Walt Whitman

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What do lines 7-16 suggest about the theme of Whitman's "Song Of Myself"? How does section 52 conclude the larger work?

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Whitman brings his epic masterpiece to a close with section 52. However, if we have learned anything from the poet, there is no true close. Fittingly, the poem ends on a fifty-second section, much as a year would end with a fifty-second week. Whitman's chronicle of life, the universe, and everything parallels the chronology of one calendar year. Yet as it ends with his winter, if we understand his words, we are not somber. Instead, we realize that the cycle will renew, as it always does. Initially the narrator is "accus[ed] of gab and loitering," and "coax[ed] to the vapor and the dusk" by the natural world around that understands his time has come. Yet the narrator does not diminish; he simply disperses into the greater world around:

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love
As the speaker establishes earlier in his poem, there is no true beginning or end. There is only change. Therefore as his poem concludes, he himself does not. This fulfills his promise to contradict himself, presenting the multitudes that he previously claims to contain. The speaker is not lost to us—none ever are. He has simply listened to the hawk and the day and joined them, transcending one form and entering into the larger world. Though he will no longer be recognized, he promises that he is there in the dirt, the air, and the grass. At long last his physical form will reflect his philosophy: as all atoms belonging to him will belong to us all. He is still with us; we simply need look to ourselves to see him.
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In Walt Whitman's poem "Song of Myself," lines 7-16 introduce several important themes that will reoccur frequently. For instance, when Whitman references the many past generations of family members that led to his birth (7), he illustrates the countless and myriad generations of humanity that are distilled down in the present generation. This theme will become important later on, as it allows Whitman to explore the multiplicity inherent in each individual. Furthermore, when Whitman references "creeds and schools in abeyance" (10), he touches on the many differing beliefs and ideas at work in the world, which will again be an important addition to his discussion of multiplicity throughout the poem. Finally, Whitman's description of smelling many perfumes (14-16) is a precursor to his later mission to inhale and swallow as many different experiences as possible. Additionally, his discovery of a personal trait special to him (15) is key, as it suggests that an intimate knowledge of oneself is only possible through this process of participating in myriad and diverse experiences.

With this context in mind, section 52 becomes a very fitting conclusion indeed. The image of the swooping hawk (1331) ultimately drives Whitman to declare that he is "not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable" (1332). Whitman only comes to this conclusion after thoroughly exploring how much multiplicity (how many generations of humanity, how many "creeds and schools") he himself encompasses. He then goes on to say "the last scud of day holds back for me,/ It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds" (1334-5). After understanding the inherent multiplicity of existence and experience, Whitman imagines himself extending to infinite proportions and dispersing throughout the landscape. This dramatic conclusion is set up by Whitman's original musings on multiplicity, identity, and experience in the first lines of the poem, which is why it's such a satisfying ending. 

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