Walt Whitman is American poetry.
I hope that statement isn’t taken as hyperbole as I truly believe that Whitman’s influence can’t be understated. He created a truly and singular American voice; one that is both personal and confessional while also remaining wide-spread and all-inclusive. Through his work he urges us to, above all, be hold tight to that which makes us who we are, to sing “what belongs to him or her and to none else.” The beautiful paradox of his work is that he managed to both write poems solely for his self-centric confessional voice while maintaining a seemingly intimate relationship with, well, the whole world. It’s there in Song of Myself when he states that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” or when he muses that
There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well, All things please the soul, but these please the soul well.
For we cannot tarry here,
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger,
We, the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend.
In my mind, it’s in the quiet moments that Whitman really shines. We see that in “Rolling Ocean” as he starts with a drop of water and manages to expand to the breadth of all existence. Through it all, however, he contains all that power and beauty in a single moment, a single drop of water.
Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd
1 Out of the rolling ocean, the crowd, came a drop gently to me, Whispering, I love you, before long I die, I have travel’d a long way, merely to look on you, to touch you, For I could not die till I once look’d on you, For I fear’d I might afterward lose you. 2 (Now we have met, we have look’d, we are safe; Return in peace to the ocean, my love; I too am part of that ocean, my love—we are not so much separated; Behold the great rondure—the cohesion of all, how perfect! But as for me, for you, the irresistible sea is to separate us, As for an hour carrying us diverse—yet cannot carry us diverse forever; Be not impatient—a little space—know you, I salute the air, the ocean and the land, Every day, at sundown, for your dear sake, my love.)