What is the meaning of section 52 in "Song of Myself" by Whitman?

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With section 52, Whitman ends his long poem Song of Myselfa 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.
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In the final section of the poem, Whitman brings many of his themes and ideas to their conclusion, which is symbolized by the speaker himself reaching the conclusion of his life. The speaker encounters a hawk; the hawk is "untranslatable," as the speaker himself is, but the two seem to understand each other. This seems to suggest that the speaker has become something akin to the hawk: like the hawk, he is "untamed" and screams his message aloud. Whitman calls this message his "barbaric yawp," a now-famous phrase which seems to encapsulate the essence of nature which lies within him.

Clearly, the speaker is now coming to the end of his physical life. He has "white locks" and the day is departing, the sun now "runaway" and the "dusk"...

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encroaching. This literal dusk is also a metaphorical one, representing the final phases of life. Even as the speaker reaches this phase, however, he remains in a physical form—he becomes "air" even as he sheds his physical skin. Instead of disappearing into the dirt, he instead "bequeath[s]" himself to it, suggesting that his body and his life are a gift which have now become part of the earth.

The reader, he suggests, will never quite understand him—they will not know who he is or what he means. However, they will always be able to find him "under [their] boot-soles," as part of the earth. Even if they do not understand him, he will provide them with health and happiness, and he encourages them to keep looking—eventually they will find him "somewhere waiting for you."

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In this final section of this amazing poem, the speaker sees a hawk, and his response is to feel immensely humbled as he sees elements of himself in the hawk. In particular, the comparison between himself and the hawk is based on the elemental power within it and the fact that his voice is "untranslatable" and described as a "barbaric yawp." Both are not tamed. The day itself waits for the speaker to move ahead and takes him into darkness. The ending of the day is a very symbolic time as it can be reminiscent of death and dying. We now recognise that the speaker's hair has turned white, and he shakes his "locks" at the sun that is sinking beneath the horizon. In this final section, he apparently becomes one with nature, leaving his physical form and giving himself up to the soil and ground and the "eddies" of water. This is of course an image that is picked up earlier in the poem with the idea of the grass covering or containing all those who have died. The speaker therefore tells us that if we want to search for him we need look no further than the ground beneath our feet. Searching for him is a key task that all humans should engage in. Even though we won't be able to find him, he will give health to those who walk on him. We mustn't become discouraged if we are unable to locate him and we must continue the search. The speaker ends the poem by confirming that he is not deliberately avoiding us. He has simply stopped slightly ahead of us on the path and is waiting for us to join him.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.
The poem has finished and come to its conclusion, and we are left with the vivd and visceral union with nature that the speaker has attained and which he urges us to seek and be aware of in a similar way.
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