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Maria Nicola

Group 7. Major: Arabic


Ian 2015

Walt Whitman as a prophet-poet

The term prophet comes from the Greek prophetes, which means
interpreter, spokesman, more likely of the gods (pro before; phanaito speak).
The prophet speaks in front of other people, being inspired from above, by a
divine entity. But if the inspiration comes from within, the prophet will
become the voice of the inner Self, pure and uncorrupted by any laws,
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 Gods 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 can be seen as the reflection of the Over-Soul. Things that are
revealed from within will transcend those things learned through the senses.
Emerson, being a prophet of the inner world, promotes the idea of preaching
about greatness from within. He has his own philosophy of insight, saying
that the past accumulation distorts the insight, that one should not rest upon
the past. In his philosophy, he argues that the poet has to be a seer, a
creator of meaning, being the result obtained after nature and mind fusion.
Whitman was influenced by Emerson in terms of themes (emphasis on the
individual, celebration of America), but also in the way of thinking. In
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Maria Nicola
Group 7. Major: Arabic
Ian 2015

Whitmans preface to Leaves of Grass, he argues that the poet possesses


something that all men have, but he is different in his ability to express that
something, idea that can be found in Emersons The Poet as well.
Inspired by this prophecy, Walt Whitman became a prophet in his own right.
In Whitmans poetry, the voice of Emersons Transcendentalism is very
visible, and can be interpreted in the following manner: the voice of the
prophet will be heard as long as you know the prophecies from inside of your
soul.
Whitman claimed that he was able to stop the process of thinking in order to
experience the pure being. 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 the gift of speaking and interpreting the truth,
helping those who dont have this gift comprehend. Whitmans intention as a
prophet is not to speak words which are necessarily beautiful, but as long as
they are sincere and true, these are the words readers will identify with.
Due to his revolutionary and unique manner of looking upon things which
could easily be seen or sensed in the everyday life, Whitman attracted many
followers. He influenced others with his way of perceiving things. This is why
he is often perceived as a prophet-poet.

Whitman was not a typical prophet. His vision pierced both past and future.
Whitmans prophecy is dealing with the beauty of nature, the beauty of the
moment you are experiencing at the time, a prophecy of light, green leaves,
moist soil and rosy faces.
Walt Whitman used his personal experience and morality and the evolution
of the human consciousness to create a new religion, whose quest was for
the light within. Whitman tried to expose religion as it should be: a way of
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Maria Nicola
Group 7. Major: Arabic
Ian 2015

living life at peace with yourself and others, in aspiration and wander at the
miracle of life. In this way, he uses religion as a poetic instrument, becoming
a sort of creator, as he chants America into existence.
The higher state of awareness necessary in order to reach human
consciousness is accessed only through a vision not altered by previous
beliefs, prejudices, thoughts accumulated during living in a society. He, as a
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 guides his own soul as well as the soul of the reader, making him
aware of the resources of his own self. One should be mastering the world
within to be seen as wise, not the outside world. Which is in fact, exactly the
way Whitman did it as a poet-saint and as a prophet being able to give life to
meanings and give meaning to a life which seemed lifeless.
Through his writing, Whitman celebrates mans integration into the life flow
of nature. The physical relationship with the surrounding world is the main
subject Whitman approaches in his writings.
For Whitman, the poem is an act of growth according to natures laws. He
prefers simplicity, he doesnt use big words, but gives freshness to language
and invests words with power of creation.
Whitman argues that interior consciousness is the single most important
thing one can experience in his life. What preoccupies him is searching the
silence in order to reach cosmic consciousness. When the mind is
undisturbed by thoughts, perceptions or worries, the magnificent Self,
which is part of nature, emerges.
Whitmans purpose is to emphasize the magnificent union between matter
and spirit, with the help of nature. His language carries the weight of
revelation, his words create life. He lived as the prophet the world needs, one
who understands excess, eroticism, and exaltation of human nature.

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Maria Nicola
Group 7. Major: Arabic
Ian 2015

Although Whitmans poetry has many characteristics of transcendental


thought and practice, being the bold, new poetic American voice that the
transcendentalists had hoped for, one of his most "transcendental" poems is
"Song of Myself" because of its vision of the self and its relationship to the
universe.

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,


And what I assume you shall assume
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,


I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death. (Song of myself, from section 1)

J. C. Smuts claims that Whitman celebrates in himself not "those qualities


which differentiate him from his fellows [] but those qualities that make
him one of the divine average for whom he sings". I and myself are seen
by John Updike as the "superb subjects" of the poem, the "exultant egotism
which only an American could have voiced."
The section from My tongue was added in 1881. Galway Kinnell was saying

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Maria Nicola
Group 7. Major: Arabic
Ian 2015

that Whitman deflected from the idea that Song of Myself was supposed to
be a poem about a representative man. Kinnell observes that with each
revision, the poem becomes more autobiographical than representative, the
passages added suggesting that he is the protagonist.
The grass is used as a formal structuring device throughout the poem; it
appears in the introduction, throughout the body, and at the conclusion.

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;


[]
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green
stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, []


Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the
vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,


[]
And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves. (Song
of Myself, from section 6)
As the entire poem is formally structured around the concept of grass, the
answer to the question What is the grass? can be in many ways the entire
poem. Albert Gelpi, in The Tenth Muse--The Psyche of the American Poet,
considers Whitman "able to see the grass as the recapitulation of the whole
cycle of life, death and rebirth; it is the symbol of the individual ("the flag of
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Maria Nicola
Group 7. Major: Arabic
Ian 2015

my disposition"), of Deity ("the handkerchief of the Lord"), of reproduction


("the produced babe of the vegetation"), of the new social order of American
democracy ("a uniform hieroglyphic"), of death ("the beautiful uncut hair of
graves"), and finally of the new form into which death transmorgrifies life" in
the lines that follow.

[]Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,


Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you. (Song of Myself, section 52)
Paul Zweig notes in Walt Whitman--The Making of the Poet: "The grass will
continue to grow, the singer will be waiting for you; the cycles of death and
resurrection, like the cycle of day and night, will continue. The poem's end
will not be a true ending, merely an articulation of endlessness". The last
word, according to E. H. Miller will probably never be found.The poem, like
the poet, will always be waiting for us.
In the three sections, we can easily see that nature (especially through the
idea of the grass) is the main subject in the poem. Also, we can observe
Whitmans egotism and arrogance through the instances of I, my and
myself, which can be understood as an attempt to show the world his role
of a prophet, a role which he gives himself as long as he is certain that HE
was the poet that Emerson called for in The Poet.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Maria Nicola
Group 7. Major: Arabic
Ian 2015

Hummel Jr., C. William. Woodlief, Ann. Walt Whitman. Web Study


Text of Song of Myself" 08 Ian 2015
http://transcendentalismlegacy.tamu.edu/roots/legacy/whitman/songofmyselfweb.ht
ml#stop
Woodlief, Ann. Whitman and Transcendentalism. 09 Ian 2015.
http://www2.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/canam/whitman.ht
m
Walt Whitman 08 Ian 2015
http://www2.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/canam/whitman.ht
m
Piciorus, Laura. Studying The Eccentric Prophet Walt Whitman. Mai
2011. Web 09 Ian 2015.
http://www.ukessays.com/essays/english-literature/studyingthe-eccentric-prophet-walt-whitman-english-literatureessay.php

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