Natural Continuity

In “Continuities”, Whitman seems to be challenging what is vs. what we perceive. Whitman suggests that people are often taken from the truth when evaluating the superficial. The phrase “what you see is what you get” comes to mind when considering this poem; Whitman, however disagrees with this as we see in the line “Appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain.” Whitman urges his readers not to be confused by appearances or changing physical spheres because “nothing is ever really lost, or can be lost.” He attributes this to identity, force, visible things, objects; he suggests that because these things can never be lost, they just shift in physical sphere. The spirit of these things are always as they were.

Whitman suggests that the natural world moves through these spheres and appearances through a mode of natural continuity. “Time and space are ample”, meaning that there always is and always will be enough time and space for movement and growth within the natural world. The natural world merely follows a continuity of cycle, as Whitman describes various forms of natural continuity referring to the cycle of the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun, etc. Whitman realizes that these physical spheres will change: “The aging body ” and as a result, we will respond with a “dimming eye”. But he encourages us not to be concerned with the changing physical spheres; the body is merely responsive to natural continuity. The body follows the natural cycle of the world, and thus it is natural for us to age. The consequences of age are necessary for this continuity; just as the world around us loses its leaves in the winter, we figuratively lose our leaves.

If Whitman is following this theory of natural continuity, it seems that he attributes a sort of reincarnation to the human spirit. Though we age and our physical spheres change, things will always be as they were because time and Nature are continuous. Just as Nature is reborn in the Spring, so are we.

2 Responses to Natural Continuity

  1. Emma Stein February 24, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

    I really enjoyed the comparison between the physical and the spiritual when exploring “Continuity”. I agree with the idea that things do “shift” in the physical sphere but that the spiritual aspect of it will always remain. I love that in your analysis you say people should not be “concerned” by growing older because it is just part of the natural cycle. I know that many of us, as seniors, may fear our future; however all of this is “necessary for our continuity”. Even though things can shift or change in a seemingly negative way, it is necessary for overall growth. For example, trees losing their leaves in the winter leads to them blooming in the spring. Like you say, just as nature is reborn in spring, we are constantly being “reborn” through the changes and shifts we experience in our lifetime.

  2. Prof VZ March 12, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    Whitman, from the beginning, was deeply invested in this idea of fundamental continuity and connection. It seems most difficult to realize in poems like Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, where he is relying on the continuity of human experience across time and space. I feel that the natural metaphor–especially in poems like “This Compost” serves as a stronger symbol for this message. Great post!

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