How does "The Bather"  by Walt Whitman celebrate his love for the human body and all humanity?  How does it illustrate his feelings and beliefs?  

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"The Bather" is the most erotic of Whitman's poems; it is also of note that he does not have any poem that describes the same actions with nude women; for this reason and others, some critics feel that Whitman is in the place of the woman of this verse and the poem is homoerotic. At any rate, the "twenty-ninth bather" is a seemingly a voyeur, hiding behind her blinds, watching the twenty-eight men, pretending that she is there with them, watching the water rivulets pass down their chests.

The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long hair,
Little streams pass’d all over their bodies.
 
An unseen hand also pass’d over their bodies,
It descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs.
 
The woman who watches surreptitiously fantasizes that she, too, has freed herself of her own clothing and is physically engaged with the men, holding them and becoming intimate with them; her gaze acts as her hand. But, there is nothing lurid about these descriptions; the tone is one of simple physical delight as she celebrates their beauty:
Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.
 
At the end, the woman imagines herself touching and copulating with the men who do not know "who seizes them."
Section 11 illustrates a point made by the Whitman persona in Song of Myself who declares “I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,” finding each worthy of marvel. Further, he asserts that the physical senses are "miracles," and there is no body part to be denigrated or treated differently. Whitman wrote,
I do not press my fingers across my mouth,
I keep as delicate around the bowels as around the head and heart,
Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.
Thus, Section 11 is in line with Section 5, in which the Whitman persona relates a moment when "the transcendent soul apparently surrounds him and envelops him in an intense, almost sexual embrace" [enotes]:
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
 
 
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