Whitman ,Walt:  "Song of Myself"  (not used as a subtitle until 1881 edition, Crowley  xxxii)

Malcolm Crowley's take on Leaves of Grass


"the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is."


Philosophical and religious themes

written in a single state of illumination

2- 3 moments of ecstasy, then presented dramatically, as heroic new convictions

reflected in successive unfolding states of mind


the representative American workingman

Cowley, p. xv

curious, sensory & boastful (vernacular American idiom)


a vision of the potentialities latent in every American

a sacredness of vision counterpoised with self deprecating humor


"no structure properly speaking,"


"especially weak in its transitions from one theme to another."


52[1] numbered paragraphs or chants


written in the spirit of symbolists or surrealists--[<me>neither romantic or realistic]


if there is a structure it is psychological and musical -- not geometrical


musical in the sense of a rhapsody or a tone poem, not a symphony


"He preferred to let one image suggest another image, which in turn, suggests a new statement of mood or doctrine."

"oneiric[2] elements" -- "as in a waking dream...transitions seem instinctively right"


"Some transitions are gradual, and in such cases it is hard to determine the exact line that ends one sequence and starts another."

"The essential point is that the parts, however defined [9 or 7 is irrelevant], follow one another in irreversible order, like the beginning, middle and end of any good narrative."

"The grass as symbolizing the miracle of common things."

Sequences    Chants   content                  lines or pages          print   1st ed. on line

First                1-4      the singer                  1-72                 25                   13

Second          5          the ecstacy                  73                  28                   15

Third               6-19    the grass "I observe"              90                  29                   16


Fourth                        20-25 I as "everyman"        389                  43                   25

Fifth                26-29 ecstacy senses listen 584                  51                   31      

Sequences continued:

Sequences    Chants   content                  lines or pages          print   1st ed. on line

Sixth               30-39 power of identification 647                  54                   33      

Seventh         39-41     the superman       974                  69                   44

Eighth                        42-50     the sermon                       1050                73                   46


Ninth              51-52    poet's farewell       1309                85                   55


Whitman believed the ego was distinct from the soul

Self is (atman)

same essence as the universal spirit --


true knowledge is acquired by union with the self -- atman



'one can read an infinite lesson in common things.' Cowley of Whitman


"each of us conceals a divine Self" atman

with "the universal duty of loving one another."


animals         "they bring me tokens of myself"  souls like us

"rocks, soil trees an planets possess 'eidolon,' that persists as they rise to higher states of being."


mainstream Indian philosophy    all the world of senses and thought is illusion


compare Ramakrishna with

chant 48 line 1262,               http://whitmanarchive.org/published/LG/1855/whole.html

line 1271, page 54, first edition, or p 83 in my re-edition.

"And I call to mankind, Be not curious about God,

For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,

No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.

I hear and behold God in every object, yet I understand God not in the least,

Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.


Why should I wish to see God better than this day?

I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,

In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass;

I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God's name,

And I leave them where they are, for I know that others will punctually come for-

         ever and ever.


And as to you death, and you bitter hug of mortality . . . . it is idle to try to alarm me. "                                                                                                line 1281



Chant 48 and Ramakrishna such parallels...are more than accidental



realism... brutal realism  and serene optimism

blamed for inconsistency


Is he denying the existence of evil? Cowley says no.


explicit themes

"The universe was eternal becoming for Whitman."


"What he preaches throughout the poem is not political but religious democracy."


"his perpetual journey"


"He said one should know 'the universe itself as a road, as many roads, as roads for traveling souls'."


"his ideas expressed in 'Song of Myself' were bolder and more coherent than is generally supposed, and philosophically a great deal more respectable."



he rediscovered a "whole philosophical system chiefly on the basis of his own mystical experience and with little help from his reading."


"venturing into the unexplored continent of the Self"


"the personal creator of the world illusion" Atman, Brahma


such megalomania that he was "losing touch with the realities, or at least the human possibilities of American life."


he confused 'him-self" with the "transpersonal self" of the poem (after 1856)


"In the first edition he had broken most of the nineteenth century rules for elegant writing, but now he was violating an older literary convention, that of simply being considerate of one's readers."


after 1860-65:

"As for the creed put forward in 'Passage to India' and other poems, it is no longer purely mystical, being mixed with the ambiguous doctrine of male comradeship or 'adhesiveness' that Whitman had first expressed in the 'Calamus' poems of the 1860 edition, and mixed again with his still more recent doctrine of Personalism. The deeper self is now identified


[1] chants 9, 27,28, 29 - 52 are not altered in the subsequent editions.

[2] of or relating to dreams or dreaming.