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What the theory was from which even Emerson’s eloquence could not persuade Whitman, we may understand better if we take up the new volume, turning the pages which were now being added to it, till toward the end we come upon the matter of debate.

Though handsomer and pleasanter to handle than its predecessor, this Boston edition still wears a countryman’s dress; a heavily stamped orange cover which threatens the symmetry of any library shelf. Evidently, Whitman did not intend it to lie there in peace. It was to be different from the rest, and bad company for them.

It opens on a reproduction of the 1859 painting, which faces an odd-looking lithographed and beflourished title-page. The old Preface has gone for good, and now its place is taken by a Proto-Leaf or Summary, by way of introduction.[265]

The first edition had been a manifesto of the American idea in literature and ethics, and a declaration of the gospel of Self-realisation. The second expanded the mystical meanings involved in this; “think of the soul” running through all, and breaking out continually as a refrain, and it made clearer the message to women already more than hinted in the first. Now in the third edition, emphasis falls upon the personal note, which becomes strangely haunting. The book is not only for the first time a complete and living whole; it is[Pg 149] a presence, a lover, a comrade, and its close is like a death.

Solitary, singing in the West, says the introductory Leaf,[266] the poet is striking up for a New World; and lo, he beholds all the peoples of all time as his interminable audience. For through him, Nature herself speaks without restraint; and through him, the Soul, the ultimate Reality.

He sings for America; for there at last the Soul is acknowledged; and his song will bind her together. The Body, Sex, Comradeship, these he sings: but above all, Faith, for he is proclaiming a new religion which includes all others and is worthy of America.[267] Of whatever he may seem to write, he is always writing of Religion; for indeed she is supreme. Love, Democracy, Religion—these three—and the greatest of these is Religion.

The world is unseen as much as seen. The air is full of invisible presences as real as the seen. And his songs also are for those as yet unseen, his children by Democracy, the woman of his love. For them he will reveal the soul, glorious in the body.

Ah, what a glory is this our life, and this our country! Death itself will not carry him away from it. In these fields, men and women in the years to come will ever be discovering him, and he will render them worthy of America as none other can. For he has “arrived,” he is no longer mortal.

If you would behold America, seek her in these pages. And if you would triumph and make her triumphant, you must become his comrade. The final note is one of passionate love-longing for comradeship.[268]

Such is the summary of the book; but it cannot be so briefly dismissed by us, for it is full of suggestions of the inner workings of Whitman’s mind at this period, for us, in some respects, the most characteristic and important of all. For after it there comes the war, the[Pg 150] watershed of his life; there he employed and in a sense expended all the resources of his manhood, to issue from it upon the slopes of ill-health which lead down into the valley of the shadow. But here he is in his prime, and on the heights.

Here also, his individuality shows most definitely, even in its secondary qualities. The association with men of a somewhat less Bohemian type than were many of his literary friends in New York, and the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of the national capital, together with the close intimacy with death which the war-hospitals afforded, somewhat quieted the tone of later editions. Here there is more of the na?ve colloquialism and mannerism, the slang and the ejaculations of “the arrogant Mannhattanese” which he loves to proclaim himself.[269] It is the edition which is most dear to many an enthusiast, and most exasperating to many a critic.

After the first-written and longest of all the poems, “The Song of Myself,” here called “Walt Whitman,” there follow two large bundles, tied together and labelled respectively “Chants Democratic” and “Leaves of Grass”. The bulk of these consists of material already familiar.

But number four of the Chants,[270] celebrating the organic unity of America, is new, and may be quoted as a curious example of Whitman’s style. Here are seven pages of soliloquy practically innocent of a period, flowing along together in a hardly vertebrate sentence, which enumerates the different elements included in the union. Strange as it certainly looks, this creation must have been so constructed of set purpose, for Whitman could not be ignorant of the oddity of its appearance, when viewed by the ever-alert humour of the already hostile American critic. Can there possibly be any connection between this style of composition and the larger consciousness of which he had experience? The question[Pg 151] may appear absurd, but I ask it in all seriousness, and would propose an affirmative answer.

Whitman regarded his whole book as a unit, not as a collection. Like the composer who elaborates a single theme into a long-sustained symphony, or the psychological novelist who requires three volumes for the portrayal of a personality, he held his meaning suspended in order that it might be more fully grasped; and this is true also of his individual poems. The thought he had to convey was not epigrammatic, but a complex of suggestions which merge into one as they are read together. I would even venture to suggest that some of these exercises in sustained meaning were also designed to train the faculty of apprehending the Many-in-One, the Unity, which, as he believed, lies behind all variety. In considering this suggestion one may contrast the emotional results produced by epigrams and long sentences. May not the former be the natural rhythm for wit and the latter for imagination?

The contrast between the essayist on “Man” and the singer of “Myself” is obvious;[271] but the optimism of the eighteenth century epigrammatist seems to be echoed in Whitman’s pages.[272] On the verge of war, and in the midst of all the corruption of American politics, he has the audacity to declare and reiterate, “Whatever is, is best”. Are we to dismiss it as the shallow utterance of a callous-hearted, healthy-bodied, complacent American, deliberately blind to the world’s tragedy? A thousand times, no. The pages before and after such declarations are filled with knowledge of suffering and death, of the bereavement of love, of the shame that follows sin, and of the desire for a better day. But here and elsewhere, he sees the perfect plan of the ages being fulfilled. From his Pisgah-height, he beholds the stretch of time; and looking out over creation as did the Divine Eye, he, Walt Whitman, beholds that it is all good.

Emerson has written of “the Perfect Whole”; but in the pages before us Whitman specifies the parts, seeing[Pg 152] them all illumined by the mystic light of the soul. This lays him open to attack; it is even dangerous from the point of view of morality. Whitman acknowledges as much, but he still has faith in his vision; he is still obedient to the inner impulse which for him at least, is indubitably divine. There must always be a point at which the moralist would fain part company from the mystic: one is occupied in the fields of eternity, while the other is pre-occupied upon the battlefield of time. There is room for both in a world where time and eternity alike are real, but the toil of the seer must not be made subservient to that of the warrior.

Some of the lines of Whitman’s “Hymn to the Setting Sun” recall the canticle which Brother Francis used to sing among the olives:
Open mouth of my Soul, uttering gladness,
Eyes of my Soul, seeing perfection,
Natural life of me, faithfully praising things,
Corroborating for ever the triumph of things—[273]

and it is all pregnant with the wonder of being. In this it is like his earlier work, but it has added deeper notes to its melody, and has won therewith a finer rhythm. A mellow glory of the setting sun irradiates it. All space, the poet reminds us, is filled with soul-life, and the strong chords of that life awake the rhythms of his praise for the joy of the Universal Being.

He greets death with equanimity, and it is this bell-note of welcome to death which gives the full bass to the first Boston edition. America, these poems and their writer, and all the struggling creatures of life, are to find their meaning in death, in transition; they are to slough off what is no longer theirs and pass forward into life. Are they then to lose individual identity? No, the soul is identity, and they are of the soul; but that in them which is not the soul will find its meaning in death. There is a spiritual body, which the soul has gathered about itself through the agency of the senses, and that body the soul retains; but the body of the[Pg 153] senses dissolves and finds new uses and new meanings, through death.

We may illustrate this thought from the life of the whole tree, which is enriched by the life of every leaf. When the sap withdraws from the leaf, and the leaf shrivels and dies, and the frost and wind carry its corpse away and mix it with the mire, the soul of the leaf still lives in the tree. But the mere outer body, which did but temporarily belong to the life of the leaf, finds new value by its destruction and death. Who has not felt the liberating joy of the autumn gales? Who has not rejoiced among the trees, feeling with them the sense of rest and quiescence in which the force of life accumulates anew for expression and growth? But for the fallen leaves also we may rejoice, since their atoms have won something by contact with the life of the tree which now they can communicate to the humble mire.

In another of these poems,[274] Whitman compares himself with the historian. The latter studies the surface of humanity, while in the former the inner self of the race finds expression. Such is the difference between an historian and a prophet. In another,[275] carrying forward a kindred thought, he declares that he has discovered the story of the past, not in books but in the actual present. To the seer, as to God, the past is not gone by, but is clearly legible in the pages of our current life, if only we would learn to read them. It is hidden from our normal consciousness; but in certain phases of consciousness to which, it would appear, Whitman attained, it is revealed.

To this deeper consciousness Whitman looked for the fulfilling of his own work and the integration of all knowledge in the future. As men shall enter into it, he believed, their work will show the clear evidence of an underlying unity;[276] it will cease to be fragmentary, and our libraries, instead of being mere museums filled with specimens, will become organic like a tree. Then the sense of the cosmos will superintend all things that man[Pg 154] makes, as it superintends all the works of nature. A unity already exists, but an unconscious unity, like that of chaos.[277] His own work is, of course, only a part; a prelude to the universal hymn which later poets will raise together. But it is a prelude, and this distinguishes it from other contemporary verse.

America, the land of the Many-in-One, he had discovered as the field for the new poetry.[278] For the divine unity is a living complex of variety. Every heart has its own song, and yet the heart of all song is one. Henceforward, he will go up and down America like the sun, awakening the new seasons of the soul. Some of his songs are especially for New York, others for the West, the Centre or the South. But everywhere and to all alike, they cry the messages of Reality, Equality, Immortality. Neither do they cry only, but they actually create. For song, he says, is no mere sound upon the wind, born but to die; these songs of his are the most real of realities; they will outlast centuries, supporting the Democracy of the world.[279]

The section which is specifically entitled Leaves of Grass opens upon a note of that humility in which Whitman is supposed to have failed. Throwing wholly aside his egoism and pride, he identifies himself with tiny and ephemeral things—the scum and weed which the sea flings upon Paumanok’s coast.

“As I Ebbed with the Ocean of Life”[280] is a most significant poem, which it is impossible to summarise briefly. It appears to have been suggested by the experiences of an autumn evening on the Long Island beach, perhaps upon the then lonely sands of Coney Island; an evening in which the divine pride of conscious power and manhood, from which as a rule he wrote in the exaltation of inspiration, ebbed away, and left him struggling with the power of what he calls the electric or eternal self, striving as it were against it to retain his own individual consciousness.

[Pg 155]

Although it is not easy to explain what he means, the passage admirably suggests the complex inner experience of his life at this period. It was filled with battles and adventures of the spirit, and it kept his mind always supplied with ample material for thought. It is no wonder that the endeavour to explain himself, and to keep some kind of record of these explorations and discoveries in the Unknown occupied much of his time, and that these years are somewhat barren of outward incident. The inner experiences of so sane and stalwart a man are of the utmost psychological interest, and we cannot lay too much stress upon their importance in Whitman’s story, proving as they do the delicate nervous organisation of the man.

As the struggle proceeds, Walt seems to be seized by a strange new feeling. He is fascinated by the tiny wind-rows left by the tide upon the sand, and the sense of a likeness between himself and them arises in him, taking the form not so much of a thought as of a consciousness of kinship. The ocean scum and débris reminds him how near to him is the infinite ocean of life and death, and how he himself is but a little washed-up drift, soon to be swallowed in the approaching waters. Doubt overwhelms him; he seems to know nothing of all that he thought he knew; his Soul and Nature make mock at him. He admits that he is but as this tiny nothing.

This mood is a real one in Whitman. It is wrong to think of him as a man who was always complacent and cock-sure; all heroic faith must have its moments of doubt, its crisis of despair, its cry of abandonment upon the cross.

But they are moments only. If he is but this sea-drift, yet he claims the shore as his father: “I take what is underfoot: what is yours, is mine, my father”. So he takes hold upon the Eternal Reality and communes with it, praying that his lips may be touched and utter the great mysteries; for otherwise, these will overwhelm his being.[281] Pride, the full tide of life, will[Pg 156] soon flow again in our veins; but after all, what are we but a strange complex of sea-drift and changing moods strewed here at your feet? It is not pessimism but humility which asks that question, the humility which is part of a divine pride.

That pride refuses to blink anything; let us face it all, even to the utmost, he keeps saying. He feels that the soul can and must face all.[282] He has not to make a theory or to justify himself, to uphold institutions, or inculcate moralities; he has to open the doors of life in faith. He has to let light in at all the windows. And if it illumines ugliness as well as beauty, sin and shame as well as virtue and pride—still it is his part to let in the ever-glorious light. The more the light shines in, the more the Soul is satisfied. In himself he recognises sin and baseness and gives it expression, bringing it to the light.
(O admirers! praise not me! compliment not me! you make me wince,
I see what you do not—I know what you do not;)
Inside these breast-bones I lie smutch’d and choked,
Beneath this face that appears so impassive, hell’s tides continually run,
Lusts and wickedness are acceptable to me,
I walk with delinquents with passionate love,
I feel I am of them—I belong to those convicts and prostitutes myself,
And henceforth I will not deny them—for how can I deny myself?[283]

But it is a mistake to think of the mystic, and especially of Whitman, as the mere onlooker at life, and the moralist as the practical person. There is ultimately of course no distinction between mystic and moralist, the mystic is the moralist become seer. And he is, perhaps, even more strenuous in his life than is the moralist; but life has now assumed for him a different aspect. He is no longer pre-occupied by the hunger and thirst after righteousness—for he feeds satisfied upon the divine bread. He is not worried about sin, because he is conscious of the antiseptic power of the Soul-life which heals the sores of sin, and sloughs off the body of corruption. What is evil passes away when life is earnestly[Pg 157] pursued. He sees that everything which exists at all, however evil it may be, exists by reason of some virtue or excellence which it possesses, and which fits it to its environment. The wise soul uses the excellence of things, and so things hurt it not at all. The things that are not for it are evil to it; but in the sight of God they are not evil, for all things have their value to Him.

Live your life, then, in faith, not in fear; such is the word of the mystic. Condemn nothing; but learn what is proper for your own need; and by sympathy, learn to read the hearts about you, and help them also to live according to the wisdom of the soul. Feed the soul, think of the soul, exercise the soul—and the things, the instincts, the thoughts that are evil to you now, will presently cease to trouble you. For in Whitman’s universe the devil is dead.

It is this point of view, reached in his illumination, which enabled him to look out upon all the shame and evil of the world, and yet to rejoice. I doubt if he had as yet justified this attitude to himself by any process of reasoning; and it would be presumptuous in me to attempt the task; he simply accepted it as the only possible, or rather the ultimate and highest attitude of the enlightened soul. When one discovers the soul, that is the attitude in which she stands. The joy of the soul fills the universe. Nothing any longer seems unworthy of song. Not for its own sake, perhaps, but for that which it reveals to the soul. And in the exaltation of this soul-sight he sings.

Towards the end of this section, there is a little group of poems which deal with the voice.[284] Whitman recognised that the human voice is capable of expressing more than mere thoughts. For the whole man speaks in the voice; and as the soul becomes conscious, the voice gains in actual timbre, and wins besides a mystical authority over the heart of the hearer. Each word spoken by the awakened soul is freighted with fuller meaning than it carried before, and every word so spoken[Pg 158] has a beauty which the soul gives it. He illustrates a kindred thought by dwelling upon the different meanings which his own name assumes in different mouths.[285] It would seem as though he realised that power of the name which is familiar to some uncivilised peoples and has been largely forgotten by us.

The section closes with a poignant little verse[286] which declares with all the passion of conviction, that this paper is not paper, nor these words mere words; but that this is the Man Walt Whitman, who hails you here and cries farewell. The book is a sacrament; it is the wafer and wine of a Real Presence; it is a symbol pregnant with personality; it is no book, it is a man.
Lift me close to your face till I whisper,
What you are holding is in reality no book, nor part of a book,
It is a man, flushed and full-blooded—it is I—So long!
We must separate—Here! take from my lips this kiss,
Whoever you are, I give it especially to you;
So long—and I hope we shall meet again.

The Salut au Monde carries this Ave atque Vale to each and all.

I have already spoken of “A Word out of The Sea”[287] in which Whitman relates an incident of his childhood on the Long Island coast. This is among the most melodious of his chants; and though Death and Love are the themes of all great poets it would be difficult to quote any passage more suggestive of the pathetic mystery of bereavement, than the song which he puts to the notes of the widowed mocking-bird. The bird’s song has purposes unknown to its singer, meanings which are caught by the boy’s heart, and awaken there a strange passion and wild chaos, that Death, whose voice is as the accompaniment of the sea to the cry of the bird, can alone soothe and order. It is impossible to read this poem and think of its author as ignorant of personal love and personal loss. The notes of despair and triumph blend together here and elsewhere in this edition.

[Pg 159]

We turn now to the Enfans d’Adam, poems of sex, whose name is suggested by Whitman’s outlook on life as on a garden of Eden, and by his conception of himself as it were a reincarnate Adam, begetter of a new race of happier men.[288]

These are the poems which formed the storm-centre of Emerson’s discussion. They celebrate the love of the body for its correlative body, the bridegroom’s for the bride’s; and they celebrate the concern of the soul in reproduction. The proof and law of all life is that it go forth from itself in fertilising power, that it beget or conceive; and without this, life and love would be bereft of glory. And more: for Whitman broke wholly with that mysticism which once saw in the organs of sex a deformity consequent upon man’s fall; he beheld them rather as the vessels of a divine communion.

From this mystical view of Whitman’s, Emerson would conceivably have found no reason for dissent, but the new mysticism was full-blooded and masculine. It sprang out of experience, and was in no respect a substitute for it. When he wrote of the body, Walt used the word mystically it is true, but he meant the body nevertheless, using the word to the full of its meaning. He was very far from the abstract philosophic idealism which we usually and often unfairly associate with the transcendentalism of Concord. Thoreau, for example, the Oriental dreamer, had been thrilled through by the bloody and even brutal fanaticism of John Brown.

Yet Whitman’s virility was different from theirs. His celebration of passion was as honest and frank as Omar’s praise of the vine. To him, the begetting of children seemed in itself more satisfying to the soul than any words could express. It needed no apologist; but rose out of the region of cold ethics in the divine glow of its ecstatic reality.

Such an attitude, it seems to me, is only possible to a man who has known true love, and has lived a chaste and temperate life. And these poems, far from representing[Pg 160] Whitman as a man of dissolute habits, indubitably afford the clearest proof, if it were needed, of his temperance and self-control; but that is, happily, a matter which is beyond dispute. He was not a man to seek unlawful pleasures, or to approach life’s mysteries irreverently, neither was he a man to treat womanhood, even when it had covered itself with shame, with anything but the utmost gentleness and chivalry. It was in the cause of womanhood, if we can say that it was in any cause, that he wrote his poems of sex, seeking, for woman’s sake, to wipe away the shame that still clings about paternity.[289] The physical rites of love were beautiful to his sight; and he sought to tear away the obscene draperies and skulking thoughts by which they have been hidden.

With this in view, he added an inventory of all the items of the flesh to his poem of “The Body Electric,”[290] intended as are all his lists to make the subsequent generalisation more actual. These, he said, are the parts of the soul. For matter and mind are twin aspects of the one reality, which is the soul. All knowledge comes to the soul through the senses, and if we put shame upon any function of the body we cripple something in the soul.

In a singular phrase,[291] he declares that he will be the robust husband of the true women of America, the women who await him; meaning, I suppose, that through the medium of his book, he will quicken in those who are fearless and receptive, the conception of the new Humanity. He is Adam, destined to be the father of a new race, by the women who are able to receive him. Sexual imagery is rightly used in this connection, not only because it is according to mystical precedent, but because sex is the profoundest of the passions, as much spiritual as physical, and all reproductive energy is sexual. Whitman believed that until this was recognised, religion and art must remain comparatively sterile.

The question which these poems raise is far too large[Pg 161] and too delicate for full discussion in this place. And its discussion is rendered more difficult because, present as it is in most of our minds, it is in many still unripe for words. The soul knows its own needs and its own hours, and pages like these of Whitman’s are not for every reader. Whitman knew it, and many a time in this volume he asks whether it were not better for you to put the book aside. As for himself, the time had come when these things must be uttered.

The soul must take experience in its own time; but Whitman was convinced that without initiation into the mysteries of love, much of life must remain an enigma to the individual. It was, it would appear, after initiation that he himself had realised his identity with all things. We speak sometimes of the bestial side of our nature, forgetting that when love illuminates it, it is this side in particular which redeems all that before seemed gross among the creatures.

True to his determination to include all, even the outcast, in his synthesis, Whitman, in another poem,[292] companions publicly with sinners and with harlots. He shares their nature also; they, too, have their place. But if he says they are just as good as the best, it is only when seen by the eyes of a Divine Love. He, as much as any man, realises the handicap of sin; in the end the soul must conquer; but think how sin—the sin of the Pharisee and of the callous heart as much as that of the prostitute—disfigures the temple of the soul, and mars the spiritual with the outward body.

Temperate himself, Whitman’s sympathy for those who sin in the flesh was very real. And indeed for all sins of passion he felt, perhaps, a special understanding. The story runs that while he was still in Boston,[293] he met a lad he had known in New York, who was now, after a drunken brawl, in which he believed he had killed a companion, escaping from the American police to Canada. The young fellow told Walt his story, and was sent upon his way with that comrade’s kiss of[Pg 162] affection which meant so much more than good advice or charity.

Before closing this section, Whitman returns[294] to the Adamic idea, as though to make his meaning unmistakable. In him, Adam has nearly circled the world, and now looks out across the Pacific to his first birth-place in the East; and still his work is unaccomplished. Still must he go on seeking for his bride, the Future. The passion of creation is upon him, he is strained with yearning for that towards which his soul gravitates.

As we finish these poems, we remember how at this time their author impressed those who approached him with two equal qualities, his force and his purity: for great passion is a clear wine in a chaste vessel. He had a right to say as his last word on this subject, “be not afraid of my body”; for, indeed, it was his soul, enamoured of all things, wholesome and pure.

After these poems, comes the “Song of the Road,” and other familiar pieces, and then another group wholly new. These appear to have been written in the autumn of 1859,[295] and are called Calamus; a name either for a reed or for the sweet-flag,[296] which occurs in the Bible and in the pages of Greek and Latin writers, but is here used of a common American pond-reed, a sort of tall sedge or great spear of grass, a yard or so in height, emitting a pungent watery smell, whose root is used for chewing. In these poems he asserts the soul’s need of society, for life and growth. The gospel of self-realisation thus becomes a social gospel, and the thought gives a political significance to these, the most esoteric of all Whitman’s poems.

He seems more than usually sensitive about them, and dreads to have them misunderstood. Proud and jealous, he would drive all but a few away from his[Pg 163] confidences. They are only intended, he says,[297] for his comrades; for it is only they who will understand them.

But in the more obvious sense the poems are for all. It is to comradeship and not to institutions that Whitman looks for a political redemption. He will bind America indissolubly together into the fellowship of his friends.[298] Their friendship shall be called after him,[299] and in his name they shall solve all the problems of Freedom, and bring America to victory. Lovers are the strength of Liberty, comrades perpetuate Equality; America will be established above disaster by the love of her poet’s lovers.

Then he turns to himself and his own friends, or rather, perhaps, to his own conscious need for friends. It is curious when one thinks of it, that we have no record of any close friendship, save that of Emerson, dating from these days. And he who knew and loved so many men and women, seems to have carried forward with him no equal friendship from the years of his youth. In this respect, he was solitary as a pioneer. He longed for Great Companions, but he did not meet them at this time upon the open road of daily intercourse.

Yet was he not alone. Some say he wrote of comradeship because he never found such a comrade as him of whom he wrote;[300] but in one at least of these poems he declares that his life, or at the least his singing, depends upon such comradeship. And the absence of any record merely reminds us that Whitman was chary of committing such personal matters to the keeping of a note-book. What record has he left of those women and their children, whose relation to himself must have bulked so largely in the world of his soul? The poems seem to indicate at least one very intimate friendship, more passionately given than returned.

Sometimes, as on the beach of Paumanok, doubt[Pg 164] oversets him. Perhaps after all,[301] appearances do not mean what he sees in them. Perhaps the reality, the purpose, lies still undiscovered in them. Perhaps the identity of the human self after death is but a beautiful fable. There is a perfect answer—shall we say an evasion?—of these questionings and of all doubts, which fellowship provides.
To me, these, and the like of these, are curiously answered by my lovers, my dear friends;
When he whom I love travels with me, or sits a long while holding me by the hand,
When the subtle air, the impalpable, the sense that words and reason hold not, surround us and pervade us,
Then I am charged with untold and untellable wisdom—I am silent—I require nothing further,
I cannot answer the question of appearances, or that of identity beyond the grave,
But I walk or sit indifferent—I am satisfied,
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.

Then he praises Love; all other joys and enterprises of the heroic soul become but little things when weighed against the life of fellowship, the joy of the presence of the beloved.[302] Is this another of those places where the moralist begs to take his leave of the mystic? Let us beseech him to stay, for it is out of the strenuous passions of the soul that all good and lasting works for humanity have sprung. It was the face of Beatrice—and for the Italian, it could only have been her face—which drew Dante down through the circles of horror and up the steep slopes of Purgatory to Paradise. It was the beauty of the lady Poverty, that enabled her lover to kiss the sores of the lepers in the lazar house below Assisi. What would the Apostles have done in the name of their Lord had they not, like Mary the mystic, chosen the better part of communion with Him instead of fidgetting forever, with Martha, upon the errands of duty?

He writes of Love’s tragedy, and refusal; of the measured love returned for the infinite love accorded.[303] But oftener he dwells upon its joy. The air becomes[Pg 165] alive with music he had never heard before.[304] The passion in his heart responds to a passion of which hitherto he had not dreamed, hidden in the heart of the world, awaiting its hour to break forth. And as these poems have come slowly up from out of the inner purpose of things, to find utterance upon Whitman’s pages, so slowly will their meaning arise in the hearts of those that read them.[305] It is not to be guessed in a moment. For they are freighted with the mystery which unfolds in the patience of the soul.

Although he warns his reader from time to time to beware of him, for he is not at all the man he seems, a note of yearning for confidence cannot be suppressed. He confesses that his very life-blood speaks in these pages,[306] and that his soul is heavy with infinite passion for the love of its Comrades that shall be. Sometimes, as he passes a stranger in the streets, he knows in himself that once they were each other’s; some deep chord of life thrilling, as though with memory, to promise that they will yet come together again.[307] Ah, how many and many an one of these his mystic kin must the lands of the earth contain! It is not America only, but the whole human race that he will bind at last into his fellowship, laughing at institutions and at laws, persuading all men by the power of the Soul which is in all.[308] One institution there is which he confesses[309] that he would inaugurate. Let men who love one another kiss when they meet, and walk hand in hand. It is no mere sentiment; he sees that love must have its witness. In warm manly love is the mightiest power in the universe, a power that laughs at oppressors and at death.[310]
I dreamed in a dream, I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth,
I dreamed that was the new City of Friends,
Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust love—it led the rest,
It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that city,
And in all their looks and words.

[Pg 166]

Calamus, like the bundle labelled Leaves of Grass, closes on the note of personal presence.[311]

I trust it has already been sufficiently suggested that Whitman’s mysticism is not to be confused with much that hitherto has passed under that name. Mysticism it is, for it is the expression of mystical experience; but it is clearly not the mysticism which is completed in a circle of devotion, religious exercises, meditation and ecstasy. It is the mysticism which recreates the world in a new image. Professor Royce, in his most interesting lectures on “The World and the Individual,” has described it, or something very similar to it, under the title of Idealism; and his careful and suggestive elaboration of his theme is the best indirect commentary upon what I have called the mysticism of Whitman with which I am acquainted. It includes an admirable exposition of the meaning of the Soul or Self.

Your whole world, he declares, is your whole Self—Whitman would perhaps have said, it is the mirror which reveals yourself. The Infinite Universe, whereof yours is but a part, is the Self of God. We live, but are not lost in Him, for we are as it were His members. There are two aspects of the human self: the temporal, in which it appears as a mere momentary consciousness, and the eternal, which reveals it as an indestructible purpose, the essence of reality. For reality, the professor argues, is the visible expression of purpose or meaning.

To proceed to the social aspect of this teaching: the individual, when he becomes conscious of his world—his Self—becomes conscious, too, that his world is only one aspect of the Universe, that there are a myriad others, and that the Universal Life consists of a Fellowship of such Selves as his. Thus, God is the Many-in-One; in Him the Many are one Self and complete. And the Many do not only seek completion in the Divine Unity; they also seek fellowship with one another. The Divine life, which is the basis of Human[Pg 167] life, is thus a life of Fellowship—as the Apostle says, it is Love. It is not merely a trinity, it is a City of Friends; or rather of Lovers, as Edward Carpenter suggested in his recent essays.[312]

Now I am convinced that this thought underlies Calamus; not, indeed, as a metaphysical theory, but as one of those overwhelming realisations of the ultimate significance of things which I have described inadequately as Whitman’s symbolism. Seeking to plumb the depths of passion, he found God. Sex became for him, in its essence, the potency of that Life wherein we are One. And comradeship, a passion as intense as that of sex, he beheld as the same relation between spiritual or ?therial bodies.[313] He was aware that the noblest of passions is the most liable to base misunderstandings. But in it alone the soul finds full freedom. Sex passion finds its proper expression in physical rites, it is the passion of the life in Time; on the contrary, the passion of comrades is of eternity and only finds expression in Death.[314] This appears to have been Whitman’s conviction.

Yet another bundle follows Calamus; a packet of more or less personal letters or messages called Messenger Leaves. In subsequent editions they were sorted out into other sections. They are not all new; but among those that now appear for the first time are the daring and noble lines to Jesus.
My spirit to yours, dear brother,
Do not mind because many, sounding your name, do not understand you,
I do not sound your name, but I understand you, (there are others also;)
I specify you with joy, O my comrade, to salute you, and to salute those who are with you, before and since—and those to come also,
That we all labour together, transmitting the same charge and succession;
We few, equals, indifferent of lands, indifferent of times,
We, enclosers of all continents, all castes—allowers of all theologies,
Compassionaters, perceivers, rapport of men,
[Pg 168]
We walk silent among disputes and assertions, but reject not the disputers, nor anything that is asserted, ...
Till we saturate time and eras, that the men and women of races, ages to come, may prove brethren and lovers, as we are.[315]

Scattered through the generations—so we may read his thought—are those who have come into the cosmic consciousness or larger life, who have passed beyond the reach of time and of mere argument, and who therefore understand one another as others cannot understand them. The love and communion which exists between such Great Companions, is a pledge and earnest of the Society of the Future, when all men shall be one, even as these are one.

The thought may shock those to whom it comes suddenly, if they see in Whitman the “mere man” of their own narrow conception of humanity. But in judging him we must remember that he openly claims for himself and for other men all the Divine attributes which Christians are in the habit of ascribing to their Lord. Whitman believed that Jesus identified himself with Humanity; and that all who enter, as he entered, into the cosmic life share in the fellowship of God, even as did he.

More fully than many Christians, Whitman recognised Jesus as literally his elder brother; he joined with him in the words “Our Father,” feeling them to be true. And as one reads the gospel narratives one ventures to believe that the Master who called the disciples his friends, would himself have been eager to welcome the assertion of such a relationship.

Another letter[316] is to one about to die; it is filled not with melancholy but with congratulation. The body that dies is but an excrement, the Self is eternal and goes on into ever fuller sunlight.

Another,[317] which has aroused perhaps more misunderstanding than anything which Whitman wrote, is addressed to a prostitute. It hardly seems to call for[Pg 169] explanation; for it is like the simple offering of the hand of friendship to an outcast; the assertion that for her, too, Whitman’s living eternal comradeship is real and close, accompanied by the injunction that she be worthy of such friendship.

He writes to rich givers[318] in the Franciscan spirit; for he that is willing to give all, is able to accept.

To a pupil[319] he suggests that personality is the tool of all good work and usefulness. To be magnetic is to be great. Come then and first become yourself.

But it is impossible even to refer in passing to all the separate poems, each one with its living suggestion. Some of the briefest are not the least pregnant.

The book closes with poems of departure. A dread falls upon him;[320] perhaps after all he may not linger, to go to and fro through the lands he loves, awakening comrades; presently his voice also will cease. But here and now at least his soul has appeared and been realised; and that in itself should be enough.

Then he says his farewell. His words have been for his own era; and in every age, the race must find anew its own poets for its own words. But till America shall have absorbed his message, he must stand, and his influence, his spirit, must endure.[321] After all, he does but seek, with passionate longing, one worthier than himself, who yet shall take his place. For him, he has prepared.

Now is he come to die. Without comprehending or questioning, he has obeyed his mystical commission; he has sown the Divine seed with which he was entrusted; he has given the message with which he was burdened, to women and to young men; now he passes on into the state for which all experience and service has been preparing him. He ceases to sing. His work is accomplished. Now disembodied and free, he can respond to all that love him, and enter upon the intenser Reality of the Unknown.

[Pg 170]
Dear friend, whoever you are, here, take this kiss,
I give it especially to you—Do not forget me,
I feel like one who has done his work—I progress on,
The unknown sphere, more real than I dreamed, more direct, darts awakening rays about me—So long!
Remember my words—I love you—I depart from materials,
I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead.


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