Divinity, Sexuality And The Self In Whitman’s Song Of Myself

1239 words - 5 pages

 Divinity, Sexuality and the Self in Whitman’s Song of Myself   

 

 Through his poetry, Whitman's "Song of Myself" makes the soul sensual and

makes divine the flesh.  In Whitman's time, the dichotomy between the soul

and the body had been clearly defined by centuries of Western philosophy and

theology.  Today, the goodness of the soul and the badness of the flesh

still remain a significant notion in contemporary thought.  Even Whitman's

literary predecessor, Emerson, chose to distinctly differentiate the soul

from all nature.  Whitman, however, chooses to reevaluate that relationship.

His exploration of human sensuality, particularly human sexuality, is the

tool with which he integrates the spirit with the flesh.

 

Key to this integration is Whitman's notion of the ability of the sexual

self to define itself. This self-definition is derived from the strongly

independent autonomy with which his sexuality speaks in the poem.  Much of

the "Song of Myself" consists of a cacophony of Whitman's different selves

vying for attention.  It follows that Whitman's sexual self would likewise

find itself a voice.  A number of passages strongly resonate with Whitman's

sexuality in their strongly pleasurable sensualities.  The thoroughly

intimate encounter with another individual in section five particularly

expresses Whitman as a being of desire and libido.

 

Whitman begins his synthesis of the soul and body through sexuality by

establishing a relative equality between the two.  He pronounces in previous

stanzas, "You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself," and,

"Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less

familiar than the rest."  Here, he lays foundation for the basic

egalitarianism with which he treats all aspects of his being for the rest of

the poem.  This equality includes not only his sexuality, but in broader

terms, his soul and body.  In the opening to section five, Whitman

explicitly articulates that equality in the context of the body and soul: "I

believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you, And you

must not be abased to the other."  He refutes the moral superiority of the

soul over the flesh historically prevalent throughout Western thought.  With

that level groundwork established, he is free to pursue the relationship

between the soul and the body on equal footing.

 

The mechanism of this integration may be one of a number of possibilities

included in Whitman's work.  Whitman's notion that "All truths wait in all

things" very broadly defines the scope of his desire to distill truth from

his surroundings.  He indicates that "...all the men ever born are also my

brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers," suggesting that perhaps

sensual understanding of the...

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