What is Whitman talking about in stanza 50 of "Song of Myself"?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the critical elements in "Song of Myself" is the idea of transcendence, the ability to identify an essence within a human being that is universal and knows few, if any, boundaries.  In this particular stanza, this universal essence is Whitman's notion of happiness. He expresses this as something that cannot be lucidly articulated and quantified: "There is that in me--I do not know what it is--but I know it is in me." This brings credence to the idea that happiness is something that lies outside the cold and calculated realm of scientific regulation.  Rather, it is emotional and lies outside the realm of even mere expression.  Whitman understands its presence, and reveres it appropriately without the sense of it being routine and rather common.  In fact, he sees it as quite the opposite:

"Do you see O my brothers and sisters?
It is not chaos or death--it is form, union, plan--it is eternal
life--it is Happiness."

There is a sense of wonderment and excitement present at this sense of universal happiness, an element that can bring others together in its eternal recognition.  Envisioning a Post Civil War America, perhaps this praising of a polymorphous sensation of joy and happiness is what Whitman sees as critical in healing America, allowing it to recognize its own song of greatness in being better than what it is and what it can even imagine.