Whitman's Interpretation of Emerson
Walt Whitman was able to take the spark of an idea from Ralph Waldo Emerson and tend, nurture, and support it until the spark grew into a huge flame of something surprising and original - new American poetry. Whitman did not only learn from Emerson, but he also took Emerson's ideas and expanded them into something much more encompassing. Whitman was able to use Emerson's principles that are outlined in "The Poet" to springboard into something more expansive than Emerson was able to describe or create.
Emerson states in his 15th principle in "The Poet" that "there is no fact in nature that does not carry the whole sense of nature." To elaborate this claim Emerson states, "the distinctions which we make …disappear when nature is used as a symbol. Thought makes everything fit for use,"(Emerson Principle 15). Emerson is seeing nature as being a symbol. As a symbol, there are no taboos about what parts are nature can be explored and what part cannot. More specifically, even the most obscene, disgusting parts of nature can take on new meaning when they are used as symbols to represent such qualities as power or triumph. Therefore, there are no clear distinctions about what elements of nature represent; they can take on the meaning the poet gives to them. The poet becomes the one with the awesome power to give each aspect of nature a certain meaning depending on how the poet uses it in his work.
Walt Whitman embraces this power to use nature in his work "Song of Myself." As Emerson's principle outlined, Whitman was able to take images of nature and make them represent something surprising, new, and sometimes slightly obscene. Emerson discusses the idea of obscene images in nature taking on acceptable meanings when used as a symbol when he states "what would be…obscene, becomes illustrious, spoken in a new connection of thought,"(Emerson Princple 15). What Whitman does, though, is reverse Emerson's logic. He takes simple, innocent images in nature and makes them shockingly sexual. Whitman sets the sexual tone stating, "Firm masculine colter it shall be you!" and he continues on stating simple natural images that now seem to represent something more sexual, (Whitman Section 24 Line 34). The maple tree has "trickling sap," the brook is "sweaty," and the wind has "soft-tickling genitals,"(Lines 41-45). All of these natural images serve to represent something very different from what they commonly do. Therefore, the images are symbols in nature that the poet, Whitman, gives meaning to. While this use of symbols illustrates what Emerson discusses in principle 15, Whitman takes the power of what he can do with natural symbols further than Emerson does. Similarly, Whitman takes Emerson's principle of nature symbols and expands them...