What I love about Walt Whitman’s poetry is that he is unabashed. Whitman, to me, is a great example of being unafraid to speak.
Whitman wasn’t afraid to be opinionated. Whitman wasn’t afraid to get up on a metaphorical tree stump and just say here’s what I think, here’s what I believe, and here, at great length, is how I feel about it. In his longer works, like Song of Myself, he also wasn’t afraid to be repetitive if he felt like it. I’m coming back to this theme, with slightly different words, and I’ll come back to it as many times as it pleases me.
When I read his longer works, my brain tunes out some parts. It can’t hold or follow the whole thing. It’s skipping in and out and latching onto passages here and there that catch my soul. I think Whitman’s poems know that. I think they don’t care–it’s another part of their nature; they invite me to shop. Here’s all my stuff, a huge selection; take what you like, take what sings to you and I’ll keep the rest for you if you ever want it.
Whitman is full of himself in his poetry. These days, being “full of yourself” implies being inflated or arrogant; but I wish that weren’t so. Full of yourself? What else should we be full of? Something else?
Whatever he was like in his personal life, in his poems Whitman made himself an oracle. He treated his pronouncements as truth, simply because they were his.
He adored himself, and scattered that adoration onto others in his poems. He makes me think of the Biblical quote: Love thy neighbor as thyself. The principle is often overlooked, but there are also many people, trying to be good, who take in a misleading version of it…it doesn’t say to love our neighbor more than ourself, it says to love ourselves and our neighbor equally. Loving ourself, exuberantly and generously, is not a selfish act–Whitman’s poems believed that.
My style may be very different from Whitman’s, but I can always learn from him. His writing has an office in one corner of my mind, where I can go for counseling any time insecurity eats at my creative joy.