Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman! Oh, to Us, Too. (Walt Isn’t Complete without Us!)
Walt Whitman arrived on Earth this day in 1819. It’s Walt’s birthday! Oh, he left that body in 1892, but he still lives, senses, and celebrates.
Therefore, so will I, and so should we all. Neither accounting for nor explaining the depths of Walt’s understanding, I will simply assert he understood the nature of Heart and how that is the energy center where we personalize eternal Spirit.
On this day in 1819, Walt Whitman personalized eternal Spirit. Throughout his life, he became self-aware, understood his own identity and relationship to and unity with the Universe, with all of creation. He knows what spiritual awakening means to humanity — individually and corporately.
The volume, voice, depth, and expression of his poetry and prose reveal this, and to celebrate his birthday, I will share some evidence of his personal truth, one that included all of us. He understands life, in any era — not perfectly, not technically, not even always disciplined, but then no one does.
His prime prose work, Democratic Vistas, proclaims his insight into the deepest need of each of us: to awaken spiritually. While this work is focused on America developing as an all-inclusive democracy, he knows that not only are we a social race but also that we have a sensitive, balanced, spiritual relationship and unity with all of creation as individuals. Therefore, he knows as a society, humanity needs a deeper understanding to benefit from and maintain these relationships, to maximize our experience here, live life to the lees, indulge in all the senses and energies we can grab in this physical existence. We enjoy this physicality; however, we are not limited to this. I see all of this clearly, uncompromisingly in his work, but if you don’t agree, it doesn’t matter. We are still one.
In Vistas, Walt explains clearly what is intimated in his poetry: “In the highly artificial and materialistic bases of modern civilization…tremendous and dominant play of solely materialistic bearings upon current life in the United States, with the results already seen, accumulating, and reaching far into the future [my emphasis], that they must either be confronted and met by at least an equally subtle and tremendous force-infusion for purposes of spiritualization, for the pure conscience, for genuine aesthetics, and for absolute and primal manliness and womanliness — or else our modern civilization, with all its improvements, is in vain, and we are on the road to a destiny, a status, equivalent, in its real world, to that of the fabled damned” (500). America as an ideal conception had already progressed well along the road of failure, but he sees that a new literature, one he calls “a language fann’d by the breath of Nature…tallies life and character, and seldomer tells a thing than suggests or necessitates it” (500), and then an education based on that spirit, can turn the course. To me, this is leading others to my Heart-purpose: discovery of Self and personal truth and purpose.
Walt saw America as the ideal nation with its foundation on democracy, a term for him which embodied every individual, not the privileged, not anyone — just the common, norm, average because that includes everyone. In fact, the older he grew, the more serious shortfalls he saw in the nation. If he were alive today, based on the expression of his beliefs, I’m certain he would be a globalist and see that America fell prey to what he feared. The spread of democracy around the globe and allying with those forces offer the sort of insight and experience of life we each come here for: to create our own meaning, fate, discoveries, truth without destroying one another.
Does anyone doubt this? He didn’t even pretend that his amazing insights were some complete picture. In fact, he thinks they are only half of it: “Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half-sleep…that the reader is to do something… must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay…Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does” (500–501). See, this is a celebration to me: when I pick up one of Walt’s books, I’m ever only holding half of it. The rest of it is in my power of creation. That is spiritually aware, metaphysical writing.
My joy in and celebration of Walt Whitman cannot be contained in one post. By the way, I do not put him on a pedestal — or if I do, I put all on one — because he was, as I am, limited to some degree by the constraints and boundaries of society subtly used by Ego to reign us in. I celebrate and rejoice in many artists who I know and most people. Even the ones who bring me no joy, I understand.
Before I finish this evening, I wish to share a bit of one of Walt’s signature poems, “Song of Myself.” In this poem, he shows his understanding of Spirit in all and unity with that. He in a very real soul and mind way assumes identity with all, himself incorporated into all, “Walt Whitman, a kosmos” (Sec. 24, 41), and he even identifies viscerally with the plants and animals of the earth in Sections 31 and 32, because “All truths wait in all things” (Sec. 30, 46) and those must be learned by coming to know core Self, a personal encounter not taught or coerced: “Logic and sermons never convince” (Sec. 30, 46). Our own Heart must be heard and we convince ourselves.
Walt Whitman understood, understands our divine nature, that eternal Spirit is eternal and, therefore, we are. He grasps the union of physicality and Spirit, and if we don’t, as I’ve said many times, we are not wrong, only missing out on our personal truth and purpose waiting within.
I do not honestly know how many references I could infer or see directly stated as regards this, but in “Song of Myself” he shows this union of physical and Spirit in himself, me, you: “…I am cut by bitter and angry hail, I lose my breath, / …At length let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles, and that we call Being. // To be in any form, what is that? / (Round and round we go, all of us, and ever come back thither…” (Sec. 26, 27). What is that? You get to answer that one, make the meaning. Just don’t sell yourself or anyone else short.
I would leave you with another question, one I know Walt appreciates: if we discovered Self, our true nature, each one of us, how differently would the morass, confusion, and degradation of humanity and Earth be?
Happy Birthday, Walt! Oh, Happy Birthday to You, too!
(All quotes: Whitman, Walt. Complete Poetry and Selected Prose by Walt Whitman. Ed. James E. Miller, Jr. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959. Print.)
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Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!