Song of Myself
Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself is justly famous for conveying a sense of boundless optimism on a cosmic scale. This optimism appears not to have been purely a matter of art, but rather, it was something deeply embedded in the poet’s personality. Research papers identify Whitman as belonging to that class of writers possessing a temperament organically weighted on the side of cheer and fatally forbidden to linger, as those of opposite temperament linger, over the darker aspects of the universe. The atmospherics of Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself are such as to produce in the reader a sense of celebration with respect to all aspects of life, a comprehensive rejoicing over both the physical and the spiritual realms of human existence. Part of the way in which Whitman achieves these atmospherics in Song of Myself is through the use of scale. Whitman’s Song of Myself is filled with things designed to convey a sense of the sheer grandeur and multitude of the phenomena over which he exults. This essay will discuss some of the ways in which Whitman makes use of scale to promote his optimistic message.
Where another poet might depict an imaginative journey in terms of certain salient aspects of the landscapes through which that journey passed in Song of Myself, Whitman’s tendency is to, when he is “afoot with my vision,” present a vast list of the details of the landscape that his vision takes him through. He takes four pages to describe the various “wheres” that he goes to (59-63) and at the end (“I tread day and night such roads.”) the reader has the sense that he/she has been given a landscape of the entire world. The sheer number of details in Whitman’s extended list, taken in the aggregate, convey an impression of the sublime, of a journey that is not just a journey, but rather “The Journey.”