Rendezvous With Nature: A Reflection on Walt Whitman’s Poetry
The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet… His love above all love has leisure and expanse . . . . he leaves room ahead of himself. He is no irresolute or suspicious lover . . . he is sure . . . he scorns intervals. His experience and the showers and thrills are not for nothing. Nothing can jar him . . . . suffering and darkness cannot—death and fear cannot. To him complaint and jealousy and envy are corpses buried and rotten in the earth . . . . he saw them buried. The sea is not surer of the shore or the shore of the sea than he is of the fruition of his love and of all perfection and beauty. – (Transcendental Influence: Preface n.d., par. 9)
American poet, journalist and essayist, and best known for his masterpiece, Leaves of Grass (1855), Walt Whitman, who was born on May 31, 1819 on the West Hills of Long Island, New York (“Biography,” n.d., par. 1) to a father carpenter and a mother whose descendants are from Dutch farmers, has been regarded as one of the “transcendentalist poets” as reflected in most of his works which “espoused individual connections to spirituality, often through harmonious relationships with nature” (“Whitman, Emerson..”n.d.). The central theme in his works arises from his pantheistic view of life, from symbolic identification of regeneration in nature. His works reflect presents life it is: with beauty and madness; simple yet complex; frail yet overcoming— that even in death there is joy. Thus Whitman writes: Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side me,/And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me (“Legacy: Walt Whitman, n.d., 14) as he pours over his thoughts on paper with his pen over the death of a close friend and then President Abraham Lincoln. In this poem or elegy “Whitman utilizes the symbolism of lilacs to effectively convey the depth of the poem. There are several images of lilacs that pervade the poem with a more sentimental and emotional meaning” (Pierce, 2007). In presenting what could have been a tragic and grief-stricken moment, he even had the audacity to accept death as a natural phenomenon and welcomed it as if with arms wide open: “Come lovely and soothing death/Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving/
In the day, in the night, to all, to each/Sooner or later delicate death./For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious/And for love, sweet love — but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death” (Ibid., 15). Towards the end he proclaims his realization that with death comes new life and a new beginning, saying that perhaps without death nothing worth celebrating would come out of the seemingly insurmountable and inevitable predicament, thus we hear him proclaiming victory over death: “As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses/Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves/I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring (Ibid, 16). Tayson summarizes Whitman’s perception of everything there is in life (including death) as: “Whitman is interested in surface beauty only insofar as it encompasses his principle goal of connecting human to human. \”The poetic quality is not marshalled in rhyme or uniformity or abstract addresses to things,\” Whitman declares… \”(Tayson n.d., par. 8).
Simple words, free from fancy descriptions that are quite understandable even to lay readers and laid out in free verse dominate Whitman’s poetry; perhaps his means of describing his glorious rendezvous with nature—a meeting in its unsophisticated yet exclusive; immediate yet eternal.
“Biography of Walt Whitman.” (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2009 from Poemhunter Website: http://www.poemhunter.com/walt-whitman/biography/
“Legacy: Walt Whitman– When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom\’d– from Memories of Lincoln.” (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2009 from http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/roots/legacy/whitman/lilacsweb.html
Pierce, Cameron. (December 7, 2007). When Lilac’s last in the Dooryard Bloom’d: Analysis of Walt Whitman’s Poem,” Retrieved from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/470522/when_lilacs_last_in_the_dooryard_blo omd.ht ml?cat=2
Tayson, Richard. (n.d.).“Back Down to Earth: On Walt Whitman’s Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass by Richard Tayson. Retrieved April 20, 2009 from http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5915
“Trancendental Influences:Preface to Leaves of Grass, 1855.” Retrieved 20 April 2009 from American Transcendentalism Web: http://www.vcu.edu/engweb/transcendentalism/roots/legacy/whitman/preface1855 .html
“Whitman, Emerson and 19th Century Literary America.” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/whitman/more/e_literary.html