To the Garden the World - Summary
In many ways, the few lines of this first poem belonging to Children of Adam establish the many themes Whitman writes about throughout the whole of the cluster: the paradise of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the meaningfulness of procreation, an admiration for the human body—male and female, and a celebration of physical love between men and women.
The opening line, “To the garden the world anew ascending,” immediately presents Whitman’s vision of rebirth. This is a return to the Garden of Eden to experience “anew” all its passionate innocence and abundant splendor, as well as its revelry in the paradise of self fulfilling physical love between men and women. The poem establishes Adam as its (and the cluster’s) central figure, a man reawakened to the beauty of the people surrounding him—“potent mates, daughters, sons.” He is at once in awe of others’ bodies (“all beautiful to me, all wondrous”) and intensely aware of his own (“My limbs and the quivering fire that ever plays through them”).
The depiction of physical desire briefly introduced here is explored in full in the poems that follow. Whitman does not return to Adam specifically until the last poem from the cluster but leaves him, for the moment, in an image suffused with contentment, both with himself and with his mate: “Content with the present, content with the past, / By my side or back of me Eve following, / Or in front, and I following her just the same.” It is fitting that Adam and Eve appear to share equal status, particularly because of Whitman’s equal fascination, in the subsequent poems, with the bodies and souls of men and women alike.
I Sing the Body Electric - Summary
Perhaps the best known poem belonging to this cluster, I Sing the Body Electric catalogues the poet’s all consuming love for and worship of the sensuality of the human body. All men and women are included in his vision, the singularity of the title phrase, “the body,” having been equated with “[t]he armies of those I love.” Despite his declaration that “[t]he love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,” suggesting that any admiration for the human form defies description, Whitman spends the majority of his poem doing just that. He provides detailed accounts of men’s and women’s bodies engaged in various activities and devotes a section of the poem to the physical description of “a common farmer.’’
Whitman also extols the wonders of the male and female forms (“That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect”) and declares the sacredness of the human body. Finally, he presents, in a fireworks display of words, an account of his own body, from “[h]ead, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears” to “[a]nkles, instep, foot ball, toes, toe joints, the heel.” Nowhere is the giddiness of Whitman’s delight in the nuances of the human body, including its variety and perfection, so apparent or so contagious as here.
Moreover, he appears to be genuinely moved by even the simple presence of another person: “To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough.” In examining his own need for interaction with others, Whitman makes a profound statement on human nature in general: “There is something in staying close to men and women and looking on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well.” Whitman’s poems are like people, for they touch us, affect us, and offer us contact with the poet and his world.
Beyond praising the many aspects of the body, Whitman understands the import of its ability to procreate. The “common” farmer, for example, is imbued with untold significance as “the father of five sons, / And in them the fathers of sons, and in them the fathers of...
(The entire section contains 2630 words.)
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