The concept of the Self, its nature, function, and deep philosophical meaning is an issue that always attracted much attention of the most prominent thinkers and artists of all epochs. In his essay Self-Reliance, Emerson focuses on several aspect of this notion, particularly on the set of rules that any human should follow in order to become more conscious and reach harmony between the outer and inner world. Whitman, as well as Emerson, deals with the ideas that seem to be very “American” from the point of view of a modern reader. The preciousness of any human life, equality, and democracy are the central principles that, according to Whitman and Emerson, should support the development of the society.
Whitman dedicates Song of Myself to the celebration of his existence. He focuses on praising his being, inviting readers to have their minds open, accept his coming declarations by appealing on a scientific basis that all the people share the same structural blocks of nature – the atoms. He underlines the necessity of a communion with nature from ground up on a spiritual, physical, and, perhaps, metaphysical level. Any tiny thing, for example, a blade of grass, also becomes a part of all the atoms that make it, along with all the atoms that composed parts of its ancestor's bodies in the past. Human beings all over the world are eternally connected. Whitman invites the readers to take the blinders off to discover "nature without check with original energy" (Whitman, n.d.). He does not tell the readers to discard the previously gained knowledge. Whitman asks to forget about it for some time so people can unleash original meditation on existence of the unique selves, feeling their common bonds with every creature in the world. It fully corresponds to the approach favored by Emerson, who writes, “a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the centre of things. Where he is, there is nature” (Emerson, n.d.).
In Song of Myself, Whitman depicts his ideas of what it is like to be alive, be in nature and be natural, while embracing and experiencing the nature as wholesomely as possible. The principles of Whitman’s poem completely resonate with Emerson’s advice to “trust thyself” (Emerson, n.d.). The trust to feelings is of paramount importance in establishing the harmony with the inner Self both according to Emerson and Whitman. However, Emerson tends to focus on a more religious nature of this trust saying, “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you” (Emerson, n.d.), whereas Whitman’s understanding of the psychological tranquility is more connected with the nature and physical acceptance of oneself as a human. In Section 23 he writes, “I accept Reality and dare not question it” (Whitman, n.d.).
Song of Myself is also very urban despite the fact that the nature plays a great role in the poem. Glorifying new cities is a tribute to rapidly developing America. The thing which allows these two seemingly contradictory possibilities to coexist in Whitman's poetry is the eternal unity of the material and the spiritual, the inner and the outer world. It resembles a human organism - consciousness (which represents the spiritual world) never comes to clashes with, for example, liver or toes (material world). Whitman sees city noise, crowds, and strangers as the material sphere and these shared experiences, solidarity, and fellowship as the spiritual world of the city. Not only they can exist together, but they are absolutely useless without one another.
The whole Song of Myself is a call to think out of the box, throw away all prejudices that govern the life of people in the Old World. America, according to Whitman, is a country that can build a new and more conscious society that will be different from the places the first settlers came from. The confined and predefined spaces of "houses," and even narrower, the "rooms", have "perfumes" (Whitman, n.d.). It means that the predigested world informs people’s senses within set parameters. Whitman’s clue to self-reliance is to step into the neutral "atmosphere" where "it has no taste of distillations" and is "odorless" so people can experience themselves, their surroundings, "undisguised and naked" (Whitman,n.d.). The ecstasy of finding the Self, nature, and the world all anew and in fresh perspective is what Whitman promises the readers if they dare to look. For a young nation of immigrants, he suggests the ways to look for common bonds, setting aside what people inherited just long enough to bring into existence the New World.
This idea of equality is truly democratic and American in its nature. Whitman explores this theme in many of his poems, but Song of Myself is an absolute hymn to human dignity. Upton (2012) writes, “He avoids traditional hierarchies, grounding his claims instead upon the average person, an embodiment of speaker and reader whose likeness is signified by atoms rather than by race, sex, or social class” (p. 162). He strongly opposes slavery and any kind of oppression that one social group can commit over another. Whitman praises every occupation; he glorifies men and women, the rich and the poor. He does not make any difference between people that can be considered racial.
To conclude, both Emerson and Whitman exerted every effort to help the society they lived in to build a new nation where the democratic ideals of equality and dignity are an integral part of any aspect of social and political life. They focused not on the society as a whole, but tried to bring their message to every single person with the help of their brilliant essays and poems.
Related Literature essays
- Enhancing Strengths and Overcoming Weaknesses
- British Literature Before 1800
- The Long Goodbye Blog Post
- Twentieth Century
- The Nineteenth Century 1780-1900 Project
- Historical Implications: Understanding Poetry
- Summary and Response to Jessica Statsky’s Essay
- Asian Studies
- Greeks: The Trojan Women and The Iliad
- American Literature: Dickinson and Stevens