Walt Whitman: Out of the Rolling Ocean, the Crowd

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.
 Beyond even that, Whitman redefined what it was to write poetry from a formal standpoint as much as an emotional one. His occasionally erratic unrhymed free-verse set the stage for all sorts of experimentation down the road. That same devil-may-care attitude that he used in his verse fits well with his overall idea of the American mindset; forever learning, expanding, fearlessly moving forward,
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.)
 Curious to see the other poems from National Poetry Month? Check out the original post for an updated list of them all!

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