Thesis: Structured yet free, the form of “Eidólons” mimics, supports, and reinforces its content.
Context – “I MET a seer…”
Emmanuel Swedenborg: – The Seer
- Swedish scientist turned philosopher
- Doctrine of Correspondences: Every material thing has a spiritual counterpart, or “ultimate”
- The Unseen Universe
- Post-Swedenborgian book – Balfour Stewart & P.G. Tait
- Everything on earth is duplicated in a spiritual facsimile: Ultimate unreality of the physical world, true reality of the spiritual realm.
Whitman knew of both Swedenborg and of The Unseen Universe – and it is here that we find the basis of Whitman’s spiritual beliefs as outlined in this poem.
What is an Eidolon?
- Denotation: A phantom, apparition; an ideal
- Whitman’s Connotation: Swedenborg’s “ulimate”, the spiritual essence of all things
- Incremental Repetition
And not a ballad…
- No regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern
- Rather than alternating 4 and 3 stress lines, Whitman’s 1st and 4th lines have similar stress counts, always fewer than the stress counts of the 2nd and 3rd lines
QUATRAINS AS ROWS
- Lines create rows
- “glean eidólons”
- glean: to gather or pick up ears of corn after the reapers
- Whitman is gathering eidólons throughout his poem
QUATRAINS AS STRATA
- Each quatrain = four layers of strata
- Entire poem = 21 quatrains
- Deepest layer of strata: eidólon;
- Visually mimics Whitman’s belief: eidólons are the final layer of everything.
- Repeated but altered lines that end each quatrain
- Whitman uses it to continue to characterize his “eidólons” as he gathers them
CHARACTERIZATIONS OF EIDOLONS:
Contain all life, all space, and all time
The entities of entities
Fixed, yet unfixed
BUT…Why does Whitman adhere to any form?
Unconventional metrical pattern:
Allows the fourth line to be short & concise, thereby illuminating the essence of the poem: eidólons (the final word of every stanza)
Quatrains allow him to:
Expand a Circle
Thus, demonstrate the essence of the “eidólon”
Eidolons as Strata
“Ever the summit and the merge at last, (to surely start again)”
Eidolons as an Expanding Circle
“Ever the growth, the rounding of the circle…”
Whitman begins small – with himself, “I, you, man, woman” and ends with the infinite future. These and everything in between are what constitute his impression of the spirtual ultimate, eidolons.
“Eidólons” as a Circle
The poem also acts as a circle – as it begins and ends in the same place.
Philosopher & Poet Frame: The Mediators
“I MET a seer…”
“The prophet and the bard”
Song Frame: The Medium
“Put in thy chants said he…”
“Thy very songs not in thy songs…”
The Philosopher and the Poet are the mediators between the physical and the spiritual world – and the medium through which the poet mediates is the song (i.e. the poem).
Abrams, N.H. and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. “Ballad.” Glossary of Literary Terms. 9th ed. United States: Wadsworth, 2009, 21-23.
Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
Whitman, Walt. “Eidólons.” Whitman Poetry and Prose. New York: The Library of America, 1996. 168-170.
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