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In the opening lines of this epic poem, Whitman is declaring his intentions (cf. Virgil’s “Of arms and the man I sing”)—he is going to “sing” this poetic song of himself for the rest of his life; that is, he is here beginning a life-long project (“hoping to cease not till death”) of expressing his inner-most self in words. He also states that it will not be merely a reflection of what he has learned from others (“creeds and schools in abeyance”), although those influences will be acknowledged as he sings, but that his reaction to nature will be always expressed—he will sing from his soul, but his mind (thinking) will enter in as part of who he is. It is a beautiful introduction to his life-work, a statement virtually empty of guile and device, but full of sincerity and self-exposure, “transcending” the duplicity of normal existence, partly reflective and partly looking forward. It is difficult to paraphrase, because it is perfectly expressed in the very stark admission of the lines. Here is a man declaring himself.
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