Thursday, 20 August 2020

Walt Whitman on Universal Brotherhood

Walt Whitman was a highly influential American poet and a key member of the transcendentalist movement, along with contemporaries Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Although he rarely specifies the term ‘universal brotherhood’, a democratic spirit of liberty, fraternity, and equality pervades the poetry of Walt Whitman with a warm-hearted, inclusive, all-embracing cosmopolitan sense of friendship and comradery.

Moreover, his desire to express a sense of the world’s holistic unity by praising the extensive diversity that underlies it is a distinctive feature of his writing. Furthermore, his monistic view has a deep sense of a pervasive spiritual essence that embraces and inter-connects everything. Hence humanity is a wonderfully diverse, inter-dependent unity and by sensing the macrocosm that is reflected in the microcosm of one’s inner being, Whitman, with a joyful sense of wonder, is constantly inspired to describe the transcendent unity that unites us all together in the kaleidoscopic variety of nature and society, past, present and future.

Salut au Monde! (Greetings to the World!), Leaves of Grass (1892) is perhaps one of his more concerted efforts at expressing his notion of universal brotherhood, of which some key extracts are presented below.

Within me latitude widens, longitude lengthens,
Asia, Africa, Europe, are to the east—
America is provided for in the west,

Banding the bulge of the earth winds the hot equator,
Curiously north and south turn the axis-ends;
Within me is the longest day—the sun wheels in slanting rings—
it does not set for months,
Stretched in due time within me the midnight sun
just rises above the horizon, and sinks again,
Within me zones, seas, cataracts, plains, volcanoes, groups,
Oceanica, Australasia, Polynesia, and the great West
Indian islands. (2)

I hear the Hebrew reading his records and psalms,
I hear the rhythmic myths of the Greeks,
and the strong legends of the Romans,
I hear the tale of the divine life and bloody death
of the beautiful God, the Christ,
I hear the Hindoo teaching his favorite pupil the loves, wars, adages,
transmitted safely to this day from poets who wrote three thousand years ago. (3)

I see the place of the idea of the Deity incarnated by avatars in human forms,
I see the spots of the successions of priests on the earth
—oracles, sacrificers, brahmins, sabians, lamas,monks, muftis, exhorters;
I see where druids walked the groves of Mona—
I see the mistletoe and vervain,
I see the temples of the deaths of the bodies of Gods—
I see the old signifiers.

I see Christ once more eating the bread of his last supper,
in the midst of youths and old persons,
I see where the strong divine young man, the Hercules,
toiled faithfully and long, and then died,
I see the place of the innocent rich life and hapless
fate of the beautiful nocturnal son, the full-limbed Bacchus,

I see Kneph, blooming, dressed in blue,
with the crown of feathers on his head,
I see Hermes, unsuspected, dying, well-beloved, saying to the people,
Do not weep for me,
This is not my true country,
I have lived banished from my true country—I now go back there,
I return to the celestial sphere, where every one goes in his turn. (6)

I see the cities of the earth,
and make myself at random a part of them, (9)

I see male and female everywhere,
I see the serene brotherhood of philosophs,
I see the constructiveness of my race,
I see the results of the perseverance and industry of my race,
I see ranks, colors, barbarisms, civilizations—
I go among them—I mix indiscriminately,
And I salute all the inhabitants of the earth. (10)

And you, each and everywhere, whom I specify not,
but include just the same!
Health to you! Good will to you all—from me and America sent,
For we acknowledge you all and each.

Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless—each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allowed the eternal purport of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here. (11)

My spirit has passed in compassion and determination
around the whole earth,
I have looked for equals and lovers,
and found them ready for me in all lands;
I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them.

Salut au Monde!
What cities the light or warmth penetrates,
I penetrate those cities myself,

All islands to which birds wing their way,
I wing my way myself.

Toward all, I raise high the perpendicular hand—I make the signal,
To remain after me in sight forever,
For all the haunts and homes of men. (13)

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