Literary Meditations

A Mind's Journey

Whitman’s answer to the mystery of life

O Me! O Life!
“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
I can see that, if I feel paralyzed by my confusion, the poet Whitman, in his own times, had found a simple answer for a human crisis that, voluntary or not, calls us and to which we need to answer. Whitman had the courage to face that, above all, the main purpose of any human being resides in the simple act of living, neglecting all those traditions, customs, ideas and ambitions that separate the self from its authentic nature. Whitman is the first person involved in that endless ride which attempt to understand and gain the purpose of one’s life; however, his last answer seems a reflective one: enjoying life in its simplicity and beauty because it has no other purpose beyond itself.
By ending the poem with the phrase the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse”, the poet adopts a democratic solution that restores any reader’s humanity. Indeed, Whitman deals with the ostensible inutility of human existence by recognizing each of us’ contribution to it, this possible just by a verse, an action or a work that can improve our lives and others’. Whitman seems to suggest that the mystery of life is partly discovered by noticing its hidden connections, these also found in our humanity and of all the people surrounding us. Life seems nothing but an infinite web that connects each of us in many ways, rendering us all brothers and sisters by the right of living.
I thus believe that the main message and beauty of the poem lies in the very last lines, where Whitman rests and donates us the reflections of his poetic genius. I believe this poem should be more widely read today, so to help people in believing more in themselves and in those around them, to restore that sense of unity between us that, I feel, misses more than anything in today’s society.
Atena Longo-
Here a splendid version of Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass“.

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