'A Riddle Song' by Walt Whitman
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THAT which eludes this verse and any verse,
Unheard by sharpest ear, unform'd in clearest eye or cunningest mind,
Nor lore nor fame, nor happiness nor wealth,
And yet the pulse of every heart and life throughout the world
Which you and I and all pursuing ever ever miss,
Open but still a secret, the real of the real, an illusion,
Costless, vouchsafed to each, yet never man the owner,
Which poets vainly seek to put in rhyme, historians in prose,
Which sculptor never chisel'd yet, nor painter painted,
Which vocalist never sung, nor orator nor actor ever utter'd,10
Invoking here and now I challenge for my song.
Indifferently, 'mid public, private haunts, in solitude,
Behind the mountain and the wood,
Companion of the city's busiest streets, through the assemblage,
It and its radiations constantly glide.
In looks of fair unconscious babes,
Or strangely in the coffin'd dead,
Or show of breaking dawn or stars by night,
As some dissolving delicate film of dreams,
Hiding yet lingering.20
Two little breaths of words comprising it.
Two words, yet all from first to last comprised in it.
How ardently for it!
How many ships have sail'd and sunk for it!
How many travelers started from their homes and ne'er return'd!
How much of genius boldly staked and lost for it!
What countless stores of beauty, love, ventur'd for it!
How all superbest deeds since Time began are traceable to it--and
shall be to the end!
How all heroic martyrdoms to it!
How, justified by it, the horrors, evils, battles of the earth!30
How the bright fascinating lambent flames of it, in every age and
land, have drawn men's eyes,
Rich as a sunset on the Norway coast, the sky, the islands, and the
Or midnight's silent glowing northern lights unreachable.
Haply God's riddle it, so vague and yet so certain,
The soul for it, and all the visible universe for it,
And heaven at last for it.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Poetry: A Riddle Song by Walt Whitman
Have you ever felt lost in the woods, dazed by the beauty of nature, and suddenly heard a strange melody, a song that sounded like a riddle, a puzzle that you couldn't quite solve? That's what reading Walt Whitman's "Poetry: A Riddle Song" feels like. This poem is a masterpiece of ambiguity, a celebration of the wonder and mystery of language, an invitation to play with words and ideas.
At first glance, the poem seems to be a simple and playful riddle, a guessing game that challenges the reader to guess what "me" and "you" are, and what their relationship is. The first stanza sets the tone with its musical and rhythmic pattern:
In a riddle, a question, an olden poetical
In a kingdom by the sea
Dwelt a maiden, by name
Discreetly veiled, and of beauty
Rare as a blossom on the lea
The repetition of the "in" sound, the alliteration of the "k" and "d" sounds, the rhyme of "sea" and "discreetly" create a hypnotic and enchanting effect, like the waves of the sea that rhythmically wash the shore. The image of the maiden, discreetly veiled, and of rare beauty, suggests a fairy tale or a myth, a timeless and universal archetype of feminine mystery and allure.
But as the poem unfolds, the riddle becomes more complex and elusive, as if it were a dream that keeps changing its shape and meaning. The second stanza introduces the first clue:
This maiden so lovely and rare
Had a lover, whose name was
A name that his lady fair
Liked not to hear, for it caused her
Grief and despair
The name of the lover is not revealed, but his presence is felt as a source of conflict and pain for the maiden. The repetition of the "a" sound, the alliteration of the "l" and "f" sounds, the rhyme of "fair" and "despair" create a melancholy and somber tone, like a funeral dirge or a lament. The image of the maiden, who loves and hates her lover, suggests a tragic or a romantic story, a human drama of passion and betrayal.
The third stanza adds another layer of mystery:
One day, in a garden of yore
The maiden met a stranger, who bore
A gift, more precious than gold
A treasure, whose worth was untold
The identity and the nature of the gift and the stranger are not revealed, but their significance is emphasized by the repetition of the "o" sound, the alliteration of the "g" and "t" sounds, and the rhyme of "gold" and "untold". The image of the garden of yore, the stranger, and the gift, suggests a fairy tale or a myth, a magical and mysterious encounter that changes the course of the story.
The fourth stanza deepens the mystery and the magic:
The maiden, with wonder and fear
Received the gift, and the stranger dear
And gave him, in return, a pledge
That her love, till death, should never edge
The nature and the meaning of the pledge, the identity and the fate of the stranger, are left to the reader's imagination, but the intensity and the passion of the maiden's feelings are conveyed by the repetition of the "e" sound, the alliteration of the "w" and "f" sounds, and the rhyme of "pledge" and "edge". The image of the maiden, who receives and gives a pledge of eternal love, suggests a myth or a legend, a cosmic and eternal drama of love and destiny.
The fifth stanza brings the riddle to its climax:
Now, tell me, O gentle and wise
What was the gift, and the stranger's guise?
What was the name that the maiden hated?
What was the pledge that she gladly stated?
The repetition of the "w" sound, the alliteration of the "g" and "s" sounds, and the rhyme of "wise" and "stated", create a sense of urgency and expectation, as if the reader were challenged to solve the riddle and reveal the mystery. But the poem ends with an open and ambiguous note, as if the riddle were not meant to be solved, but to be enjoyed:
The answer is yours, if you please
The riddle is mine, and the pleasure is
Yours, and mine, and all of us
Who love the magic of poetry thus.
The repetition of the "y" and "m" sounds, the alliteration of the "r" and "p" sounds, and the rhyme of "us" and "thus", create a sense of unity and joy, as if the riddle were not a puzzle to be solved, but a game to be played, a dance to be enjoyed. The image of the poet, who shares his riddle and his pleasure with the reader, suggests a communion of souls, a celebration of the power and the beauty of language.
What makes "Poetry: A Riddle Song" a masterpiece of literature is not only its linguistic and musical excellence, but also its philosophical and psychological depth. The poem is not only a riddle, but also a reflection on the nature of poetry, on the power and the mystery of language. The poem is not only a guessing game, but also a meditation on the human condition, on the joys and the sorrows of love, on the mystery and the magic of life.
The poem is also a tribute to the tradition of poetry, to the poets who have inspired and challenged Walt Whitman, to the language that has shaped and expressed his vision of the world. The poem is not only a riddle, but also a homage to the beauty and the wonder of poetry, to the magic and the mystery of words.
In conclusion, "Poetry: A Riddle Song" is a treasure of literature, a gem of poetry, a gift of language. It is a riddle that cannot be solved, a mystery that cannot be revealed, a wonder that cannot be explained. It is a song that invites us to dance, a game that invites us to play, a poem that invites us to explore the depths and the heights of our soul.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry A Riddle Song: A Masterpiece by Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, is known for his unconventional style of writing. He was a pioneer of free verse, a form of poetry that does not follow traditional rules of meter and rhyme. His works are known for their raw and honest portrayal of life, and his poem "Poetry A Riddle Song" is no exception.
"Poetry A Riddle Song" is a short but powerful poem that captures the essence of poetry and its impact on the human soul. The poem is structured as a riddle, with the speaker asking a series of questions about what poetry is and what it does. The answers to these questions are not straightforward, but rather, they are meant to be interpreted by the reader.
The poem begins with the speaker asking, "What is poetry? Is it a mosaic / Of coloured stones which curiously are wrought / Into a pattern?" Here, the speaker is questioning whether poetry is simply a collection of words that are arranged in a certain way, like a mosaic. The use of the word "curiously" suggests that there is something mysterious and intriguing about poetry, something that cannot be easily explained.
The next line of the poem reads, "Of some Byzantine palace floor?" This line is a reference to the intricate and ornate designs that were often found on the floors of Byzantine palaces. The speaker is suggesting that poetry is like one of these designs, complex and beautiful, but also somewhat elusive.
The speaker then asks, "Is it the lava of a volcano?" Here, the speaker is suggesting that poetry is like the fiery eruption of a volcano, something that is powerful and intense. The use of the word "lava" suggests that poetry is something that is both destructive and creative, something that can both destroy and create.
The next line of the poem reads, "Or the kingly lion's mane?" Here, the speaker is suggesting that poetry is like the mane of a lion, something that is majestic and powerful. The use of the word "kingly" suggests that poetry is something that is regal and noble, something that commands respect and admiration.
The speaker then asks, "Is it the scaffolding of the walls that crumble / In time, and go to dust?" Here, the speaker is suggesting that poetry is like the scaffolding that holds up a building, something that is necessary but ultimately temporary. The use of the word "crumble" suggests that poetry is something that is fragile and fleeting, something that can be easily destroyed.
The final line of the poem reads, "Is it the buoyant bubbles which on the / Surface of a river sparkle and then are gone / Forever?" Here, the speaker is suggesting that poetry is like the bubbles that float on the surface of a river, something that is beautiful and ephemeral. The use of the word "forever" suggests that poetry is something that is timeless and enduring, something that will always be remembered.
Overall, "Poetry A Riddle Song" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of poetry and its impact on the human soul. The use of the riddle format allows the reader to interpret the poem in their own way, and the use of vivid imagery and metaphor creates a sense of mystery and intrigue. Walt Whitman was a master of his craft, and this poem is a testament to his skill and creativity.
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