What is the meaning of "Love" in Song of Myself?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Love in this incredible poem is a very important concept, as Whitman seems to point towards a kind of mystical union that exists between man and his fellow man and also the nature of which he is a part. The knowledge about love that he is given when he reflects on the world around him and thinks of the relations that humans enjoy clearly indicates the prime importance of love in such a union, and highlights the way in which it is the governing force of the universe. Consider the following quote from Section 5 of this poem:

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,

And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,

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...

If we look at the final line of this quote, a "kelson" is a beam of light that is used to keep a ship steady and to prevent it from upsetting itself. This metaphor allows Whitman to present the idea that what keeps creation in order and steady is the force of love. If we follow love and use it to guide us in all of our thoughts and actions, then we will experience the kind of unity and brotherhood that Whitman expressed in these lines. Love therefore is depicted in this poem as the guiding principle which should rule our lives.