Show Whitman as a mystic poet with reference to his “Song of Myself”.


Answer: Mysticism is an experience that can be achieved by spiritual journey from the immortal human soul to the divine Spirit. It has a spiritual meaning, which is not apparent to the senses nor to the-intellect. A mystic believes in the unity of God and man, man and nature, God and the universe. To a mystic, time and space are unreal; since both can be overcome by man’s spiritual conquest. Evil, too, is unreal since God is present everywhere. Man communicates with his soul in a mystical experience and Whitman expresses his response to the soul in “Song of Myself-. Whitman’s mysticism is somewhat different from the Oriental mysticism. A is believed, has the capacity to establish an intercourse or communication between his spirit and the Divine spirit. Whitman is truly a mystic in this sense. But Oriental mystic believes that communication between his soul and God is possible only through the mortification or conquest of the senses and the physical appetites. On the other hand, Whitman believes that spiritual experience is possible without sacrificing the physical appetites. He is a mystic being a celebrant of sex and the senses.

In Section 5 of “Song of Myself”, Whitman’s ecstatic revelation of union of his body with his soul has been depicted with mystic expression. The poet has a feeling of fraternity and oneness with God and his fellowmen. He says;

“And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own And that all of the creation of love”.

Section 6 presents and introduces the central symbol of “Song of Myself’. We see that a child appears with leaves full in both hands and asks the poet “What is the grass?” Hesitating first, the poet muses that “the grass is itself a child”, or maybe “it is the handkerchief of the Lord”. Here the grass is a symbol of the divinity latent in the ordinary, common life of man. It is also a symbol of continuity inherent in the life-death cycle. Like a true mystic, Whitman believes that no one really dies. It might be to him that death means rebirth; it is the way by which man can establish a certain relation being one with God. Whitman says that even

“The smallest sprout shows there is really no death …All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier”.

As a mystic, Whitman believed that there was no difference between the creator and the creation. His `self is a universal self. He sees people of both sexes, all ages, many different walks of life; even animals are included. The poet along with the divine spirit not only loves them all; he is also a part of them. Whitman says;

“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”.

Grass, a central symbol in “Song of Myself’ suggests the, divinity of common things. The nature and significance of grass unfold the themes of death and immortality. Grass is the key to the secrets of man’s relationship with the Divine. It indicates that God is everything and everything is God.

The dealing with the themes of God, life, death and nature in Section 1 to 16 reveal the awakening of the poet’s self through mystical experience. “Song of Myself’ arises out of a belief that it is possible to achieve communion with God through contemplation and love; and this relationship would be established without the medium of human reason. It is a way of attaining knowledge of spiritual truths through intuition.

Whitman realizes that the physicals as well as the spiritual are the aspects of the Divine. He describes himself as gross and mystical, and a `Kosmos’. Contemplating the meaning of grass in terms of mystical experience, he understands that all physical phenomena are as deathless as the grass.

From Section 33 to 37 of “Song of Myself’ in many places, Whitman experiences a spiritual illumination passing through suffering, despair, and the soul’s journey to purification. His self, purified, comprehends the Divine reality, the ‘transcendental self. Whitman’s God reveals himself in nature. The poet says;

I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of wren….

Whitman asserts in Section 43 of “Song of Myself’ that his own faith embraces all “Worship ancient and modern”. He practices all religions and even looks beyond them to “what is yet untried”. In the next section, the poet expresses his desire to “launch all men and women…. into the Unknown”. The poet is conscious of the confrontation of his self with limitless time and limitless space and realizes that he and his listeners-are products of ages past and future.

Section 45 of the epic poem “Song of Myself’ again deals with eternity and the immortality of man. Everything leads to the mystical union with God, the great `Camerado’. To make the union of body and soul indifference for good, Whitman says that “the soul is not more than the body”, just as “the body is not more than the soul”. God is not even more important than one’s self. The poet asks man not to be “curious about God”, because God is everywhere and in everything. He says;

“In the faces of men and women I see God, God in my own face in the glass”

A mystic never becomes afraid of death. Whitman also does not fear death. In Section 49 of “Song of Myself’, the poet asks death not to warn him for there is no real death. Men die and rebirth in different forms. The poet feels in Section 50 that there is something that outweighs death; “It is form, union, plan — it is eternal life — it is Happiness”. It is clear to us that Whitman does not think death as one’s end; he believes in reunion of his individual self with the Divine soul. By this, he announces soul’s eternity through physical and spiritual journey.

Whitman’s mystical experience of his self comes through various stages. The first stage may be termed the “Awakening of self’, the second the “Purification of self’. Purification involves an acceptance of the body and all its functions. This acceptance reflects the poet’s goal to achieve mystical experience through physical -reality. This is an opposition to the Puritanical view of purification through mortification of the flesh. Whitman philosophizes that the self can be purified not through purgation but through the acceptance of the physical. The mystical experience paves the way for the merging of physical reality with a universal reality.