Another fast and dirty post as the witching hour has struck. I shall try to make some coherent sense, but frankly this is day three of  avg. four hours of sleep/day, and remaining linear is becoming a challenge. Ms. Dickinson would probably nod at such a notion.

The first week is in full swing over at the Modern Poetry Coursera Course. Time has been dedicated thus far to Dickinson. Tonight, I delved into Walt Whitman, reading portions of “Song of Myself “.

Hopefully Professor Filreis shall not mind my copy/paste of a question posted this evening in the forum:

A three-line stanza from canto 47 of “Song of Myself”:

I teach straying from me, yet who can stray from me?

I follow you whoever you are from the present hour,

My words itch at your ears till you understand them.

I have some questions about this passage.

  1. What kind of conception of teaching is this?
  2. What does “the present hour” mean?
  3. What kind of conception of understanding is suggested in the third line? Why “itch” and “ears”?

The questions he posits for canto 47 are most intriguing, but my grasp on Whitman, and  this poem, are poor, so I offer my humble thoughts here to brew, grow cold and perhaps go stale. Better here than the forum, right?!

1. It seems transcendental, but yet I don’t think this is exactly the proper use of transcendentalism. When I first read this, I almost questioned if Whitman was still speaking of his writing/ words or if he was referring to a universal teacher. Pondering a bit further, there seemed to be notion of the body/soul conundrum.

2. A: Now. Whitman repeats over and over “than there is now,”  in the third canto, regarding ‘now’ being the penultimate time. It isn’t about yesterday or tomorrow, it is about Now!

3. I’m searching for the proper word for this, a philosophical/metaphysical one, but the word plays in the shadows. In more base terms, I think of the unconscious; the unintentional learning from the constant deluge of information.

Honestly, I’m not happy with my above answers, not yet. Perhaps I shall revisit them as I become more familiar with Whitman. I thought I’d detest the man for he seems too full of it; too happy with it all; but there is a sense of self-awareness, of embracing the knowledge that there is no division from the person on the right  nor the left – we are one.

A canto that was not assigned (48), but I read to try to grasp 47 seemed to reiterate this with the notion of God (not God) as soul of one.

have said that the soul is not more than the body/ And I have said that the body is not more than the soul/
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is/ … (first three lines of 48, Song of Myself)

I shall leave you with another thought from Filreis regarding Walt Whitman and “Leaves of Grass”.
(shall we just say that Dr. Filreis’s energy during the close read of Song could have lit Emily’s dark room after the candle the moth damped the flame.)

And “leaves” of grass carry the connotation of leaves as in leaves of a book – pages. So the leaves of the grass are like a book. Walt “reads” the grass and wants his book “Leaves of Grass” to seem to us like we too are reading the grass. If you want me again, he says, look for me under your bootsoles. Look for me in the grass. Look for me in my book, Leaves of Grass. Great stuff! It’s the poem of the earth. ~ Al Filreis

Sidebar: It seems that several readers have drawn the Pessoa connection to Walt Whitman. I’m a fan of Pessoa, but am not terribly well read, so was not familiar that the Portuguese poet was quite taken with Whitman. If you are part of the class, here is a link to the thread. If not, I shall try to revisit Pessoa in the future. ~