Whispers of Heavenly Death - Summary
The poet begins the final clusters of Leaves of Grass with a series of reflective poems about death and dying. In this first poem, images of “unseen rivers,” “currents flowing,” and enormous clouds “swelling and mixing” remind the poet that death is a common, and inevitable, human experience. And while the end of life may be a sad event, there is nothing to fear. The clouds and the sky are “mystical,” peaceful images that suggest the ubiquitous presence of death. When one gazes heavenward, one can be assured that “Some soul is passing over.”
A Noiseless Patient Spider - Summary
In this brief poem, Whitman observes a spider spinning a delicate web:
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
He then compares his soul (“Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space…”) to the spider and the web. Just as the spider attaches its strands of web, his soul searches for a “bridge,” or connection, to all things in the universe:
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.
To One Shortly to Die - Summary
Whitman speaks frankly but lovingly to a nameless friend who is near death. Unlike others who will seek to comfort the dying person (by trying to avoid the reality of the morbid circumstance), Whitman will be “exact and merciless” in dealing with his friend, and he will speak the truth. Death is imminent, the poet says, and “there is no escape for you.” But the poet also assures his friend of his love and states his belief that death will be a joyful, radiant experience. The “sun bursts through in unlooked-for directions,” and the dying friend will be filled with “strong thoughts” and “confidence” during the final moments. Although death is inescapable, there is nothing to fear:
I exclude others from you, there is nothing to be commiserated,
I do not commiserate, I congratulate you.
Song at Sunset - Summary
Whitman reflects on his life, and he celebrates the mystery and existence of all things. “Illustrious every one!” the poet proclaims. All ideas, events, emotions, and things—from the planets and stars of the universe to the “tiniest insect” on earth—are worthy of praise and cause for celebration.
The poet notes that he has lived a full, rich life. He has decided that there is “Good in all” of the many cycles of a person’s life, including the “hilarity of youth” and the “superb vistas of death.” Whitman also believes that his own interesting life, adventures, and even his pending death were and will be experiences “charged” with “contentment and triumph.” Whitman concludes his song with a tribute to the perfect universe of which he is gratefully a part:
For I do not see one imperfection in the universe,
And I do not see one cause or result lamentable at last in the universe.
O setting sun! though the time has come,
I still warble under you, if none else does, unmitigated adoration.
So Long - Summary
Whitman bids farewell to his life and work. He remembers his early poems, recalling his social, political, spiritual, and philosophical concerns which include liberty, justice, equality, and his belief in the importance of nature, the individual, and the triumph of the “indissoluble” Union.
I announce natural persons to arise,
I announce justice triumphant,
I announce uncompromising liberty and equality,
I announce the justification of candor and the justification of pride.
Whitman pays tribute to his readers, men and women, young and old, and he hopes his message will live on with them. He also feels that his words are, in essence, him; by reading his book, by experiencing his poetry, the reader becomes one with the poet....
(The entire section contains 1241 words.)
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