multiplying and dying, endlessly

In a bid to restore myself to good health, I’ve been reading Song of Myself. For years I’ve studied this poem. With the exception of two Frost poems, which I’ve committed to memory and routinely repeat to myself, there’s simply no other poem I’ve spent more time with (a preposition I know but I don’t care). That’s not to say that I understand Song of Myself because I don’t. For the life of me I can’t formulate a coherent reading of the text. Although if you were to press me on it, I’d say that the poem is about eating and being eaten, multiplying and dying, endlessly, and that salvation or redemption (call it what you’d like) consists in seeing this clearly, or rather feeling it, and energetically participating in the whole process of it all, and loving it. Yes, that seems to me to be what the poem is about.

Postscript. Packers 24 – Steelers 17. Guaranteed.

3 Responses to multiplying and dying, endlessly

  1. Dear Kevin,

    I would be interested in what more you have to say. Perhaps your enthusiasm for the subject matter will help to overcome the overall distaste I have for most things Whitman. I find myself incapable of ranking him with the great poets, and yet I know that his influence is profound and my arbitrary view entirely subjective. Perhaps oriented toward his profound Lincolnophilia–a trait I not only do not share, but which I despise in the extreme. I am fascinated by the way historical interpretation has done so much to demythologize the founders, whereas it doesn’t appear to have touched Lincoln at all. And heaven knows that’s a place that could do with some “cherry-tree debunking.”

    I’m off-course looking for a why in a world of visceral reaction. Instead, I will eagerly await anything more you may have to offer on the subject.

    This was like the merest tantalizing taste.

    Thank you.



  2. Hi Steven, funny isn’t how a very good novelist or poet simply doesn’t appeal to one’s preferences. I don’t like reading Joyce or Pynchon or D.F Wallace, for instance, although they’ve done some pretty amazing things with language. As for Whitman, I suspect my view is largely subjective in the rather annoying he-writes-as-though-for me sense. At the end of the day, I think his language sounds wonderful, like birdsong or the violin. Of course, there are techniques of his that I like, too — for instance, what he does with the “I,” his voice, and lists, etc. — but I’m reluctant to say much about them because poetry, like physics, intimidates me a little. I’m never convinced I understand it. Cheers, Kevin

  3. Dear Kevin,

    Everything you say here is true, and yet I often find that one person’s enthusiasm can ignite my own and carrying with me some of the things that a person admired or cherished in the piece, I can get more out of it. (Agree by the way of DFW, not so much on the other two.)

    So, continue to just say things–it will poke and prod at me and force me to pay attention, and I’ll get as cranky as an old dog–but it will all be to the good. I pay more careful attention when someone writes about work I do not care for. My working assumption is always that I am the source of the problem.

    When I reflect on all of the literature I don’t care for, there is, after all only one constant–me.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond. I hope I didn’t make you feel defensive for liking this–you shouldn’t. I can’t puzzle out what is wrong with me that I tend to react so seriously negatively.

    I had a theory once that Dickinson and Whitman were like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones–only one could be triumphant. 😀

    Thanks again.



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