In Song of Myself I felt Whitman’s authorial voice was reminiscent of a bard or even Homer-esque. He engages with the audience verbally, but is at the same time consciously creating a visual story through word choice and specificity of description. In the poem he repeatedly asks questions of the audiences, “Have you practis’d so long to learn to read? / Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?” that illicit memories that are primal in almost everyone. He engages the reader by pulling descriptions almost out of our memories.
He invites the reader to go on this timeless or perhaps circular in time progression, journey with him stating, “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems… / You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead/ You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.”I get the sense of him acting as a sage or lecturing as a professor and my mind is drawn to the movie The Dead Poet’s Society. Through his poetry the reader is able to realize and consider the experience of “prostitutes with pimply necks being mocked and the runaway slave being hunted by dogs.” The function of his descriptions rely on the verbal to create the visual imagery that he evokes. The poem functions like a novel or story which force us to play out the scenes in our mind. The language he chooses is critical in creating the imagery and if he was less specific in his description the images we would imagine would be quite different.
Also, just a little aside, it was hard for me to not read this without being critical of other people claiming to know the experiences of those who they are not. I certainly do not believe Whitman wanted to evoke anything but empathy, compassion, and equality among races and sexes; however, I got a very distinct impression of man-splaining and white-splaining. Though, like I said I am sure his intention was to create empathy with groups who did not have a voice at the time he was writing.
Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself (1892 Version).” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.