Friday 31 May 2019

Review by Lisa Smalley of “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

As we celebrate the 200th birthday of poet and author, Walt Whitman (1819-1892), it seems fitting to review one of his most famous poems. Song of Myself (1892 version) was originally found in Leaves of Grass (1855) and delivers an enduring message of equality and a reminder that humanity's past, present, and future are rooted in the earth.

I can't imagine a more appropriate poem to rediscover at a time when we stand on the cusp of a changing world. The sentiment of the poem is evocative of tribe and inclusion, "as every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you." Where walls and borders of all kinds are constantly debated on the global platform this poem calls across the ages, setting aside the "Creeds and schools" which limit individual potential. Indeed, Whitman quickly discards the constraints of iambic pentameter to allow his words room to breathe in free form.

Experience, both good and bad is the lesson here to achieve true self-awareness. Life, after all, is "stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff that is fine," but it’s all good stuff according to Whitman and he encourages us to absorb as much as we can, to live truly and fully.

The message of freedom and equality is as important today as when it was first written. As climate change pushes our world ever closer to ecological devastation, laws to control women's bodies are made and far-right violence increases in the wake of Brexit, more than ever do we need to feel a connection and empathy with one another through even the smallest "spear of summer grass." The simplicity of Whitman's message to "resist anything better than my own diversity, Breathe the air but leave plenty after me," helps to make sense of it all. We will all die, but first, we must live and play our small part in the bigger picture of life. Regardless of gender, colour or religion, our role on this planet and its role in our creation is all part of the "perpetual journey" of existence.

Song of Myself is a moving and beautiful message of hope. I urge everyone to read and enjoy it in celebration of Walt Whitman's life and work.

About the Reviewer
Lisa Smalley is a copywriter, blogger, and mother of two lovely monsters. She is currently studying an MA in English Studies at the University of Leicester.

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