Starting from Paumanok, by Walt Whitman, is a long-form poem that consists of 19 sections, and clocks in at about 12 pages. It’s about births, origins, and beginnings. At the heart of this “evangel-poem” is the inauguration of a new way of thinking and feeling, a new way of celebrating life — in a word, a new religion.
Through orthogonal space we wend
The structure and shape of Paumanok is almost entirely defined by two kinds of motion, one that occurs on a horizontal plane, as it were, and moves left to right or right to left, from one event to the next, and another that occurs on a vertical axis, and moves up and down or down and up, from the concrete to the abstract.
For example, the first line of the poem, “Starting from fish-shape Paumanok where I was born,” signals a flashback to a previous time and place, from which the poem commences. And as we travel through space-time, from left to right, from one event to the next, Whitman’s voice, like a streaking-pulsing meteor, expands and contracts between the particular and the universal, between the many and “The Fang’d and glittering One whose head is over all.”
One of the effects of Whitman’s treatment is that we travel giddily along through orthogonal space.
Spinoza and Schopenhauer would be greatly impressed.
Anyhow, more on Paumanok and Whitman’s godless religion in the next two posts…