Literary Meditations

A Mind's Journey

Meditations on ‘Song of Myself’ finale

“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
These lines are the end of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, this probably the author’s most famous work. The poem is part of the poetry collection Leaves of Grass (1855), this revised and enriched by the author until the day of his death.
Many stanzas of this Whitman’s poem are wonderfully written and deeply evocative but I believe that its closing lines surpass and complete the rest of the poem. Here in this article, I will share with you my thoughts on this wonderful poetic passage.
Whitman is about to end his poem with the image of his own future death: “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love”. The author’s carelessness about himself is what makes him truly great: in fact, he donates himself to Earth, giving back to life the fullness of his existence. The poet appears to master his own death, until the point of true enjoyment:“to grow from the grass I love”. Whitman suggests the idea of reincarnation and/or regeneration after death. Indeed, his journey through Space and Time does not end with death: contrarily, it becomes perpetual and eternal, where the spirit overcomes the fear of physical death, reinvigorating in the infinite. Whitman worships physicality in all its poetic opera, but he also suggests the presence of a beyond world in which he believes genuinely, with passion and wonder. Giving himself back to Earth (the grass) is the poet’s final task: as the collection’s title suggests, all is part of a greater design, where all is equal and reciprocally necessary. In this context, the Poet becomes symbol for one of the Life tree’s highest leaves, reaching to the sky with his poetic intuitions and feelings about the world. Nevertheless, the Poet cannot be disconnected from the lower ground, being itself part of the whole surrounding it. Moreover, Whitman implies that each man’s facet and part (from its basic needs to the highest of its aspirations, from its feet to his mind) are multitudes which are equal and necessary, in all their rights belonging to Nature. Here, men and tree are similar creatures, both planting their roots deep into the earth but always stretching their branches to the heavens.
Whitman continues: “If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles”. Here, the poet and his poetry are at the mercy of the reader, until the point of letting the last to physically walk upon them. In this context, poetry becomes a democratic good, for the use of those in needs of solace and amusement, open to everyone and free from any academic or class status. At the same time, Poetry acquires an exceptional power: indeed, like the Earth is the ground for its sons, Poetry sustains and nourishes readers’ minds, rising them to ideals of equality and freedom. Funny enough, Whitman dissociates himself from academic poets, these to be found solely in scholastic books and oppressive libraries; instead, Whitman invites his readers to find the meaning of verses in an open field, immersing the self in Nature and breathe in the essentiality of life, the only things in which he truly believes in.
Afterwards, Whitman writes: You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood.” As previously said, Whitman’s poetry has the aim to feed the reader’s mind and soul, also restoring the body and physicality into the world. Poetry plays the role of an ideal medicine that heals people’s wounds and voids with appreciation and gratitude for life. True Poetry is a living and filling fluid, like blood itself,  which is meant to produce a positive lasting effect on readers. Once again, Whitman stands apart from scholastic poetry, often full of ornaments but detached from life and experience. Whitman offers a valid alternative to these barren verses, making of his own personae a poetic subject as well. The incipit of this stanza (“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean”) is the poet’s consequent affirmation after some earlier lines in the same poem: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)“. In fact, Whitman gives himself the privilege to always changing in accord to life and necessity, without sticking to any dogmatism or ideology. Thus, even his poetry is a result of his ever-changing self; our interpretation meets the same fate, always changing in accord to our life’s developments. The reader should not lose himself trying to find answers about the poem; contrarily, it should focus on posing questions looking at its own self in relation to the poem. This process will allow the growth of the individual, poetry being “filter and fibre” for the soul.
Whitman ends the poem with these emblematic and evocative lines: Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.” These verses are open to an infinity of interpretations. The most obvious one is that Whitman invites the reader to search for the poem’s message without being discouraged by its multiple meanings. Secondly, it could imply that the poet acts as the teacher of his own poetry: in this case, finding the poem’s core would mean to find the same poet’s purpose of existence. The options are many. However, my own personal (and favorite) interpretation is the following: Whitman is creating here a poetical introversion where he talks solely to himself, asking to his own being to never cease on the pursuit of his life’s meaning. Contemporarily, the reader isolates himself while reading these lines, starting the same solitary journey that Whitman has already begun thanks to his writing. In this way, every individual becomes the central poetic subject of the poem. Looking at the future accomplished version of ourselves from our present condition give us a reason for moving onwards, improving and developing throughout the passing of time. The destination of this journey resides only in ourselves, being the finding of our life’s purpose the only motif we are born for.
Thanks for reading my analysis of Song of Myself’s finale. Please share your thoughts in the below comments’ sections.
Have a great weekend.
Atena Longo

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