Erin M. for Nov. 5th

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The Process of  Goodbye

As his final farewell, Whitman leaves us with his collection Songs of Parting in which he chronicles his process of saying goodbye. Step 1…question death and accept it all in the same poem. In, As the Time Draws Nigh, Whitman writes, “A dread beyond of I know not what darkens me” (p 597 line 2). Whitman knows his sickness is upon him fully and suspects death is on the horizon for him, but he’s not yet afraid or deterred by it. He continues, “I shall go forth, I shall traverse the States awhile, but I can not tell whither or how long, Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing my voice will suddenly cease” (line 3-5). Here he seems to have accepted his fate. But wait! There’s more! At line 6 he asks, O book, O chants! must all then amount to but this? Translation: Is this it? Is this all there is? But, in the end, his is Whitman after all, and he concludes, “O soul, we have positively appear’d-that is enough (line 8). This line reminds me and should remind all of us of  the following line from Song of Myself: “ I exist as I am, that is enough” Welcome to Walt’s acceptance of his death.

Step 2 in the good bye process is saying goodbye to others and Whitman accomplishes that in the poems “Years of the Modern”, “Ashes of Soldiers” and  “As at ThyPortals Also Death”. In “Years”, Whitman celebrates all that has occured in the world during his life and all that is yet to come. He writes, ” I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations, the soldiarity of races. . . I see Freedom, completely arm’d and victorious and very haughty, with Law on one side and Peace on the other. . . I see frontiers and boundaries of the old aristocracies broken,. . . I see this day the People beginning their landmarks, (all others give way;)” (597-98). He is celebrating a new America, one inspired by and powered by the youth and creativity. “Years of the Modern” is reminiscent of the poem “America” (you know that poem from the Levi’s commercial). ” Years” celebrates and says good bye to his vision of America: open, boundary-less, free that he yearned for in Song of Myself, sees inklings of now and hopes will come to fruition after he is gone. In “Ashes” Walt says goodbye one last time to all the soldiers that have battled and those he cared for and even the “horsemen” and “drummers” who were part of the battle. He gives one last salute and nod of respect to all those who were part of the civial war and by saying goodbye to those men I’d also venture that “Ashes ” is also one final nod to Lincoln (598-600). Finally, in “As at Thy Portals Also Death”, he remembers and honors his mother. As he thinks of his own impending death, he remembers her burial. ” To memories of my mother, to divine blending, maternity. . . To her, the ideal woman, practical, spiritual, of all the earth, life, love, to me the best,” (line 3 and 8).

And Step 3 of the goodbye process is leaving a legacy which Walt does in the poems “My Legacy” and with the final poem “So Long!” I think “My Legacy” is self explanatory so I don’t need to quote it here, but “So Long!” was a very moving poem that I’ve nicknamed “Song of Myself (Reprise)”. What Walt sang of in “Song of Myself” he annouces as having been accomplished in “So Long!”. He invites his audience to join him one last time; “While my pleasure is yet at the full I whisper So Long! And take the young woman’s hand and the young man’s hand for the last time” (line 13).  He continues announcing  that justice, liberty, equality and candor are all justified and have become important to the American people (lines 15-18) and urges us all to live our lives vehemently, boldly and joyfully. He reminds us of the importance of comraderie and turns toward a single comrade during his last moments (p 611 lines 53-61) and finally writes words that could be addressed to either his audience or his comrade at his bedside. In closing, Whitman writes:

Dear friend whoever you are take this kiss,

I give it especially to you, do not forget me,

I feel like one who has done work for the day to retire awhile . . .

Remember my words, I may again return, I love you, I depart from materials,

I am as one disembodied, triumphant, dead (lines 64-66 and 69-71).

Songs of Parting is a beautiful collection that chronicle Whitman’s death and memories. With this collection Walt eases us and himself into the process of death and shows us the proper way to say goodbye to everything atimate and inatimate that we loved. And Whitman would be proud to know that he hasn’t been forgotten, far from it as we learned from our image glosses. Whitman reached his audience despite the fact he believed the opposite. And I hope that some day we do have some form of the peacful, free, accepting America Whitman saw the start of and that I still see inklings of today. I hope it come to full fruition someday. Farwell, Mr. Whitman.

2 Responses to “Erin M. for Nov. 5th”

  1. jessicaa Says:
    Avatar of jessicaa

    I like the way that you broke the poems down into parts. I think Whitman is very likable through these poems because he is so honest and humbled. He can sense his time is coming and he is not afriad, he is preparing himself for it in a graceful way. And as you said, he has clearly left his legacy, and is living through us!

  2. jillians Says:
    Avatar of jillians


    This is a really good interpretation of the poem. Grief does come in stages (depending on the psychologist you talk to either six or seven) and I think here you have really shown well through his poetry Whitman going through the stages of his own grief. Well done!!!

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