Everyone has some go-to for times when they need refreshing, at least I hope they do. Most of us have several. One of mine happens to be literature that is special to me. And Walt Whitman is often one of my go-to’s, especially the songs of life he hears echoing through this Universe.
I examined some of Walt’s poem, “Song of the Universal,” last night. I had never analyzed it or particularly noticed it, but I see the metaphysical beauty of it, the scope of it, the emotions of that which he terms the universals: joy, goodness, health peace, and salvation.
At the outset, Whitman makes it clear that underneath all of the surface appearances of this earth and, metaphorically, our lives, exists “Perfection,” a perfection we all have a share in. The degree to which we appropriate that for ourselves determines our appreciation of it and its benefits. That “seed Perfection” represents what I have called Heart, eternal Spirit that arrives as part and parcel within us, “amid the measureless grossness and slag” of the default Ego operating system.
Whitman shifts within the poem from individual application and consideration to a more global aspect. He makes it clear that “Science” (mind) has a role, “absolute fiats issuing.” But those commands and rationalized deductions contain limited effects.
The “Soul — above all science,” soul, the generator of emotions and that which is most susceptible to responding strongly to Heart or Ego, is the reason we come here, the vehicle through which we truly understand the issues of life: “For it, has History gather’d like a husk around the globe; / For it, the entire star-myriads roll through the sky. // For it, the partial to the permanent flowing, / For it, the Real to the Ideal tends. / For it, the mystic evolution…” He ranks the soul and the ability to respond emotionally to life as the reason for our primary human experience.
But what is it that operates the mind and soul? Well, that would be Ego or Heart. In the above line “the Real to the Ideal” indicates a Heart movement: what we feel as ideal ends in our soul creates reality, moves us towards experiencing what we wish, engages the law of attraction.
However, Whitman does not gloss over the effects of Ego operation. When he refers to “the mystic evolution,” he includes the outworking of Heart moving through the dross of Ego. The very next line states, “Not the right only justified — what we call evil also justified.” How is evil justified? He implies evil is explained, and the explanation of it sounds a lot like Ego work in the next stanza: “Forth from their masks, no matter what, / From the huge, festering trunk — from craft and guile and tears, / Health to emerge, and joy — joy universal.” Surface, Ego ugliness forms the framework of life like the trunk of a tree and produces sneaky deception and sorrow until Heart is engaged. Then, the understanding of how it all works together and how we have had our part in life produces “joy universal.”
Whitman goes on describing Ego works, which I won’t quote here, but he generalizes it to seeing the ego works of individuals become the face of the nation: “…the varied, countless frauds of men and States, / Electric, antiseptic yet — cleaving, suffusing all…” The effects of folks not tapping into their own Heart, “the seed Perfection,” that which is “enclosed and safe within” the “central heart,” is division that spreads throughout the nation. I started looking at this poem because I had had enough of looking into some of that continuing division in this nation. This is a nice bar of notes in the song.
Whitman always believes that true America, like the true Heart, core Self of us, needs yet to be discovered fully: “…America… // To the Ideal tendest.” He also believes we need to hear the song and understand for ourselves the Ideal, Heart-truth and identity and essence; it’s all for us: “All, eligible to all. / All, all for immortality! / Love, like the light, silently wrapping all! / Nature’s amelioration blessing all!” Now that’s a song, a song of the Heart, a song in which we can all join in the chorus.
Walt wishes it for everyone, appealing to his version of Heart in this poem (he doesn’t always use God for that term): “Give me, O God, to sing that thought! / Give me — give him or her I love, this quenchless faith / In thy ensemble. … / Belief in plan of Thee enclosed in Time and Space; / Health, peace, salvation universal.” Eternal Spirit in time and space — Heart in each of us. We can’t see the universal good until we tap into Heart. He says a bit earlier in the poem: “O the blest eyes! the happy hearts! / That see — that know the guiding thread so fine, / Along the mighty labyrinth!” If you have the opportunity, read the poem because other references sing the beauty of knowing Heart.
Ultimately, Whitman asks, “Is it a dream?” He answers the question himself, the dream being symbolic of something not real: “Nay, but the lack of it the dream, / And, failing it, life’s lore and wealth a dream, / And all the world a dream.” If his “Song of the Universal” and its Heart-truths are not real, then nothing is.
I think it’s a pretty sweet song, presenting to the listeners not only the composition but the opportunity to play it. Universals available to us all: joy, goodness, health, peace, and salvation. I didn’t say much about salvation, but he makes it clear he’s not referring to an orthodox religious response, but rather he implies salvation from the effects of Ego.
So we can join in: “…a strain is heard, just heard, / From some far shore, the final chorus sounding.” It’s within us, our own Heart. Discover the beauty of all that rightfully belongs to us. Get singing!
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!