Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Two Lines that Stuck in My Mind

W. Whitman Song of Myself
“Voices of the sexes and lusts….voices veiled, and I remove the veil / Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigured” (17).
Analysis of poetry and the finer details of the literary devices as a whole is probably my weakest area of study as a graduating English major. I chose to enroll in the Whitman class as an opportunity to gain insight on a poet who I believe makes poetry accessible while still defying accepted norms of poetry, such as the use of elevated language, to deliver a poem that has grown into what I believe captures the essence of Americana: namely, freedom.

When the speaker of the poem exerts that he embodies the “voices of the sexes and lusts….voices veiled, and I remove the veil” (17), I immediately connected it to my previous reading of W.E.B. Dubois’ opus Souls of Black Folk and the notion that being Black and being American are two opposing ideologies. Whitman attempts to deconstruct this notion by suggesting that he “see (s) and hear(s) the whole” (28). I believe that by making this assertion, amongst many similar others, Whitman is stating that he has fused the projected self-image and the actual image. Whereas the veil that Dubois hinted at served as obstacle that stood in the way of Blacks achieving the so-called “American dream,” Whitman claims to be able to lift that veil. Furthermore, in the utopian world of Song of Myself, Whitman claims to be able to take “voices indecent” and “by me (referring to himself) clarified and transfigured” (17). Wonderful Whitman translates the broken English of runaway slaves, nurses them back to health and can hear, see and relate to all things. Lets all assume the “Tebow” position!

Don’t get it twisted. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Whitman and his “high hopes.” In fact, if he were alive today, I’d bet dollars to donuts that President Obama would have him somewhere on his staff. Hope. Whitman provides a sense of hope in Song of Myself by suggesting that the poet is everyman. Obama used it as a platform to be elected as president of the United States. Ultimately, race is still a dividing factor in the United States despite how many people have read and supposedly been changed by Whitman’s poem. The same will be said following Obama’s presidency. However, we can all hope that things will change and we all will be able to sit back and observe, drink or draw leaves of grass.


  1. Yo ken, I dig the Dubois connection. I recall his veil and how it lies before the eyes distorting the world. This political connection is very cool. it is interesting to think of the political state during Walt's time and now: the tipping and sliding of our current condition reflects Walt's time in many ways and i think you got that. Catch you around!

  2. I also thought of Dubois after I read your favorite lines. Maybe we both took Hanley's American Lit class last semester. Ha! Anyway, I enjoy your take and connection of hope within Whitman's poem. It allows me to see a better cause in the reason for Whitman's desperate desire to speak for humanity as a whole. It is as if he has the ultimate understanding and even though others may have floundering thoughts.. "every thought that flounders in [them] flounders the same in [him]" Whitman is able to decipher the thoughts and confusions of others and transform them into a song of hope. Maybe he undoes the veil of the shallow and floundering. Cool!

  3. The Tebow position . . please no. You are absolutely correct, it seems to me, to connect W's "wholism" with Du Bois's veil. Like D.B., the problem for W is division - - divided consciousness (between body and mind, senses and knowledge, etc.), divided nation, divided selves. D.B.'s "solution" is politics (to some extent) - - W's is poetry. It's a good test case for Whitman: can poetry suture up the real, oppressive divisions that define America? Some have criticized W for his blitheness about these (class, race, etc.) divisions. Sometimes this seems to me to be a criticism of poetry, rather than W in general.