What is "Part 33" in Song of Myself about?
(the beginning of the start and the end..read whats in between.)
I understand the large hearts of heroes,
The courage of present times and all times,
How the skipper saw the crowded and rudderless wreck of the
steamship, and Death chasing it up and down the storm,
How he knuckled tight and gave not back an inch, and was faithful of
...Again gurgles the mouth of my dying general, he furiously waves
with his hand,
He gasps through the clot Mind not me - mind - the entrenchments.
Song of Myself is a beautiful piece that notes the feelings and times of all peoples. It is the expression of every circumstance he can think of.
This particular section you have cited is about the feeling of great triumph and the struggle of the greatest tragedies.
The metaphor for this section refers to the great captain having to watch a ship go down, and then having Death personified gobble up the victims of such a crash making for a great tragedy.
As a reader, you receive the image of a man drowning and waving his hand hoping for a person to save him.
He refers to the mothers and infants living their last moments, he talks about being a fireman, and a soldier, and a slave. With each one, he tries to find the most meaningful experiences of their given tasks.
Whitman talks about the great extent of his imagination: "I skirt sierras, my palms cover continents, I am afoot with my vision." Lots of power exists within this imagination. It seems to have the power to traverse every single situation possible.
It isn't long before Whitman gets really specific about the extent of his imagination. He uses lots of repetition about "where the" different animals roam and "over the" vast landscapes he visits. It is everything from nature "where the black bear" can be found, to the humdrum of everyday life "where the cheese-cloth hangs in the kitchen." All of these things: "I tread day and night on such roads." Not a particle of life will go undiscovered by Whitman, and not a stone is left unturned.
Whitman traverses both the "material and the immaterial." Then Whitman begins to traverse actual experiences, ... both the adulterer and the hero and the slave and the fireman. It ends with the experience of death during war, most likely the Civil War that Whitman is thinking of. Each of these occupations and doings have their own importance in life, and Whitman tries to grasp the very topmost of each experience to relate here.