With section 52, Whitman ends his long poem Song of Myself—a poem that seems to encompass both eons and universes. How can such a poem end? Only with the same exuberant flourish that has sustained its seemingly ceaseless energy and boundless love of everything.
As this section opens, Whitman sees a hawk, but more importantly, he imagines being seen by it. As he always does, he is putting himself into the point of view of another creature, showing his empathy with all beings. He pictures the busy, determined, focused hawk chiding him for his laziness. Yet he also identifies himself with the hawk. At the end of the poem, he can still say that, like the hawk:
I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable...
He announces his departure in perhaps the most important lines of section 52:
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
He merges, diffuses, into air and water, no longer the poet but simply an elemental part of nature. Most importantly, however, are the "lacy jags," which can be understood on one level as waves of water, but also as the lacy jags of his writing as his pen crosses the page in cursive writing. He is not simply dissipating into nature, but leaving behind this poem.
In other words, Whitman becomes one with the universe, but he also becomes his poem. He seems to anticipate what has been my experience—that you don't "get" this poem on first reading. It is only after years and much reading that one is struck with the immensity and audacity of this achievement: there really is nothing like it, not even in Ginsberg. But you can't know that until you have read a lot. Whitman also realizes how radical and ahead of his time his poem is. Yet he ends the poem willing to wait, trusting with all his exuberant optimism that people will catch up to him. And we accept this not as arrogance, but as truth. He writes,
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.