Walt Whitman 3 Essay, Research Paper
“There is no fear of mistake.” That is what Walt Whitman wrote in the last few lines of his preface to Leaves of Grass. He was referring to the idea that nothing can be considered wrong if it is an idea born in the imagination. People in general have this great fear that they might do or say something wrong, especially if it is an unordinary idea or thought. They way we protect ourselves from being criticized or berated is to simply conform to conventional and widespread ideas. Whitman implores us to strike out instead and be what Emerson calls “Man Thinking”. Whitman himself is man thinking simply because he dared to take the road less traveled. His works were thought to be too unorthodox and disgraceful. Yet it did not stop him. He wrote for the common man, and he rejected him. Still, Whitman remains one of the most respected authors in America, simply because he went out on the limb, alone, and sung the song of his world.
Tony Perry wrote and article in the Los Angeles Times on Whitman’s reemergence after the Clinton/Lewinsky controversy arose. Many people clambered to get their hands on his works because of the amount of sexually suggestive material. To our society he probably seemed a bit tame compared to the pages of smut readers go through on a daily basis. However, in his time he was seen as shameful and dirty. Many people refused to read his work because of the implied sexuality. But as Perry mentioned in his article Whitman never wrote of detailed sexual acts or even made specific reference to the body in a sexual nature. While many people were blushing behind the pages of his books, other saw this as pure genius. Whitman, unlike any other writer of the time and possibly of our time, could find the words to describe an act so primal in nature or a body with many imperfections and turn it into a graceful song, if you will. The simple ability to describe something without actually coming out and saying exactly what it is he was describing is amazing in itself. Also, Whitman must have felt that there was no shame in the human body or the act of sex in the first place. Why should we shun a body that we were born with? Why should we disgrace an act that enables us to survive, and not only that, is one of the keys to love? Whitman says in “Song Of Myself”, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself .”. He was not ashamed of who he was. In fact he reveled in the beauty of himself, the beauty of the human body. For it is something that came from nature, and everything in nature is beautiful.
Like Emerson, Whitman believed in original thought. He didn’t follow the words of others, or even march to the same drummer for that matter. In “Song of Myself” he states, “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books, You shall not look through my eyes either, not take things from me, you shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.” Whitman implored his readers to take what they see from the outside, see it with their own eyes, and interpret it in their on ways. What one person sees another may not. I have always wondered if I see things physically the same way as everyone else. For instance, when I look up at the sky, especially right before the sun is setting, I see so many brilliant colors. I see red and blue and yellow and pink and purple and orange. But how do I know that I see the same colors as someone else? What if they see a totally different blue or orange than I do? The way I interpret a color is subjective to my own imagination. My purple could be someone else’s pink. What Whitman is trying to convey is that not everything is concrete. A person sets his or her own personal standards of perception and boundaries of imagination. Whitman also says later on that if thoughts “are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing.” Our thoughts belong to us. We created them, they are a sort of children of our minds. If we do not stop to claim these thoughts as we are thinking them then they will cease to exist. They will die in the pits of the brain that we do not use, never to be found again.
Whitman also believes that the most important time is the present. Whitman says, “There was never anymore inception then there is now, Nor anymore youth or age than there is now, And will never be anymore perfection than there is now, Nor anymore heaven or hell than there is now.” Scholars document pages and pages on the past, and scientists fight to discover a way to an advanced future. All the while people are missing out on what is going on today. We take daily life for granted. The average person gets up every morning, drives the same roads to work, talks to the same faces at work, goes to the same place for lunch, goes home at the same time to a family that also has the same routine. We get caught in a rut. We fail to see what goes on around us. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a parent say that they don’t know when their child grew up. That it just happened before their very eyes. Whitman wishes for us to slow down, and take notice of the little things, enjoy nature for it will be gone one day too. Instead of falling into the monotonous routine, change your life daily. Find a new way to work, pay close attention to the areas surrounding you, and most importantly, don’t take the people around you for granted. Indulge yourself in them, breathe them, and listen to them. Simply, take your time.
Again, like Emerson, Whitman was skeptical of religion being taught from the ideas of others. He says, “I do not despise you priests, all time, the world over, My faith is the greatest of faiths and the least of faiths.” Here Whitman declares that while he thinks that the priests and other speakers of religions might have something to say, he does not agree with them in their entirety. He feels that his faith in strongest within him and he doesn’t need material things to worship to know that he has religion. It may not be the religion of another, but it is his. Why should he believe what someone else has to say? What if their interpretation is as far from his as the Sun is from Pluto? He doesn’t believe that they are necessarily wrong in any way, he just doesn’t see things the way they do. If everyone thought in exactly the same way then we’d all be mindless, imagination would no longer exist. Diversity is what keeps our societies flourishing. The constant flowing of new information and ideas is what makes us strong. Knowledge is power.
Although he was rejected in his own time, Whitman has become a permanent fixture in the world’s literary library. As time passed, and more ideas were born he slowly began to become excepted. As he said would happen, people put him down for a while, and then picked him back up later, and there was a whole world of difference. His radical style was seen as more contemporary, and people understood his message a little more. Whitman taught them to let loose of their insecurities and live for the present. His understanding of nature made life just a bit more beautiful. Eyes were opened to a natural world that many never knew existed. He is timeless, and although it never happened in his lifetime he has finally “sounded his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”