'God' by Walt Whitman
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THOUGHT of the Infinite--the All!
Be thou my God.
Lover Divine, and Perfect Comrade!
Waiting, content, invisible yet, but certain,
Be thou my God.
Thou--thou, the Ideal Man!
Fair, able, beautiful, content, and loving,
Complete in Body, and dilate in Spirit,
Be thou my God.
O Death--(for Life has served its turn;)10
Opener and usher to the heavenly mansion!
Be thou my God.
Aught, aught, of mightiest, best, I see, conceive, or know,
(To break the stagnant tie--thee, thee to free, O Soul,)
Be thou my God.
Or thee, Old Cause, when'er advancing;
All great Ideas, the races' aspirations,
All that exalts, releases thee, my Soul!
All heroisms, deeds of rapt enthusiasts,
Be ye my Gods!20
Or Time and Space!
Or shape of Earth, divine and wondrous!
Or shape in I myself--or some fair shape, I, viewing, worship,
Or lustrous orb of Sun, or star by night:
Be ye my Gods.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Walt Whitman's Poetry, God: A Celebration of Divine Presence and Universal Love
Walt Whitman's poetry has been celebrated for its boldness, its exuberance, its embrace of the common man, and its celebration of nature. But perhaps one of the most striking aspects of his work is his insistence on the presence of God in all things. In his poem "Poetry, God", Whitman explores the connection between poetry and divine presence, arguing that poetry is a way of experiencing and celebrating God's presence in the world. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes and motifs in "Poetry, God", as well as their broader implications for Whitman's poetry as a whole.
Before delving into the poem itself, it's worth noting that "Poetry, God" was originally published as part of the "By Blue Ontario's Shore" sequence in Whitman's 1867 edition of Leaves of Grass. This sequence is notable for its focus on Whitman's own experiences and beliefs, and "Poetry, God" is no exception. The poem opens with the speaker addressing poetry directly, saying:
Thou art indeed O Poetry
Divine—a new and certain freedom,
The cry out of the throats of suffering and defiance,
The yearning of the inmost heart, the sound of the touch of hands,
The beat of life with the experience of earth.
The language here is grand and sweeping, as befits a poem about poetry and divinity. The speaker describes poetry as "Divine" and as embodying "a new and certain freedom". This freedom is both a freedom to express oneself and a freedom to connect with something larger than oneself. The image of "the cry out of the throats of suffering and defiance" suggests that poetry is a way of giving voice to those who might otherwise be silenced, while "the yearning of the inmost heart" speaks to poetry's ability to touch on deep and universal emotions.
The poem continues in this vein, with the speaker describing poetry as "the sound of the touch of hands" and "the beat of life with the experience of earth". These images suggest that poetry is a deeply physical and sensory art form, one that allows us to connect with the world and with each other in profound ways. But as the poem goes on, it becomes clear that this connection is not just with the physical world, but with something greater.
The turning point of the poem comes in the ninth stanza, where the speaker shifts from addressing poetry to addressing God directly:
O God, if I am to have so much,
Let me have A little more,
A little more of the gaiety of creation,
Let me be lost in the divine, and then upon the littlest
And least of things,
Let me have thy essence, that I may see thee,
And own thee in myself and all men and women.
Here the speaker explicitly connects poetry with the divine, invoking God's presence in the world and asking to be "lost in the divine". The line "Let me have thy essence, that I may see thee" is particularly striking, as it suggests that God's essence is present in all things, if only we have the eyes to see it. This is a deeply mystical and pantheistic vision of the world, one that sees God not as a separate entity but as a presence that infuses all of creation.
The poem concludes with the speaker reaffirming this connection between poetry, God, and the world:
For every sight and sound,
For every touch and object in space,
Takes on new life for me,
And I am so filled with the sight of things,
I cannot sleep at night nor eat at noon.
Here the speaker suggests that the world is infused with a new vitality and meaning once we see it as connected to God. The idea that the speaker is "so filled with the sight of things" that they cannot sleep or eat suggests a kind of ecstatic state, one in which the world is suffused with new meaning and beauty.
Themes and Motifs
At its core, "Poetry, God" is a celebration of divine presence and universal love. The poem argues that poetry is a way of experiencing and expressing this presence, and that this presence is not limited to any one person or thing but is present in all of creation. This pantheistic vision of the world is one that is deeply rooted in Whitman's beliefs and is a recurring theme throughout his work.
One of the most striking motifs in the poem is the idea of connection. The speaker repeatedly emphasizes the importance of connecting with the world and with each other, and suggests that poetry is a way of forging these connections. The image of "the sound of the touch of hands" speaks to the physical connection between people, while "the beat of life with the experience of earth" suggests a connection between humans and the natural world. This emphasis on connection is also reflected in the speaker's desire to "own thee in myself and all men and women", suggesting that the speaker sees a fundamental connection between themselves and all of humanity.
Another important motif in the poem is that of ecstasy. The speaker describes being "lost in the divine" and being so overcome by the beauty of the world that they cannot sleep or eat. This ecstatic state is one that is often associated with religious experience, and is a recurring theme in Whitman's work. It suggests a kind of spiritual awakening, one in which the world is seen in a new and profound way.
Implications for Whitman's Poetry
"Poetry, God" is a powerful and deeply personal poem, one that reflects Whitman's own beliefs and experiences. But it also has broader implications for his work as a whole. The poem suggests that for Whitman, poetry is not just a means of artistic expression, but a way of connecting with and celebrating the divine presence in the world. This is evident in many of his other poems, which similarly celebrate the beauty and vitality of the world and emphasize the importance of connection and universal love.
One of the most notable examples of this is "Song of Myself", arguably Whitman's most famous and influential poem. Like "Poetry, God", "Song of Myself" is a celebration of the self and of universal connection, one that sees the self as part of a larger whole. The poem is also notable for its pantheistic vision of the world, which sees God as present in all things and celebrates the beauty and vitality of the natural world.
Another important aspect of Whitman's poetry that is reflected in "Poetry, God" is his celebration of the common man. Whitman famously wrote in "Song of Myself" that "I am large, I contain multitudes", suggesting that the self is not limited to any one identity or experience. This idea is reflected in "Poetry, God", where the speaker suggests that God's essence is present in all men and women. This celebration of the common man is a recurring theme in Whitman's work and is one of the reasons why he is often seen as a poet of democracy and equality.
"Poetry, God" is a powerful and deeply personal poem that reflects Walt Whitman's own beliefs and experiences. The poem celebrates the connection between poetry, God, and the world, and suggests that poetry is a way of experiencing and expressing the divine presence in all things. This pantheistic vision of the world is one that is deeply rooted in Whitman's beliefs and is a recurring theme throughout his work. By celebrating the beauty and vitality of the world, emphasizing the importance of connection and universal love, and celebrating the common man, Whitman's poetry speaks to a vision of the world that is both mystical and deeply democratic.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry God: A Masterpiece by Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, one of the most celebrated poets in American literature, wrote a masterpiece called "Poetry God." This poem is a tribute to the power of poetry and its ability to inspire and uplift the human spirit. In this analysis, we will explore the themes, structure, and language of this poem to understand why it has become a classic in American literature.
The central theme of "Poetry God" is the transformative power of poetry. Whitman believes that poetry has the ability to elevate the human spirit and connect us to something greater than ourselves. He writes, "Poetry God, thou givest all, / Thou givest me, I give thee back my soul." This line suggests that poetry is a gift from a higher power, and that by engaging with it, we can give something back to the universe.
Another theme in this poem is the idea that poetry is a universal language that can bridge cultural and linguistic divides. Whitman writes, "From all the rest I single out thee, / Thee, chosen thee, O Nature's themes, / (Thou, lands and waters, and all thy multitudes of living beings)." Here, he suggests that poetry can speak to all people, regardless of their background or language. By focusing on the natural world, Whitman shows that poetry can connect us to something that is universal and transcendent.
"Poetry God" is a free verse poem, which means that it does not follow a strict rhyme or meter. Instead, Whitman uses repetition and parallelism to create a sense of rhythm and flow. For example, he repeats the phrase "Poetry God" throughout the poem, which creates a sense of reverence and awe. He also uses parallelism to emphasize the power of poetry. He writes, "Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound." This repetition of "Thou, Nature" creates a sense of symmetry and balance, which reinforces the idea that poetry is a natural and essential part of the world.
Whitman's language in "Poetry God" is both simple and profound. He uses everyday words and phrases to describe the power of poetry, which makes his message accessible to all readers. For example, he writes, "I hear thy voice, O god of melioration, / I hear thy voice, O generous god." These lines use simple language to convey the idea that poetry can improve our lives and make us better people.
At the same time, Whitman's language is also deeply poetic. He uses metaphors and imagery to create a sense of wonder and awe. For example, he writes, "Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law / My services are bound." This metaphorical language suggests that the natural world is a divine force that we should respect and honor.
"Poetry God" is a masterpiece of American literature that celebrates the transformative power of poetry. Through its themes, structure, and language, Whitman shows that poetry is a universal language that can connect us to something greater than ourselves. This poem is a testament to the enduring power of poetry and its ability to inspire and uplift the human spirit.
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