Blog 17: Song of self-torture

Over the last few school days, our class has been analyzing parts of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”. Let me just say that, before I read some of this poem, I thought that The Divinity School Address was a difficult document to analyze. Trying to read and analyze “Song of Myself” feels like I’m wading through wet-concrete. It’s painstakingly slow and very tiring. My group was assigned to analyze section 3 and section 9, and my first thought was that section 3 was one of the longest in the document. Other than that however, we began to realize how carefully selected each word of each line is. Whitman’s choice of diction is one of his biggest tools in conveying his message of self betterment. For example, there is a line in which he says that “baskets of white towels” are left for him. After analyzing the stanza the phrase belonged to, we determined that the baskets of white towels symbolize the tools for which one can use to better themselves. The white color of the towels is symbolizing purity and the possibility for cleanliness, and “baskets” emphasizes the plentiful nature of these gifts and opportunities. Whitman’s personal devotion to the philosophy makes me more willing to listen to his writings. Knowing that he truly meant what he said and tried to live by these principles commands my respect. This is unlike Emerson who reportedly did not try live as altruistically and as purely as his rhetoric would suggest. I think one of the most important parts of our sections is when Whitman suggests the idea of equality of the sexes. The idea that men and woman are totally equal fits perfectly into the philosophy of transcendentalism in which anyone can become perfect or “transcend their humanity”. As for the difficulties that my group has faced, Whitman’s choice of language is by far the biggest obstacle. He rarely speaks in any kind of forthright manner, rather opting to speak mostly in metaphor or some other kind of figurative language. There are also cultural differences between Whitman and people like me. For instance, at one point Whitman describes “redneck diving” which is diving into large piles of hay or mud, but it took my group a long time to realize what he was talking about since we have never had traditions like this.

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