Show how Whitman combines individualism with universalism.
Show how much Whitman is personal and democratic in his views in “Song of Myself”.
Answer: “Song of Myself’ is not actually a song of an individual self; it is a song of the universal self, a song of democracy. Unity, equality and human dignity are the basic themes of the poem and these things are significantly related to the concept of self. If we try to find out the development of the poem “Song of Myself’, we see that the poem proceeds with the idea of the self, the identification of the self with other selves and self’s relation with the universe:
The ‘I’ of Whitman’s poem is a fusion of several characters. Through celebrating himself, he celebrates all. The poet says;
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
Whitman is also inspired by American nationalism. As an American, he is proud for and grateful to his motherland. Here, we’ find him as an experiences of individual self. He says;
My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil,
Born here of parents….
As a true follower of democracy, Whitman values all and everybody’s opinion. In democracy, everyone is equal to the eye of law. The poet has a feeling of fraternity. He believes that everyone should respect another one’s wishes and speeches. In Section 5, Whitman asserts;
“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”.
Whitman believes that every individual is an integral part of the universal or divine spirit. The poet sees people of both sexes, all ages, all conditions, and in many different walks of life; even animals are included. Whitman says that he loves them all and part of them all;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.
The lines refer to the universality of the poet. His thoughts are “the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands”. His love towards the whole creation has been expressed with deep insight. Whitman’s self is not only for his own welfare, it is for all; it has a universal urge to be united with all living creatures of the world. This brotherhood and self’s journeywork are expressed nicely in the following lines;
“I am of old and young, of ;he foolish as much as the wise”,
The poet also says; .
“all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers”.
Whitman had been brought up in a democratic environment. From his boyhood he had learnt to regard other’s opinion. He knew that there were many different ideas in the world which more of less makes difference between brothers, groups and communities. He was against conservative and orthodox views. As a firm believer of democracy, Whitman believed that there was no disparity between people belonging to different caste, color, or creed.
“Endless unfolding of words of ages?
And mine a word of the modern, the word En-Masse”.
“Song of Myself’ is a poetical expression of the poet’s mystical experience to the awakening Of his self. It arises out of a belief that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love. Section 6 to 16 of the poem especially describe the awakening of the poet’s self to his own universality.
Whitman proclaims himself “the poet of the body”, and “the poet of the soul”. He is a poet of pleasures and pains, and of men and women. The world is a place where two opposite things work simultaneously. To the poet, where there is light, there is dark and where there is good, there is evil. And as a universal self, he has to bear everything with his ideas. He does not want to avoid the harsh realities of the world and his tone is quietly democratic. He says;
“I am not the poet of goodness only,
I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.”
His love of democracy is found when he salutes scientists though he admits “your facts…. Are not my dwelling”.
Whitman’s awareness of the universe, or cosmic consciousness, is expressed when he calls himself ‘a Kosmos’ invoking a picture of the harmony of the universe. He accepts all life; naked and bare, noble and ignoble, refined and crude, beautiful and ugly, pleasant and painful. Whitman realizes that the physicals as well as the spiritual are aspects of the Divine self. His universalism of self comes clear when he says, “a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars”
The use of catalogue in “Song of Myself’ by Whitman is an attempt to give a feeling of universal scope. The poet identifies himself with every being and object, and this identification forms an integral part of his concept of what ‘I’ am. The process of identification arises out of the belief that the poet’s soul is a part of the universal soul. His self, purified, comprehends the Divine reality, the transcendental self.
As an observer of a world full of chaos and complexities and religious intolerance, Whitman wants a make the readers believe that all are loveable to the Super power. He declares that all men are divine and possess powers of revelation equal to any God’s: The poet believes that God is to be found in all men. He says; “the Supernatural is of no account”. In Section 41, the poet assumes the role of the prophet of a new religion, incorporating all religions;
“Taking myself the exact dimensions of Jehovah,
Buying drafts of Osiris, Isis, Belus, Brahma, Buddha,
In my portfolio placing Monito loose, Allah on a leaf, the
Whitman believed that every man at the time of his birth receives an identity, and this identity is his ‘soul’. The soul, finding it’s abode in man; is individualized, and man begins to develop his personality. Man’s personality craves immortality because it desires to follow the personality of God. This idea is in accord with Whitman’s notion of the self.
Whitman had a deep faith in democracy because this political form of government respects the individual. He is a singer of the self as well as a trumpeter of democracy because he believes that only in a free society individuals can attain self-hood. He sings for the average, common man. He emphasizes individual virtue, which he believes would give rise to civic virtue. He aims at improving the masses by first improving the individual, becoming a true spiritual individual Thus, we may say that.” Song of Myself’ is a song of and self who has firm belief in democracy and seeks unity with the universal or divine self.