Whitman, II

2001-06-14

In my last entry I mentioned that there is a gnostic element to much of Whitman's thought. I happen to be slowly working my way through the Nag Hammadi texts (which provide the great bulk of evidence for gnostic beliefs), so I'm still learning about what gnosticism really is. There seem to be two facets to gnostic views: one is a fairly strong dualism (during the Middle Ages all vestiges of gnosticism were labelled as Manicheism) which held that this world is dominated by the forces of evil. Yet the other, more positive, facet held that human beings possess an innate divinity, and it is this facet that has led me to explore gnostic thought and that Whitman seems to reflect. Over the last few days I've gone back through my copy of Whitman and have culled out the quotes from his poems and essays that strike me as the clearest expressions of the side of gnosticism that I like:

Pressing the pulse of the life that has seldom exhibited itself
   (the great pride of man in himself),
Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be,
I project the history of the future.
--To a Historian

I say no man has ever yet been half devout enough,
None has ever yet adored or worship'd half enough,
None has begun to think how divine he himself is,
   and how certain the future is.
--Starting from Paumanok

I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul,
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is....
And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about
   God and about death.)
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God
   not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four,
   and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own
   face in the glass
--Song of Myself

Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless -- each of us with his or her right
   upon the earth,
Each of us allow'd the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.
--Salut au Monde!

What do you suppose creation is?
What do you suppose will satisfy the soul, except to walk
   free and own no superior?
What do you suppose I would intimate to you in a hundred
   ways, but that man or woman is as good as God?
And that there is no God any more divine than Yourself?
--Laws for Creations

Quicksand years that whirl me I know not whither,
Your schemes, politics, fail, lines give way, substances mock
   and elude me,
Only the theme I sing, the great and strong-possess'd soul,
   eludes not,
One's-self must never give way -- that is the final substance --
   that out of all is sure...
--Quicksand Years

There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done. They may wait awhile ... perhaps a generation or two ... dropping off by degrees. A superior breed shall take their place ... the gangs of kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order shall arise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be his own priest. The churches built under their umbrage shall be the churches of men and women. Through the divinity of themselves shall the kosmos and the new breed of poets be interpreters of men and women and of all events and things. They shall find their inspiration in real objects today, symptoms of the past and future.
--Leaves of Grass (introduction to 1855 edition)

I've found a number of related quotes on individualism and democracy and such that I'll probably try to capture here soon as well....


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