Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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

From Song of Myself, Stanza 50

There is that in me--I do not know what it is--but I know it is in me.

Wrench'd and sweaty--calm and cool then my body becomes,
I sleep--I sleep long.

I do not know it--it is without name--it is a word unsaid,
It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.

Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on,
To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me.

Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters.

Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death--it is form, union, plan-- it is eternal life--it is Happiness

From China, over 2000 years ago:

The Tao that can be told of
Is not the Absolute Tao;
The Names that cannot be given
Are not Absolute Names.

The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the Mother of all Things.

From The Wisdom of Laotse (The Tao Te Ching)
Trans. Lin Yutang

Some ideas don't arise and die out; they linger, perhaps ignored for centuries, but they arise here and there sporadically. I think Laotse and Walt Whitman might well understand each other, far more than I can understand each. At best I get a glimpse of what they are hinting at, but only a glimpse, and also the feeling that I'm missing something here.

Whitman, of course, contradicts himself, as most do when they attempt to speak of that which cannot be spoken of. He says that there is something within him that is unknowable, save for its existence, and without name. And, then the last line:

It is not chaos or death--it is form, union, plan-- it is eternal life--it is Happiness.

Perhaps through writing about it, he is able to give it a name?

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