Monday, May 31, 2010

Walt Whitman: May 31, 1819--March 26, 1892

From "Song Of Myself," Stanza 32:

This stanza incorporates the range of responses that I have toward Whitman's poetry: some parts I agree with, some I don't, and some I don't understand.

His brief description of the stallion at the end of this stanza is one of the finest I can remember reading. I see the stallion before me as I read--"Eyes full of sparkling wickedness . . ."


I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
No one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.

I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?

Myself moving forward then and now and forever,
Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,
Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them,
Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers,
Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.

A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses
Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,
Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,
Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.

His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him,
His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return.
I but use you a minute, then I resign you, stallion,
Why do I need your paces when I myself out-gallop them?
Even as I stand or sit passing faster than you.

Any thoughts?


  1. What Whitman hints at here but does not explore (though he does so later) is the simple fact that animals, unlike humans, have no awareness of their own mortality, which--by extension--means that animals, perhaps superior for this reason, unlike humans, have no need for supernatural thoughts (especially with respect to the Divine). I sense from my reading of Whitman that he was uncomfortable with the differences between animals and humans, especially as it complicated his attempts to come to grips with the Divine.

  2. R. T.,

    I wonder if animals have a sense of time at all.

  3. I think their sense of time is instinctive and sensory, but ours is cognitive rumination.

  4. R. T.,

    I'm not sure about "instinctive," but I can see why it could be sensory. I wonder if our sense of time, "cognitive rumination," is also sensory at its foundation.