When I was doing some research on Drum-Taps, I stumbled upon a few authors who claimed that Drum-Taps was the pivot on which Whitman’s work turned. One critic claimed that it was the pivot that took Whitman from the physical to the spiritual.
There is a good deal of Whitman’s spirituality in these later poems. Having previously annotated Eidolons, this is where I can shed some light.
Whitman’s spirituality was heavily influenced by Emmanuel Swedenborg’s philosophy of the ultimate. Swedenborg believed that every material thing had a spiritual counterpart, or ultimate. In 18…, Balfour Stewart and P.G. Tait published The Unseen Universe. This Post-Swedenborgianism book takes Swedenborg’s notion of the ultimate to another level. Stewart and Tait maintained that everything on earth is duplicated in a spiritual facsimile, and they believed in the ultimate unreality of the physical world and true reality of the spiritual realm. In doing this, Stewart and Tate dissolve the entire physical and social world into spirit.
In “Eidolons,” included in the Inscriptions, Whitman creates an ultimate that is ever-revolving – an ever-expanding circle that includes all things past-present-and future.
We see this same notion in “Continuities”
“Nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost,
No birth, identity, form — no object of the world.
Nor life, nor force, nor any visible thing;…”
Undoubtedly, Whitman would find comfort in this belief. Christianity’s afterlife held nothing for him – since he wanted to be remembered on earth – and cared little about heaven. In these later poems – even in much of Drum-Taps – there is a consistent mention of being unnamed, forgotten, and alone. Believing in Swedenborg’s ultimate allows Whitman to console himself in the fact that nothing can be lost… including memory of him and his life’s work.
Regardless of this belief, however, I think Whitman wanted to be remembered tangibly. I doubt he was content with being a smokey essence floating endlessly through everything.
This spiritualism is seen throughout Whitman’s later works. Just to point a few examples where I recognized it:
In “To-Day and Thee”, the final line, “The heirdom all converged in thee!”, shows this belief – as all of the past converges into today.
In “You Tides with Ceaseless Swell,” Whitman refers to the “unseen force” as “holding the universe with all its parts as one — as sailing in a ship”.
(Random interjection: I do wonder if there is any connection with Whitman’s spiritualism and his use of tides. The tide would be a useful metaphor since it comes and goes, gathering and carrying, always – just as his ultimate (or eidolon).)
In “Going Somewhere” – “we all are onward…speeding slowly/life, life an endless march…/The world, the race, the soul…/All bound as is befitting each”.
I’ll stop here. I think I’ve belabored his spiritualism enough for one blog.
Swedenborg information from Reynold’s cultural biography (previously sited on this blog)
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