What are the implications of this line for the reader, "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you"?

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The line "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you" appears at the beginning of the famous poem "Song of Myself," an integral part of the collection Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman . In this line, Whitman is talking about the universality of human...

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The line "For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you" appears at the beginning of the famous poem "Song of Myself," an integral part of the collection Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. In this line, Whitman is talking about the universality of human experience. The narrator of the poem "Song of Myself" is not the individual person Walt Whitman, but rather a voice representing all of humanity. Whitman means that we are all interconnected and in a sense a part of each other in spirit.

Whitman brings this universality out in numerous other passages in the poem. For instance, in section 20 he writes: "In all people I see myself . . . and the good or bad I say of myself I say of them." In section 37 he presents himself as a convict, a mutineer, a thief, and a cholera victim, and he says, "I am embodied in them." In section 47 he writes, "It is you talking as much as myself, I act as the tongue of you . . . " In section 51 is the famous quotation: "I am large, I contain multitudes."

In summary, throughout the poem, Whitman makes it clear that the narrator in the poem represents not himself alone but all of humanity. When he writes of our atoms belonging to each other, he is using a metaphor to illustrate how our spirits are interconnected as human beings.

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There are a lot of ways to understand this line. I guess the question that naturally comes up is, how? How can "every atom" be the same?

The line could be suggesting that:

1) We are the same in that we each are participants in the democratic spirit of the U.S.

2) We are the same in that we are each living, feeling beings, poetically engaged with the world.

3) We are the same in that we are each poets, writing through our lives our own poems.

To me, the line represents nothing less than a stupendous reinvention poetry itself. By positing that poet and reader are the same -- no matter how you understand it -- Whitman throws into doubt the roles of reader and writer. If we are the same, then, somehow, the reader is as much responsible for the poem as the writer. The idea is that the real poem is the meaning created when the "you" and "me" of the line meet in the lines Whitman has written. In this way, the reader actually becomes a kind of author!

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