Walt Whitman used natural elements to represent the cycle of life, which encouraged his readers to see beauty in connecting the mechanics of death and rebirth. In his poetry, Whitman’s idea that death is not an end, but a beginning, opens up the possibility of finding joy in completing the inevitable life-death-rebirth cycle. His illustration of natural elements beautifies death and shifts the readers’ perspective to contemplate that without death, nothing can ever be reborn.
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Through Whitman’s use of natural elements, readers easily connect, that in nature, all things live, and all things die. The natural element of water he references in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry uses metaphors to identify the beauty hidden in death. The current rushing so swiftly and swimming with me far away,The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them, (1915) Whitman uses the imagery of water which he finds quick and without delay carrying him into the afterlife. Swimming along with death references our choice to be one with the inevitable process. Whitman is ok with what is to come, and death is not something to fight but rather to go along with. The others that are to follow me, the ties between me and them means that everyone is connected by the absolute truth that death will happen to all. It is one of the things in life that every person cannot avoid.
His desire to swim along swiftly by accepting death is a beautiful way to envision dying as a free choice of the mind, a symbol of Emersonian self-reliance. In Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, Whitman continues to glorify the natural process of life by insinuating that things which decay become a part of something greater. The simple, compact, well-joined scheme”myself disintegrated, every one disintegrated, yet part of the scheme, The similitudes of the past, and those of the future (1915) In this passage he connects how all things are connected together in life by a scheme a unity of interconnectedness which represents a greater whole. He moralizes his “disintegration” (death), as a natural part of a larger order. By using the word similitude, Whitman indicates that all things consist of another in the past and the present, both in life and in death. Almost all beings use the natural elements of their five senses as a way to universally educate themselves and as a tool for survival. The certainty of others”the life, love, sight, hearing of others. (1915) Whitman evidences what we know for certain, that life, love, sight, and hearing come naturally to us.
Those four experiences connect us all with the innate ability to gain understanding of others and our environment. Death is a certainty, and experiences in life are a certainty, and within those two extremes we find the ability to rely on our common experiences to build our knowledge. Among our experiences, we are connected to people whom have lived and have experiences of those whom have died. People are connected by these basic emotions which surround us and make up who we are. In the following passage, Whitman identifies that people cannot be divided from one another if a person can see death as a rebirth.
Whatever it is, it avails not”distance avails not, and place avails not. (1916) The natural element of time is something we cannot control or escape. In time, all things cease to exist. Whitman takes advantage of diluting death as an uncertainty, but acknowledges that whatever it is, it is not something that is strong enough to separate the bond people share. Once we realize that death is an illusion of our minds, we overcome the fear of the unknown that has been instilled in us and our bodies and soul are forever intertwined in the circle of life. In the poem So Long! from Songs of Parting, Whitman uses sounds, sights, and smells to relate the experience connecting the natural elements of life and death. I have sung the body and the soul, war and peace have I sung, and the songs of life and death, And the songs of birth, and shown that there are many births. (1946) Experiences in life are carried out like a tune, the knowledge in our wisdom and the oral tradition shared through our voices transcend both life and death.
Like songs, they may have an ending, but the ability to start the song over, again and again, from generation to generation, gives way to recreate an infinite tune. Here Whitman connects the contrast of the body and soul, war and peace, life and death through the measurement of song as a way to fill the void of silence. Whitman identifies death as a process, a beginning, not an end in which readers can relate to with joyful emotion. The relationship opens the door to the possibility that life is never ending when carried on through tradition. In the poem, When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, From Memories of President Lincoln, Whitman calls to death to come when it is ready and in time, as with everything in nature, there is a time to be laid to rest and a time to be reborn. Come lovely and soothing death, undulate round the worlds, serenely arriving, arriving, in the day, in the night, to all, to each, sooner or later delicate death. (1935) Nature, Whitman is saying, is connected serenely to death in a calm and peaceful manner.
His reference to the natural element of day and night, allows the reader to understand that death does not wait for the most opportune time. Death is universal and shows no knowledge of distinction which separates time and place. To make his views of death and rebirth comparable in his writings, Walt Whitman emphasizes that death is an integral part of everything, and they relate to one another as friend and foe. The contrast of friend and foe carry the same elements as found in the relationship between death and love. One, most always, is accompanied by the other and to experience the relationship of each, their existence is dependent on their cohesiveness. From his poem Reconciliation, Whitman writes Beautiful as war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost. (1931) The natural elements of death and destruction found in war is seen by Whitman as beautiful. The natural beauty he finds in war is the ability to prevail through time, so that even in death, the loss becomes lessened.
The remnants of death and a life that once existed may disappear in the flesh, but also like war it is a sad and unavoidable truth. Walt Whitman used natural elements in his poetry as an affirmation that in nature, we are connected by the components of life that all exist within the larger part of being human. The illustration that death as not an end, but a beginning, inspires us to accept the beauty in dying, and encourages the reader to optimistically embrace, that rebirth also exists in the natural cycle of life.
The Poetry of Walt Whitman. (2019, Jul 29).
Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from
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