Walt Whitman Essay, Research Paper
Walt Whitman’s diverse and self-conscious writing style contains many poetic devices which distinguish him among the great American writers. One such device common to Whitman’s poetry is the use of cataloguing. Through cataloguing, Whitman is able to enter into the text multiple ideas and situations, alluding to topics which are central to his work. Though these seemingly unrelated events all contain diverse themes, evoking various thoughts, it is through cataloguing that they successfully reveal the wisdom of the man and his impressions. In ‘Song of Myself’, Whitman’s frequent use of the catalogue promotes strong meaning to the poem, effectively displaying to the reader Whitman’s great insight into the consciousness of human thought, and ultimate realism which characterized his writings.
‘Song of Myself’ contains many passages which are easily relatable to the reader, creating a sense of familiarity which makes Whitman a truly realistic writer. This realism is what allowed the poem to acquire universal acceptance, as well as great praise. Whitman takes the reader through his world, encountering life’s events through the eyes of the poet, these encounters ultimately embodying as well as comprising his personal identity. However, the true excellence of Whitman’s writings lies in the realization that through Whitman’s effective use of the catalogue, the reader is able to explore and recognize his own identity as well. In section 15 of the poem, Whitman catalogues together many random thoughts, which evoke great imagery for the reader,
The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches,
The deacons are ordain’d with cross’d hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel,
The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a first-day loafe and looks at
the oats and rye, (269-272).
Upon first reading, taken literally, this passage seems sporadic and confusing, but upon introspection, one will realize that Whitman is using cataloguing effectively to appeal to a mass audience. The duck-shooter, the deacons, the spinning-girl and the farmer are all completely unique, creating a diverse cast, comparable to the audience, as well as society in general. This allows everyone to seek meaning and relevance for themselves through the aid of a single work. The poem assumes that the emotions suggested by cataloguing such events and characters will partially reflect those of past and future feelings in the reader’s imagination. Thus, ‘Song of Myself’ is not actually a poem about a duck-shooter, or farmer, but rather a poem about life and its ultimate search for meaning.
Through cataloguing, Whitman is able to touch on a broad range of topics that he feels will capture realistically capture one’s own life experiences. Catalogues of seemingly unrelated events makes for a diverse poem, touching on many aspects of everyday life and ultimately invoking various emotions and relationships in the reader. An important theme in the poem is that of memories. The idea of memories is alluded to through the ‘Song of Myself’, as the song, which is Whitman’s life, is remembered and sung throughout the poem. Songs belong in the memory, as do the various, unrelated events which take place throughout one’s lifetime. Whitman’s ’song’ creates a journey into ones own imagination which takes us through his world. As the reader travels through Whitman’s experiences, we begin to piece together his own identity, which has no doubt been shaped by such events. A line such as “The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready” (268), obviously can have no connection to “The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm’d case” (273). As neither passage in this catalogue is either elaborated upon or eluded to anywhere else in the poem, their significance is far from obvious. In section 17, Whitman writes, “If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing” (357). Perhaps the riddle is the poem itself and the untying of it comes through understanding of its meaning. If this is true then such untying must begin in the poem’s catalogues, only then will we be able to truly appreciate Whitman’s identity through his work.
Cataloguing is used in ‘Song of Myself’ in order to allow the reader to enter and encounter events in his life. Catalogues are created in his mind consisting of numerous, random events. Every entry in a catalogue is written in the present tense, giving it an ecstatic feel, as if everything is happening at once; the reader is immersed in Whitman’s journey of self-experience. Everything seems to be going through the author’s mind at once. This is comparable to almost everyone’s life. We all go through life encountering numerous events, these experiences shaping each individual’s identity. The catalogues are constantly bombarding the reader, speaking with a direct bluntness which is always in immediate context. The arrangement of numerous events forms the poem’s catalogues, which are an abstract yet highly effective form of juxtaposition. The cataloguing of sections of the poem allow insight into Whitman’s thoughts, dealing with diverse topics such as social concern, love, mortality, politics, social class, technology as well as countless others.
‘Song of Myself’ is not only a poem about Walt Whitman, but instead it is about anyone who can relate or find meaning in his words. Beginning with the opening line, the poem is an invitation from Whitman for the reader to enter into his world. Whitman’s use of cataloguing allows for interesting and effective organization of his thoughts which stimulates thought on the part of the reader, therefore providing a clearer understanding his own identity. The use of cataloguing makes this work seem almost accidental, as if Whitman is simply observing the people, places and events which surround his everyday life. Nevertheless, upon closer examination, we discover that his words are in fact carefully calculated.