A disclaimer. You may find that the rhythm of the following essay is rather stilted. Please note that the following is a series of course notes, collected from Dec 2006 through early Jan 2007 and revised for the benefit of e2. I would appreciate it if you would review this fact before carelessly downvoting. Thank you.
Whitman, Song of Myself, Verse 21:
I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into new tongue.
I am the poet of the woman the same as the man,
And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man,
And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men.
I chant the chant of dilation or pride,
We have had ducking and deprecating about enough,
I show that size is only development.
Have you outstript the rest? are you the President?
It is a trifle, they will more than arrive there every one, and still pass on.
I am he that walks with the tender and growing night,
I call to the earth and sea half-held by the night.
Press close bare-bosom'd night - press close magnetic nourishing night!
Night of south winds - night of the large few stars!
Still nodding night - mad naked summer night.
Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset - earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth - rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.
Prodigal, you have given me love - therefore I to you give love!
O unspeakable passionate love.
An analysis of verse 21: excerpted from course notes taken in class, junior year of high school english, 2006-2007
The poet states “I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,” summarizing his perception of the equality of the physical and metaphysical, before moving on to claim that “the pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,” reaffirming the central metaphor of the Song of Myself: the personification of all forces, physical and meta-, human and inhuman, as interwoven fragments of Whitman's being. He pays special note to his own dual-gender nature while at other times referring to himself in the male pronoun, emphasizing his own shifts between narrator of the universe (or at least, the Whitmanverse) and a mere particular character in the morass. Returning to his ongoing fascination with human authority, he interrogates the reader: “Have you outstript the rest? are you the President? / It is a trifle,” reminding us that humanity in the individual sense is transient. Through all of this, Whitman speaks with the authority of a lecturer, the lyricism of a painter, the eagerness of a persuasive speaker, the precision of a photographer, and—as the title of the total work reminds us—the distinctive self-identity of a singer. In this manner, the poet-as-actor impersonates art in its totality, occupying a narrative space somewhere in degree four of self reference: by impersonating the artist-god in the reader's universe, he exists as god in his own universe.
We cannot, however, exist in Whitman's universe – it is far too personal and vivid for us to inhabit. Thus, we experience self-reference at a sort of midway point, or crossroads. In the creative interface between the reader and the artist, Whitman himself inevitably transcends the usual boundaries inherent in that interface: we are surprised to be holding a thing that (considering Whitman's equivalence of the physical and the metaphysical) contains God, and more surprised still that it is not our god we have found. Thus, Whitman's “Song” might lie on the third degree of self-reference, but like a quantum superposition, the interface between poet and active audience (creator alpha and creator beta) cannot be sustained in the real world. Besides, this perception relies upon an insufficiently demonstrated definition of the medium. If Whitman is merely an artist, and the Song of Myself is nothing but bound paper and ink, then Whitman may “merely” transcend it. But if the medium Whitman works is merely reflected in his poetry, if the Song of Myself is merely a numbered journal of an epic poetic self-transformation, then the entire equation shifts left a space. Whitman himself is the medium, the Song merely a rough road map of his adventures in pure transcendental expression.
From this observation, we can see that within a true definition of creativity, the Song is not a purely creative work. When Whitman molds himself into an omnipotent, self-idealized form, that is true creativity. At his best, the poet is like a man who distills his own liquor in the mountains, bottles it, and sells it. We can drink the liquor and be drunk with it, even taste a hint of the mountain air in the alcohol, but we can never return to the mountains and eat of the pre-distilled fruit. The artist's medium is fruit and grain and the workings of the still; we consume the product and assume that it is creative art. Whitman's genius is in improving the fruits, enhancing the grains, and sweetening the flavor so that the finished product lets us taste more and see further into the mountains. The initial diagnosis of third-degree self reference sustains, although for decidedly different reasons. Ultimately, Whitman's writing demonstrates a process of repeated self-transcendence, an emergence from the medium of the internal self to the external metaself, a process that we can only observe by reflection, much like the shadows on Plato's cave wall.