Studying The Eccentric Prophet Walt Whitman English Literature Essay


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Images of the artist. „The prophet-poet is one in the series of masks adopted by Transcendentalism". Discuss with reference to Emerson and Whitman. The term "prophet" comes from the Greek "prophetes", which translates "an interpreter, spokesman," especially of the gods; from pro- "before" + root of "phanai", which means "to speak". In this way, the prophet is the one who speaks before others words inspired from above, by a divine entity. But what happens if the inspiration comes form within? The prophet, as we will see, becomes the voice of the inner Self ,as it was at its origin, pure and uncorrupted by any laws or socially accepted traditions or morality.

Transcendentalism is based on those experiences which transcend or go beyond the limits of the senses. It focuses on intuition, rather than sensation, direct perception of the ultimate truth rather than logic, on God's goodness rather than his arbitrariness. Ralph Waldo Emerson argued "poetry and philosophy of insight, and not of tradition", "a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs". Man might fulfill himself either by personal mysticism or by contact with nature, which is the reflection of the Over-Soul. Things revealed from within transcend those learned through the senses.

Transcendentalists advocate the idea that there is no original sin. Unitarianism is the source of this change, in the aspect that it opposed the idea of inherited guilt. Thus, it elevated the concept of Man. Also, a phenomenon of radical reinvention of nature, turning it sacred, was needed, if man was no more confined to the limits of his guilt. Emerson in "Self-Reliance" says: 'In as much as the soul is present, there will be power'.

Emerson as a prophet of the inner world, preaches about greatness from within. His philosophy of insight is based on repudiation of tradition and no longer rested upon the past. Past accumulation can distort sight and hinder insight. The prophet's voice calls upon man to come and see - hence know - through his own eyes. He encourages an individual perception upon the world, as long as it is sincere. "He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time." The prophetic tone is more than obvious here. The philosophy of insight that Emerson argues is the fact that the poet has to be a namer, but before this, a seer. The namer is a creator of meaning, which emerges as the result of the fusion between nature and mind. After this prophecy came Walt Whitman, as a prophet in his own right. The voice of Emerson's Transcendentalism read in Whitman's poetry can be summarized in this way: one cannot be a prophet when one hasn't assimilated the prophecies yet; when one knows them from the inside of the soul, the voice of the prophet will be heard and the people will listen.

The term "saint" originally comes from the Sanskrit word 'sant', which means 'to be'. With reference to Whitman, we cannot use the term 'saint' related to its conventional use in religious doctrines regarding persons of virtue, but we use it within the idea that being is in itself extraordinary. The simple act of being, of existence without action, accomplishment or knowledge, was a subject that has fascinated Whitman throughout his entire life. He even claimed that he was able to stop the process of thinking in order to experience the pure being, or the deepest state of consciousness which few are able to access or comprehend. "Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?", he asks in the second section of „Song of Myself". He promises not meaning, but direct access to "the origin of all poems," which for Whitman was a "mystical experience", transcendental consciousness, a state of complete mental silence.

Being a prophet means having a gift, being chosen to speak the truth and interpret it, understand the laws of nature and human nature and see details and depths which those who lack the gift of Seeing fail to comprehend. He is the one revealing secrets which, in many cases, may be visible to anyone, but it takes the courage of a chosen man to name the things which cannot be named. Whitman as a prophet speaks words that are not necessarily beautiful, but they are sincere and true, are these are the words readers feel as if taken from the bottoms of their own troubled, identity-lacking souls. Thus, "Leaves of Grass" must be seen not as a collection of poetry, but divine inspired utterances.

Whitman followers search for his spirit, not his words. Whitman attracted many followers, the so-called 'Whitmanites', due to his unique and revolutionary way of looking upon things which actually could be seen or sensed or felt every day. He gave depth and aim and invested beauty into landscapes, both of the world and of the heart, and did so by allowing himself to See. His new vision fascinates and enriches the visions of others. Due to this role he has also taken and been assigned, he is often perceived as a prophet-poet.

Whitman emerges as a prophet for the new structure of poetic verse. Images and sound effects combine to startle the reader into a fresh apprehension of life. He often uses anaphora, an oral form specific to sermons, eulogies, performance poetry , in which the heavy repetition and sense of ascending argument constructs a poem of great impact and intensity.

"To be absolv'd from previous ties and conventions, I from mine and you from yours!

To find a new unthought-of nonchalance with the best of Nature!

To have the gag remov'd from one's mouth!

To have the feeling to-day or any day I am sufficient as I am.

O something unprov'd! something in a trance!

To escape utterly from others' anchors and holds!

To drive free! to love free! to dash reckless and dangerous!

To court destruction with taunts, with invitations!

To ascend, to leap to the heavens of the love indicated to me!

To rise thither with my inebriate soul!

To be lost if it must be so!

To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fulness and freedom!

With one brief hour of madness and joy." (One Hour To Madness And Joy)

Whitman was an atypical prophet. While Elijah or Jeremiah prophesized with their hands and eyes raised towards the sky, Walt Whitman of Manhattan spoke his words hands-in-his-pockets, hat-on-his-head and eyes looking at things and people all around him, while his vision pierced both past and future. If one thinks about modern day prophets, the image which appears before the eyes is one of an old man dressed in rags and feathers, holding up a sign which reads "The End Is Near". But Walt appears to us in a different manner, his prophecy is one of light, green leaves, moist soil and rosy faces, he sings "The world is happening now, seize it!".

Whitman was followed by many believers. They saw in him a sort of father and friend who was able to guide them, or at least open their inner sight merely through his presence. Walt poured honey in the ears of those willing to listen. He bewitched some and was hated by others, but neither the loving or the criticism ever ceased.

Walt Whitman appears to us as the founder of a new religion based on the evolution of human consciousness, on personal experience and morality rather than dogma and parables. Whitman's quest was for 'the light within'. Whitman tried to undress religion of its sparkling garments and expose it as it should be: a way of living life at peace with yourself and others, in aspiration and 'silent ecstasy' and wander at the miracle of life. Religion becomes a poetic instrument, which he manipulates with his art and craft. He becomes a sort of creator, not only a modern day Adam, as he chants America into existence .

The higher state of awareness necessary for reaching the extended margins of human consciousness is accessed only through giving way to a vision not altered by previous beliefs, prejudices, thoughts and clichés accumulated during living in a society in which one has to make compromises in order to be accepted. One has to be a lunatic, a free mind and an open soul in order to experience Whitman. He, poet-seer, had to see through all our masks, as we have to see through all of his, in order to understand and feel his poetic majesty.

The poet is a guide for his own soul and the soul of the reader, he makes him aware of the resources of his own self. Being wise involves mastering the world within, not the outside world. And this is what Whitman did, he spoke with wisdom for those who were blinded, helped them see, in his instance as a poet-saint; but as a prophet, not only did he See beyond what eyes could grasp, he gave life to meanings and gave meaning to a life which had appeared to be, until then, lifeless.

Whitman celebrates the Adamic stance mainly for its association with the health of the senses , he celebrates sensuality and abounds of vital energy- man's integration into the life flow of nature. The focus of many of his writings is on a great capacity to feel, as a result of the direct, almost physical relationship with the surrounding world. "I believe in the flesh and the appetites. Seeing, hearing, feeling are miracles and each part and tag of me is a miracle."

For Whitman, the poem is an act of growth according to nature's laws. Simplicity is attained by the poet's emulation of nature. He does not try to speak big words, or wrap his thoughts in imagery woven for aesthetic purposes only, but gives freshness to language and invests words with power of creation. In this manner, Whitman becomes the American Adam incarnate. For him, it was no way in in which to write other than giving free and full expression to his own self.(" Behold me where I pass, hear my voice")

Relaxing the control of mind over being is necessary in order to create harmony with the outside world. Aspects of infinity appear to be thoroughly invigorating to Whitman, and the impulse towards perfection resides in all things. He argued that every sight, sound, taste, and smell can take on spiritual importance to the fully aware and healthy individual.("O to drink the mystic deliria deeper than any other man!/ O savage and tender achings! (I bequeath them to you my children,/I tell them to you, for reasons, O bridegroom and bride.)"*) Geography, physics and biology contribute to the mesmerizing mechanism of life, in which his own body participates with tremendous vigour. William Blake fabulously expresses this idea in "Marriage of Heaven and Hell": "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern."

Whitman argues that "interior consciousness" is the single most important thing we can experience in life. All intellectual beliefs, creeds and conventions, "become of no account." "All statements" about the nature of reality "melt away like vapors." Direct experience alone matters. The search for silence in order to reach cosmic consciousness is a motif which preoccupies him. When the mind is awake, but undisturbed by thoughts, perceptions or worries, - the magnificent Self, which is part of nature, emerges.

He is not the chaste, fasting prophet who carries his burdened consiciousness into the desert in order to cleanse it, but nourishes the needs of the body and the soul, the magnific union between matter and spirit, with fruits of nature and their seeds. His language carries the weight of revelation, his words create life ("We Two, How Long We Were Fool'd"). He lived in the world as the prophet the world needs, one who understands excess, erotism, and exaltation of human nature.

Piciorus Laura, Luc-En, gr. 6

Mai 2011


From Leaves Of Grass:


One hour to madness and joy! O furious! O confine me not!

(What is this that frees me so in storms?

What do my shouts amid lightnings and raging winds mean?)

O to drink the mystic deliria deeper than any other man!

O savage and tender achings! (I bequeath them to you my children,

I tell them to you, for reasons, O bridegroom and bride.)*

O to be yielded to you whoever you are, and you to be yielded to me in defiance of the world!

O to return to Paradise! O bashful and feminine!

O to draw you to me, to plant on you for the first time the lips of a determin'd man.

O the puzzle, the thrice-tied knot, the deep and dark pool, all untied and illumin'd!

O to speed where there is space enough and air enough at last!

To be absolv'd from previous ties and conventions, I from mine and you from yours!

To find a new unthought-of nonchalance with the best of Nature!

To have the gag remov'd from one's mouth!

To have the feeling to-day or any day I am sufficient as I am.

O something unprov'd! something in a trance!

To escape utterly from others' anchors and holds!

To drive free! to love free! to dash reckless and dangerous!

To court destruction with taunts, with invitations!

To ascend, to leap to the heavens of the love indicated to me!

To rise thither with my inebriate soul!

To be lost if it must be so!

To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fulness and freedom!

With one brief hour of madness and joy.*


We two, how long we were fool'd,

Now transmuted, we swiftly escape as Nature escapes,

We are Nature, long have we been absent, but now we return,

We become plants, trunks, foliage, roots, bark,

We are bedded in the ground, we are rocks,

We are oaks, we grow in the openings side by side,

We browse, we are two among the wild herds spontaneous as any,

We are two fishes swimming in the sea together,

We are what locust blossoms are, we drop scent around lanes mornings and evenings,

We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals,

We are two predatory hawks, we soar above and look down,

We are two resplendent suns, we it is who balance ourselves orbic and stellar, we are as two comets,

We prowl fang'd and four-footed in the woods, we spring on prey,

We are two clouds forenoons and afternoons driving overhead,

We are seas mingling, we are two of those cheerful waves rolling over each other and interwetting each other,

We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious,

We are snow, rain, cold, darkness, we are each product and influence of the globe,

We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again, we two,

We have voided all but freedom and all but our own joy.


As Adam early in the morning,

Walking forth from the bower refresh'd with sleep,

Behold me where I pass, hear my voice*, approach,

Touch me, touch the palm of your hand to my body as I pass,

Be not afraid of my body.

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