Walt Whitman is a mystic poet, one of my favorites. One can be transported in the incredible words of Whitman in “Leaves of Grass” and the poem contained within, “Song of Myself.” One can see he was seeing the totality of life and is filled with a glowing Light and great power, as in Blake. Whitman saw everyone as an expression of the whole. Each a work of art. He tried to remind people how beautiful they were. A leaf among the grass.
“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,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.”
Whitman and Blake experienced and saw amazing things in being and themselves as part of the whole. They suffered greatly in life and felt the suffering of others deeply. I could read them forever and barely see where they walked. It is as if the Sun filled them with Light, but also the Shadow clearly speaks through them. Each contains Legion voices. They captured I think what it is to be a Human Being captured between worlds. I am moved deeply by them both.
In “Walt Whitman Speaks,” Whitman says about Blake, “Blake began and ended in Blake.” I researched this and it turns out, Whitman was confounded by and then came to appreciate Blake. Harold Bloom, a great literary critic, felt the two were of the same cloth. The falling of America made Bloom miserable. He would despair about today’s world. I recommend a great book by Bloom who loved Whitman, “The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime.” This sublime aspect of Whitman’s time was a presage of our time. Whitman warned us about technology and the age of specialization. Like a hippie version of Ted Kaczynski. Where Ted used real bombs, Whitman used bombs of Love. I love Bloom’s YouTubes. He had a photographic memory and remembered everything he ever read. Amazing to listen to, poetic in his writing and speaking. I highly recommend Bloom.
“Bloom loves Emerson and Whitman but he doesn’t believe them: to him, belatedness is now a permanent condition of man, and there can be no overcoming it—no return, even in America, to an original fullness or freshness or purity of spirit.” —The New Yorker Profile on Bloom – The Prophet of Decline 9/22/02
About Blake, Bloom thought…”The true Romantic, as represented by Shelley and, above all, Blake, looked not to nature—a thing external to the self—to save him but to the world-altering power of his own imagination. Nature was material, and therefore fixed and limiting. Only by struggling to liberate itself from the world entirely—to fill itself with invented mythical forms rather than natural ones—could the imagination be free.” —The New Yorker Profile on Bloom – The Prophet of Decline 9/22/02
The genius of all three of these men drips off their pages and is seen in their art. There is a deep sadness in them all, Bloom the most. Whitman and Blake though saw through the sadness.
Blake invented a form of art combining images with texts, relief etching. The first comics? He had incredible visions. I have a large folio of his work and he strikes me like Jung’s art does in The Red Book. These men have walked through heaven and hell. Whitman wrote, like Blake painted. But Blake’s poetry! My god. Blake was mostly ignored in his time. He said he wrote for his audience in eternity. His visions he felt were real and removed all doubts. Perhaps it was this assurance Whitman didn’t initially like. Blake was a rebel and feared by the establishment. Unlike Swedenborg, Blake spent as much time in the hell of London as the heaven of his soul. For this he has earned my esteem and respect. Whitman felt him dark. But Whitman didn’t like Poe either at first, but in “Walt Whitman Speaks” Whitman comments about writers of his day and confesses he came to like Poe after reading him again and again. He and Blake were so alike, but very different, as Whitman himself wrote.
“Awake! Awake, O sleepers of the land of shadows, wake! expand! I am in you and you in me, mutual in love divine. I am not a God far off, I am a brother and friend; within your own bosoms I reside and you reside in me: Lo! we are one, forgiving all evil, not seeking recompense” (Blake-Jerusalem.,Chp.1,lns.6,18).
Whitman wrote privately after reading Algernon Swinburne’s “William Blake: A Critical Essay”, that while both he and Blake were mystics and “extatics“, the differences between them were vast. I admire Whitman very highly and see in his work a sweet pragmatism that inspires me. How these mystics loved. Whitman took care of civil war wounded and this grew a great compassion in him.
If you are following the call of your deepest pain and love, one must spend time with Whitman and Blake, both truly sublime and profound.