Identities and Transcendentalism in Song of Myself
While reading through the poem Song of Myself by Walt Whitman, what comes to your mind? His deep love for nature? The use of symbolism throughout the poem? Whitman’s questionable homoeroticism that seeps its way throughout the lines? What came to the forefront of mind when reading this poem by Whitman was his deliberately obvious theme of individuality while also maintaining a universal identity. I also think that Whitman throws in a common underlying theme of transcendentalism throughout his poem. At various times throughout Song of Myself, he really seems to show that each individual person has a sort of knowledge about themselves that surpasses their logic and sense but rather, uses their intuition and inner soul. He also shows how each individual person is, in fact, their own person, but that each person is a part of a bigger, universal identity. Whitman’s theme of transcendentalism intertwined with his main theme of individual having both personal and universal identities is what will be explored in this close reading analysis.
Whitman first shows his theme of individuality while having a universal identity in the very opening section of Song of Myself. The poem reads “I celebrate myself / And what I assume you shall assume, / For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”(1-3) Initially, as the readers, we must question who the I is here. I interpreted it to be Walt Whitman himself. He never comes out and says the I is himself but as a reader, this is what can be assumed. As you dig deeper and analyze this passage you can see that Whitman is stating that although he is reveling in his self, he also has an association with all people. He is no better of a person than anyone but also no worse. He is trying to convey the message that although we are not all the exact same person in this insanely large universe, if we look at our inner selves, we all feel. We all live. He is letting his readers know that just like them, he has felt pain, sorrow, joy, pleasure, etc. He by no means is saying that everyone feels the exact same way but that he, as an individual, has also been through the roller coaster of life that we all ride each and every day. In a way, by saying that every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you, he seems to break down any type of boundaries including gender. In his mind, everyone is on an equal playing field. The theme of transcendentalism is displayed in this passage when Whitman says “I celebrate myself.” (1) He isn’t trying to be egotistical or vain here but rather, he is saying much of his focus is on himself. This shows signs of transcendentalism because transcendentalists are really all about looking inside and trusting oneself.
The themes immediately come up again in section 2 of the poem. “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of...