelines for the poet Whitman, includes his own opinions and feelings that should be shared for the most part in his mind is a true American poet. Among the myriad feelings expressed by Whitman in his poem his passion for nature, all parts of nature, is the most focused upon. When Emily Dickinson writes of tasting “a liquor never brewed”, and being “ inebriate of air” (pg. 152) in poem 214 of hers, we truly understand this faith that Whitman preaches about in his epic. A religion is something that you have all of your heart’s true love in, for it gave you
life and nourishes you. This religion celebrates both the beauty and the beasts of life and accepts all of the little foibles along with the majestic parts of our existence. Walt Whitman paints a beautiful portrait in his poetry of how religion accomplishes these goals to become his faith, and the faith of the “poet”.